Our Pledge To You

News

Ald. Emma Mitts drops strip club ordinance — this time, for good

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) says she wasn't aware the strip-club ordinance she had supported had been changed to allow full nudity in establishments that would be allowed to serve liquor. | File photo

For the second time in a month, the chairman of the City Council’s License Committee is pulling the plug on her own strip club ordinance.

This time, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) says it’s for good.

One day after vowing to resurrect her controversial ordinance — only to have women’s advocacy groups push back — Mitts washed her hands of the whole sordid mess.

Mitts said she doesn’t want to put her colleagues on the hot seat. Nor does she have any desire to appear as if she’s doing the bidding of Perry Mandera, owner of VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club.

“I tried something and I still have my colleagues concerned and some groups concerned,” Mitts said Tuesday.

“I don’t want to be like I’m trying to support anyone. I’m just trying to look for ways to generate revenue. But if it’s not gonna be a good one and it’s gonna cause a controversy, I don’t want to do it.”

Dancers at Chicago clubs that serve liquor must wear hot pants and cover their chests from the nipple to the bottom of the breast.

On Monday, Mitts said she wanted 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. She said she planned to call for a vote on that revised ordinance at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Asked why she changed her mind overnight, Mitts pointed to the press conference held by women’s advocacy groups and five aldermen who supported them: Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Toni Foulkes (16th); Matt O’Shea (19th), Michele Smith (43rd) and James Cappleman (46th).

“Some of my colleagues are saying they really wouldn’t support it. And I don’t want to put them in a [difficult] light. I trust my colleagues on what they’re saying. This could be a touchy situation,” Mitts said.

“They sometimes thought I was exploiting women. I’m not trying to exploit ’em. I just want to get revenue and level the playing field. … But I’m gonna leave it alone. I kind of just made my mind up. I’m just gonna drop it. It’s not worth it.”

Earlier this week, women’s advocacy groups turned up the heat on Mitts to back off and leave in place Chicago’s 23-year-old ban on allowing strip clubs with nude dancers to serve alcohol.

“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, had said at 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.

Foulkes said struggling neighborhoods like Englewood and Chicago Lawn “don’t need strip joints.” They 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.

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.

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.

But 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.