Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Tuesday opened the door to silencing street musicians on Michigan Avenue and State Street, only during certain hours to avoid what could be an embarrassing political defeat.
Last month, Reilly put off a vote on his proposal to ban street musicians altogether from downtown Chicago’s two marquee streets in hopes of hammering out a compromise acceptable to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
After a nudge from Emanuel and a meeting with street musicians, Reilly talked about striking a balance that would identify “new CTA and Park District locations downtown” as “performance zones” where street musicians could perform without driving downtown residents and employees to distraction.
On Tuesday, Reilly said he had not yet reached a compromise with top mayoral aides and planned to keep negotiating through the night, if need be.
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For the first time, Reilly opened the door to allowing street musicians to keep playing on Michigan Avenue and State Street during high-traffic hours, instead of banning them altogether.
“What’s in discussion is the lunch hour and possibly a portion of the afternoon commute when most of the pedestrians are out on the street and not a lot of people are working,” Reilly said.
“Having hours of operation every day — limited — is something the administration threw out there as a potential option. That is something that Ald. [Brian] Hopkins and I said we’re willing to work with. But let’s make sure those are reasonable restrictions. The compromise would mean that there’s not a complete and total ban on noise performance in the downtown area. And it would be limited to appropriate hours.”
If a compromise can be reached, Reilly said he plans to follow up with a “trailer ordinance” in April identifying more performance sites in parks and at CTA stations.
If there is no deal, Reilly and his co-sponsor, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), have a difficult choice to make. They can either pull the original ordinance and start all over again or forge ahead with a vote they stand to lose amid mounting opposition from Emanuel and City Council colleagues.
License Committee Chairman Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) warned Reilly about the perils of forging ahead.
She flatly predicted that he does not have the votes for the original version because there are a ton of aldermen whose residents either perform as street musicians or enjoy their music as part of the fabric of Chicago.
“My constituents are street performers and they go on to be artists. It’s a start for them. They’ve been doing it for years. . . . It’s like you’re trying to push those same people out from downtown when we’re all paying taxes,” said Mitts, whose committee approved the more draconian version of Reilly’s ordinance.
“The street performers were here long before a lot of downtown got built. I understand that people feel like it’s their home now. But sometimes, they have to put up with some things. To say they can’t perform altogether — it’s just not myself. It’s not just black aldermen. There were white aldermen who came to me and said, `Ald. Mitts, I’m not gonna support this ordinance.’ ”
Mitts sympathized with Reilly’s political dilemma. He put the cart before the horse.
“He brought his community down before he even talked to aldermen,” she said. “I don’t think an alderman should ever do something like that.”
“If he pushes for a vote, I don’t see where he ends up winning. We have too many other problems [with violence] in Chicago,” Mitts said. “I don’t think this should be a priority for us.”