It’s been a bad couple of days for Chick Fil-A with colorful characters controlled by someone else— first they lost the support of The Muppets, now Chicago aldermen may turn on them. Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, whose ward includes Logan Square, says he will try to block the arrival of Chick Fil-A’s second store in his ward because of the anti-gay-marriage sentiments and political activities of the company’s religious owners, as expressed by company president Dan Cathy in an interview last week. Moreno’s opposition immediately drew support from Mayor Emanuel, who said “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” So it seems likely that with all good progressive-thinking people in favor of blocking Chick Fil-A from opening in Logan Square, it’s a win-win for all, right? Allow us to throw out a couple of dissenting perspectives before we all celebrate.
The first irony here is that just a week ago, many of the same people were surely following the food truck ordinance hearings and urging city government to allow fair and open competition between food trucks and brick and mortar businesses, so that consumers could decide for themselves. Now they want government to get all in the face of a business and decide who can and who can’t open based on the politics of the people who own it. Is that really a criterion we want city government to apply to business licenses? If so, it ought to be applied fairly to all. Which would surely mean that Moreno should send city inspectors out to query the heavily Latino part of his ward, where we’re guessing that support for gay marriage is considerably lower than it is in the hipster part, and start shutting down taquerias and florists and body shops that don’t give the politically correct answer.
In fact, if anybody ought to be reluctant to give the city power to discriminate in the name of anti-discrimination, it’s gays. Urban machines have always used this kind of power to harass and ghettoize openly gay businesses, which remain confined to a few neighborhoods in the city even though one assumes that there are plenty of gays who shop and work in the Magnificent Mile, say. And not to imply anything about Alderman Moreno specifically, but everyone should be hesitant about the kind of “aldermanic privilege” over a business’s existence or not that has, traditionally in Chicago, been resolved with the passage of a paper bag full of twenties under a table at II Jack’s, or more genteely, with the purchase of insurance from a well-connected insurance agency. (Insert Chick Fil-A/wet-my-beak joke here.)
In the end, we’d rather Chick Fil-A, or any business, face open competition in a free market than have to curry favor with the nomenklatura. In Chick Fil-A’s case, that competition would be quite literal and direct: Leghorn, the chicken sandwich business that Jared Van Camp’s Element Collective plans to open in Logan Square, offering an avowedly pro-gay corporate stance as well as more humanely-raised chicken. We look forward to being able to vote with our wallets for a better product with better values behind it, rather than having the choice decided for us by any city official.