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Lincoln Towing fires back against motorist complaints

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) huddles with Foster District Cmdr. Sean Loughran before a City Council hearing Tuesday about Lincoln Towing, the company immortalized in Steve Goodman's song, "Lincoln Park Pirates." | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The towing company immortalized in the Steve Goodman song “Lincoln Park Pirates” defended itself Tuesday against a barrage of complaints from motorists and the aldermen who represent them.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) opened what amounted to a gripe session before the City Council’s License and Public Safety committees by reciting the lyrics to Goodman’s song.

“To me way, hey, tow them away. The Lincoln Park Pirates are we. From Wilmette to Gary, there’s nothing so hairy. And we always collect our fee,” Burke said without singing.

“To me way, hey, tow them away. We plunder the streets of our town. Be it Edsel or Chevy, there’s no car too heavy. And no one can make us shut down.”

Allen Perl, an attorney representing Protective Parking Services doing business as Lincoln Towing, branded those lyrics the business equivalent of character assassination.

“If you want to get something resolved with Lincoln Towing, don’t cite the Lincoln Towing song to me. That doesn’t mean anything to me. My client was 10 years old at the time. Let’s talk about the facts that exist today,” Perl told aldermen.

“We consistently hear that song about Lincoln Towing. I’m not sure what relevance it has today — unless you want to indict somebody for something that happened in the 1970s.”

At a time when the Illinois Commerce Commission is considering whether to strip the company of its state towing license, Perl maintained that there are “only 90 complaints pending” against Lincoln Towing. And he argued that only 0.4 percent of those complaints “go to a finding” with the ICC.

“We all live in glass houses. Individuals in this very room have gotten in trouble. City of Chicago, state of Illinois, lawyers. It doesn’t mean we’re all bad. And just because we get in trouble doesn’t mean we can’t resolve these issues,” Perl said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he could drive a truck through Perl’s statement that “most” of the tows done by Lincoln Towing “don’t have any issues when we’re done legally.”

“The idea that you used the word ‘most’ raises alarm bells,” Pawar said, noting that police officers from the Foster District spent “600 man-hours” last year responding to complaints about Lincoln Towing, thereby preventing them from responding to more serious crime.

Pawar invited the company to prove it is complying with city’s “towing bill of rights” that requires motorists to be presented with photographic evidence documenting the reason for the tow before their cars are yanked.

“Let’s just assume that I’m the one who’s being the jerk here. Come to the table. Do it voluntarily. Sit down with the city. Make sure you have all the photographs from all the tows from the last year. You followed the letter of the law. If you’re willing to do that, let’s have that conversation,” Pawar said.

“Because what I do know is that over the last year, we have incidents where your tow trucks have hit somebody. There’s a gentleman who’s sitting at home with broken bones. There are incidents where people have been sworn at. Their cars have been damaged. And it’s all been reported very publicly.”

Lyrics to “Lincoln Park Pirates” are every bit as valid today as they were when Goodman wrote them in 1973, according to the barrage of complaints aired Tuesday.

William Rankin told the story of allowing a neighbor in his “upper 70s” who is suffering from cancer and heart problems to park in the lot of Rankin’s building while he went for medical treatments needed to keep the man alive.

That is, until Lincoln Towing snatched his car with a foot of snow on the ground.

“Barney had to take two buses in zero-degree weather and pay $200 so he could get his old Pontiac and go to his therapy. That’s not funny,” Rankin said.

“I allow people who work at a very famous barbecue across the street to park in my lot. These are kids. And they took two of their cars. Two-hundred bucks. That’s a week’s salary for these kids. … They’re working overtime just to make a living. That’s not funny.”

Turning to the aldermen, Rankin said, “If you have a mad dog, you can put the mad dog away. But the owner is just going to go out and buy another dog and make that one into a ferocious beast. It is the Illinois Commerce Commission that’s the enemy here. Not Lincoln Towing. They’re the mad dog. But the Illinois Commerce Commission are the owners of that mad dog. They still license Lincoln Towing.”