Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on April 12, 2000 in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner on Tuesday got his honorary street sign after all, thanks to a legislative end-run that overturned an earlier vote by some aldermen who called the designation an insult to women.
The vote that critics said flouted City Council rules followed an emotional appeal from Hefner’s daughter, an adults-only debate about what constitutes pornography and a law student’s threat to defeat aldermen who supported the measure.
Hours later, Hefner and about 75 people — mostly media and men — watched as a city worker yanked off a placard to unveil the “Hugh M. Hefner Way” sign at Walton and Michigan. Hefner bristled at the notion his magazine is pornographic.
“Anybody who calls Playboy `pornography’ is living in another century,” said Hefner, 74. “We still live in curious times that remain very Puritan, but at the same time we’ve come a long way, baby.”
In an interview with the Sun-Times, Hefner joked about the “so-called controversy.”
“At least this time, unlike 30 years ago, this Mayor Daley spoke up on my behalf,” said the Playboy founder, referring to the mayor’s support of the street sign.
He said the debate reminded him of a similar one when he was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “I guess there must be something about concrete and me not getting along,” he said.
On Monday, the City Council Transportation Committee rejected the street sign after a group of female aldermen and women’s advocates argued that Hefner didn’t deserve the honor.
That prompted Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd), who proposed the honor, to ask the Finance Committee to approve the designation. Natarus got around City Council rules_which otherwise wouldn’t have allowed the committee switch_by picking a different corner of the intersection for the sign. The full council will vote on the matter today.
Opponents reiterated their arguments Tuesday. James Madigan, a third-year law student at the University of Chicago, said Hefner’s success “is due to one basic business service: He gets women to expose their genitalia for money.”
At the request of Ald. William Beavers (7th), Madigan held up the centerfold for a wall of TV cameras.
“While we don’t have influence or money, we’re going to get your attention the old-fashioned way. We’re going to encourage people to vote you out,” Madigan said.
But Playboy CEO Christie Hefner portrayed her controversial father as a champion of racial equality and social justice who deserves the honor.
“It is difficult for me to sit and listen to people not only mischaracterize my father, but . . . slander him,” she said.
“It is difficult to me to listen to a mischaracterization of a magazine that, if it were taken to be true, would truly suggest that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, Julia Roberts in R-rated movies, Madonna and everything that is sexy and beautiful out there is pornographic. I don’t think that’s the world we want to live in.”
Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) and Natarus were criticized by aldermanic colleagues for violating the parliamentary bible — Roberts Rules of Order — that they wave in the face of less senior colleagues.
“If you don’t pass it over here, I’m going to take it over there and get it passed. . . . That was totally wrong and it’s going to come back and haunt Burt Natarus,” Beavers said.
Contributing: Bill Zwecker