Ald. John Arena under fire for demanding parking perk before Cubs-Sox game

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Ald. John Arena | Sun-Times file photo

Parking around Wrigley Field is notoriously hard to find on Cubs game days. Fans lucky enough to find space in the precious few surface lots pay a premium for it.

That is, unless they happen to be Chicago aldermen.

Northwest Side Ald. John Arena (45th) is under fire for walking into the Chicago Police Department’s Town Hall District on May 11 — two blocks away from Wrigley — and demanding that he be allowed to park there so he and his family could attend the Cubs game against the White Sox.

“The alderman did approach the 19th District desk and asked if he could park in the police lot during the Cubs game,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Monday.

“An officer allowed him to park there, which was actually a violation of the district’s policy. The next day, Commander Marc Buslik issued a memo reminding officers that that lot is only reserved for on- and off-duty police officers. The purpose is so that officers can properly secure their weapons, since they’re not allowed inside Wrigley Field.”

Guglielmi said Arena was initially “told the lot was full,” but refused to take “no” for an answer.

“He obviously wanted to park there and the officers made an exception,” Guglielmi said.

Jose Abreu singles against the Cubs in the White Sox’ 11-2 loss at Wrigley Field on May 11. | File photo

Jose Abreu singles against the Cubs in the White Sox’ 11-2 loss at Wrigley Field on May 11. | File photo

“But the commander reminded officers in the district that the policy is…strictly reserved for police personnel—not as a privilege, but as a location for them to be able to secure their weapons, since they have to carry their weapons both on- and off-duty.”

Asked Monday whether he had demanded the parking perk, Arena initially said, “No. That didn’t happen.”

Two hours later, he changed his story and said it did happen, but not the way Guglielmi said it did.

“On May 11, I did not talk to anybody at the desk. There was no controversy. I was allowed to park there,” Arena said.

“If they have a problem with anybody parking there, they should tell them at the time and say, `Don’t park here.’…If they have a problem, they should take it to whatever authority exists–whether within the 19th District or within the IG to decide whether something happened that shouldn’t have happened.”

Arena was asked again why he demanded the right to park in the police lot before watching his beloved Cubs clobber the Sox by a score of 11-2.

That was the game when Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit two homers, two doubles and drove in a career-high seven runs to celebrate his bobblehead day at Wrigley.

He would only say, “I’m not asking for any favors.”

If Chicago police officers file a complaint against Arena, you might call it: Turnabout is fair play.

Three months ago, Arena filed his own complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, accusing Chicago police officers of using “racially charged” language on social media to unleash their anger about a hotly contested Jefferson Park apartment development he supports that includes affordable housing.

Ald. John Arena and supporters of a proposed affordable housing development in  Jefferson Park speak to reporters before Monday’s Zoning Committee hearing. Photo by Mark Brown.

Ald. John Arena (45th) and affordable housing advocates held a news conference at City Hall last year to support a Jefferson Park development that includes affordable housing. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

In response, the Fraternal Order of Police posted a letter on its website from an attorney warning Arena that the union would sue him if he refused to withdraw the complaint.

The letter maintained that the officers were off-duty when they exercised their First Amendment right to air “race-neutral” concerns about the housing project. And it warned that any effort to “stifle their opposition” by threatening their jobs and reputations would not be tolerated.

Two years ago, the Chicago Board of Ethics’ strong stand against a longstanding perk prompted the Cubs to yank an offer they had made to aldermen for more than a decade — to purchase playoff and World Series tickets at face value that would have cost thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

Last year, aldermen were warned they were prohibited from accepting the White Sox offer to attend the 2017 home opener against the Detroit Tigers and a pregame reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

That’s because the total package is “worth more than $50 to a single recipient” and therefore violates the city’s gift ban.

It’s not the first time that a Chicago alderman has been accused of throwing his weight around and asking for a special favor from Chicago police officers.

Last summer, the same allegation was made about Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) after Maldonado demanded that officers let him drive through a crime scene.

That confrontation — captured on body cam and cell phone video — occurred on the night of June 18, 2017 near Maldonado’s home in Humboldt Park.

Maldonado responded by filing a complaint with the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs accusing the officers of treating him rudely.

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