Chicago, population 2.7 million, has three or four strip clubs. Portland, Oregon, population 260,000, is the “strip club capital of the nation” with as many as 70 clubs.
The reason, women’s advocates claim, is the 23-year-old Chicago ban on allowing strip clubs with nude dancers to serve alcohol.
Now License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) is vowing to resurrect a controversial ordinance relaxing those rules and women’s advocacy groups are fighting back.
“Bringing alcohol into strip clubs will cause an explosion of these clubs in neighborhoods throughout Chicago, causing increased crime, sex trafficking and chaos,” Lynne Johnson, policy director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, told a City Hall news conference Monday.
Urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to block the ordinance, Johnson pointed to the “lessons learned from survivors of prostitution and sexual exploitation.”
“When they’re working in clubs that serve alcohol, they face physical violence, harassment, sexual assault from patrons who are getting more and more drunk through the night. And they don’t want this kind of harm brought here to Chicago,” Johnson said.
Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th) was one of five aldermen who attended the news conference. She was joined by fellow City Council members Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Matt O’Shea (19th), Michele Smith (43rd) and James Cappleman (46th).
“Neighborhoods like mine, they struggle. Englewood. Chicago Lawn. We don’t need strip joints. We need safe streets, living wage jobs and good schools. . . . I don’t want any venue in my community that you can’t take your mother to on a Sunday,” Foulkes said.
Dancers at Chicago clubs that serve liquor must wear hot pants and cover their chests from the nipple to the bottom of the breast.
Mitts now wants to relax those rules to allow dancers at clubs that buy a new two-year, $75,000 city license to go topless and wear only a G-string.
“We want to be able to serve alcohol. If you can bring your own bottle in, doggone it, it looks like to me you ought to have some revenue tied to it,” Mitts said Monday.
“It may not be the popular thing. But if industries out there are operating, then it’s our job to try and regulate these industries and try to get some type of funding for the city where you’re not continuing to burden the taxpayers on property taxes.”
Mitts acknowledged that the revised ordinance would benefit Perry Mandera, owner of VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club.
“I’m not sure if it’s just to help him, but as a source of revenue,” she said. “We’re in dire need. . . . We’re helping the city. If that’s [also] helping him, then God bless him.”
Last month, Mitts became the second alderman in two years to withdraw support from their own strip club ordinance on grounds that the measure had been hijacked for purposes she didn’t intend.
At the time, Mitts told reporters she honestly didn’t know that the ordinance she agreed to sponsor at the behest of strip club owners — in exchange for $400,000 in contributions to domestic violence shelters — actually allowed strip clubs that feature nude dancers to sell booze.
“I went back to look at it, and it was nudity all the time. We [weren’t] trying to make it a nudity ordinance,” Mitts sheepishly told reporters.
“I don’t want to exploit women no more than what the women are doing. I’m not trying to do anything underhanded. … I didn’t know the language had changed in it.”
Pressed to identify who hijacked the ordinance, Mitts said, “Uh, I’m not sure. I think it was Perry [Mandera] or whoever the owner was that was working on the ordinance.”
In 2013, Emanuel’s administration allowed VIP’s, a clout-heavy joint that bills itself as “Chicago’s only full liquor and topless bar,” to stay open in exchange for $2.5 million in disputed back taxes and legal fees.
The mayor softened the blow of a settlement that resolved a 19-year legal battle by using the money to establish a new shelter for victims of domestic violence.
The city had tried since 1993 to shut down the club on grounds its dancers exposed too much of the female anatomy. VIP’s had countered by challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same establishment.
Mitts has used a similar argument to sell colleagues on her strip club ordinance.
Kathy Doherty of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network said Monday she doesn’t want the money.
“It’s radioactive. It’s coming off the backs of exploiting women,” Doherty said.