For the second time in two years, the chief sponsor of a strip club ordinance has withdrawn support on grounds that the measure was being hijacked for nefarious purposes that weren’t unintended.
Last time, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) did the hasty retreat, arguing that his plan to prevent adult book stores, movie houses and bars from converting into strip joints had been converted into a plan to let Chicago’s adult entertainment clubs serve up two things their customers desire — alcohol and topless dancers — without choosing between the two.
This time, License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) is the one backing away.
Mitts said Tuesday 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 fully-nude dancers to sell booze.
“When it came out, I thought, ‘Did I misread the ordinance or something?’ 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. I was trying to regulate an industry . . . that we have out here to try to get a little revenue and try to help out some of our domestic violence shelters.”
Pressed to identify who hijacked the ordinance, Mitts said, “Uh, I’m not sure. I think it was Perry [Mandera, owner of VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club] or whoever the owner was that was working on the ordinance.”
The City Council’s Zoning Committee approved the ordinance last week. But Mitts said she would ask Chairman Danny Solis (25th) to hold it in committee to get things sorted out.
“We’re making some changes to it — to maybe go back to the topless,” she said.
Why not just drop it altogether when domestic violence shelters don’t want any part of strip club money and when the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation contends that relaxing strip club rules exploits women and promotes a liquor-laden environment that heightens their chance of abuse by patrons?
“Why would you drop it if it’s still out there? People are still doing it, and we do need regulations for it,” Mitts said.
Mitts’ female colleagues are still hoping the chairman will have second thoughts after the latest strip club embarrassment.
“For the love of my colleague, I wish she would” drop it, said Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th).
“She had no idea that completely nudity was in the ordinance. She don’t even know how it got there. Could have been an error or whatever. But if that stays in there, I’m off . . . I’m not ever going to say, ‘Exploit women.’ And in its present form, it exploits women.”
The whole subject of strip clubs — whether the dancers are topless or fully nude — makes Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) squeamish to say the least.
“Those issues are horrible social issues for anybody to have to deal with. It’s just not things that the City Council . . . needs to be a part of,” Harris said.
“I’m a woman. I’ve got children. I would not like to bare my parts, if I could say it like that . . . It would be a horrible thing for me to sit up and say I’m 10,000 percent on board with other women doing it. I just think we live in a world of choice.”
Pressed on whether she would support the rewrite, Harris said: “I’m going to see which way it comes back.”
In 2013, Mayor Rahm 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 the club down 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.
Last week, Mitts used a similar argument to sell colleagues on her now-shelved strip club ordinance.
Currently, Chicago strip clubs that feature dancers wearing “pasties” and barely-there panties can sell liquor or allow patrons to bring in their own booze.
But liquor is not allowed in strip clubs that feature fully-nude dancers. Mitts’ ordinance would have eliminated that restriction.
Not only could liquor be consumed in fully-nude strip clubs, but partially-nude establishments could try to convert to fully-nude strip joints clubs offering liquor.