Not so long ago, Brendan Reilly was the young pup of the City Council who just wouldn’t sit and roll over.
After he unseated grumpy veteran Burt Natarus in downtown’s 42ndWard in 2007, Reilly did something almost unheard of at the time: He defied then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The aging mayor accused the 30-something rookie of opposing plans to move the Chicago Children’s Museum to Grant Park because he didn’t have children of his own.
And we know that in Chicago, elected leaders do everything for the kids, often starting with their own offspring.
Now, Reilly is annoying Daley’s successor as mayor. Only this time it’s Reilly who risks sounding like the crabby old guy.
At the ripe age of 44, Reilly is among the aldermen who want to tighten the rules on home-sharing services, including Airbnb.
As a profitable conduit for short-term home rentals, the company allegedly is turning condo buildings downtown and on the near North Side into miniature versions of Panama City during MTV’s spring break.
Grizzled Gen Xer Reilly blames young aides for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s aversion to regulating the home-sharing companies as well as the ride-sharing industry. It’s a common behind-the-scenes complaint of longtime Chicago political players, who love to deride the wonky but relatively unseasoned “whiz kids” in Emanuel’s administration.
“Because they’re closer to the millennial age group, this tech stuff is gee-whiz to them,” Reilly said last week of the Emanuel aides. “If it’s an app-based product, the general inclination by young people is to embrace it and want it to expand and do well.”
As the Council debate over Airbnb raged at City Hallon Tuesday, Reilly told me he stood by that assessment.
“I’m not invoking age-ism when I say new technologies have an appeal to younger consumers,” he said. “This is one of those newer, innovate products that is attractive to younger people. I wasn’t looking to take a cheap shot at members of the administration, but I honestly believe it’s a generational issue.”
For whatever reasons, there’s a strong mayoral yen to welcome the new with as few questions asked as possible and without regard for the impact on the old.
Six years ago, aldermen passed an ordinance that required licensing of so-called vacation rentals. It looks like it’s on the books for show only.
The city has licensed all of 171 nightly rental units, Reilly says, even as more than 5,200 homes are being leased out in Chicago through Airbnb and other such companies.
When Airbnb rejected a compromise proposal, Reilly showed millennial-like aptitude for social media, tweeting, “Guess you don’t hit $25.5 billion valuation w/o being greedy.”
Reilly rejects the assertion he’s acting in defense of downtown hotels that are being hurt by home-sharing and that have been major contributors to his campaign fund.
“For me, this boils down to protecting the quality of life for my constituents,” he said. “It’s very emotional for them. They don’t want us to allow the nightly rentals to operate without strict regulations that are enforced. It impacts their biggest investment, which is their home.”
The mayor’s failure to stand with those homeowners on this issue has the potential to erode whatever is left of his political base. The wards that are being hardest hit by home-sharing provided so many of the votes he needed to win last year’s runoff election.
Reilly endorsed Emanuel in last year’s election, but he didn’t care to discuss how the home-sharing issue could affect the mayor with voters.
The wisest position for the young-at-heart Emanuel — who turns 57 in November, by the way — could be to heed Reilly and take a crankier approach to the new kids on Chicago’s condo blocks.