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Ald. Tom Tunney served restaurant customers indoors, defying state and city orders

“I made a mistake, and I’m owning up to it. I should have not sat regular customers in my restaurant whatsoever,” said Tunney, owner of Ann Sather Restaurants.

Ald. Tom Tunney inside his main Ann Sather restaurant in September 2020.
Ald. Tom Tunney inside his main Ann Sather restaurant.
AP file

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) acknowledged Monday he “made a mistake” by allowing some of his regular customers to dine inside his Ann Sather Restaurants in defiance of state and city orders banning indoor dining.

In late October, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered Illinois restaurants to close their dining rooms for a second time since the pandemic to stop a second surge of coronavirus cases that was worse than the first.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially voiced her concern about the devastating impact on Chicago restaurants, then came away from an hourlong meeting with the governor resigned to the rollback.

On Monday, “Second City Cop,” a blog devoted to police issues, disclosed that Tunney has been thumbing his nose at the governor’s order.

The item referred to Tunney’s restaurants as “Stan Rather’s” and included photographs of plates of food on indoor tables. On one table, there was a copy of the Dec. 3 Wall Street Journal along with a slice of bacon in the corner of the photo.

On Monday, Tunney openly acknowledged having defied the governor’s order.

“We have, on occasion, sat regular diners in the back of the restaurant. I acknowledge that. It’s not OK. I made a mistake, and I’m owning up to it. I should have not sat regular customers in my restaurant whatsoever,” said Tunney, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handpicked chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee.

“I have a lot of repeat customers over the years. On a sporadic basis, I have let regular customers — very few and far between — in my store. I made an error.”

Tunney was asked why he chose to defy the state and city orders. Was it because his restaurant was fighting for survival during a pandemic that has forced many Chicago restaurants to close?

“Everyone’s struggling,” he said. “I’m not gonna equate my situation with anyone else’s.”

Under repeated questioning about how many customers he had served indoors, Tunney hung up on a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

In a statement released minutes later, the aldermen said, “On a sporadic basis, we have allowed a very limited number of our regular diners to eat inside the restaurant while observing social distancing and mask-wearing rules. This was error in judgment and won’t happen again.”

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia, former owner of Leona’s Restaurants, said restaurants in Chicago and across the state have been “hemorrhaging for the last eight months.” Like his colleagues, Tunney was “trying to figure out how to keep team members employed and paid,” Toia said.

“It’s really, really a tough time. The alderman made an error in judgment. I would hope it won’t happen again,” Toia said.

“What he was trying to do is help some of his regular diners. That’s breaking the rules. He made a bad judgment call. Nobody should disobey the governor or the mayor’s executive order.”

Toia said the desperation that apparently prompted Tunney to defy the rules underscores the urgency for Congress to approve another stimulus bill that includes $120 billion in grants for independent restaurants.

“If they can’t pass the Restaurant Act, we really hope they give us a second round of PPP loans that turn into grants so we can … at least try to stay open,” Toia said.

“If things stay the way they are, with no indoor dining and no stimulus bill out of D.C., 66% of the restaurants here in the state will not be around in the next three or four months.”

The mayor’s office said the city’s COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions “apply to every single individual and establishment in Chicago” to protect the health and safety of all residents and visitors.

“Any business found in violation of these guidelines has been and will be held fully accountable. No exceptions,” the statement said.

“The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) continues to ensure regulations are enforced equally across the city, and it will take appropriate action in this instance as it has done with the thousands of investigations into COVID-19 compliance for businesses this year.”

During the early days of the pandemic, Lightfoot was ridiculed for having her hair done at a time when beauty salons and barber shops were closed. That’s even though she had recorded a clever public service announcement advising a friend, “Getting your roots done is not essential.”

More recently, the mayor was criticized for joining rejoicing demonstrators in the streets of Chicago without wearing a mask or social distancing to celebrate after Joe Biden was declared the winner over President Donald Trump.