LOGAN SQUARE — The dispute between two Chicago aldermen over whether a Logan Square liquor store is a public nuisance turned personal and heated this week when Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) questioned whether campaign contributions are clouding Ald. Roberto Maldonado's judgment.
Late Tuesday, Maldonado called his fellow alderman's comments "disgraceful" and said Moreno is "way out of his mind" and "out of touch" for even questioning him.
The rare public dust-up between two aldermen over a neighborhood issue could add another chapter Wednesday when both are expected at a City Council meeting at City Hall. Moreno said he plans to use the meeting to call for public nuisance hearings on the disputed store, Armitage Food at 3635 W. Armitage, a move that could affect its license to sell liquor.
At issue is whether Armitage Food, also known as Lucky 7, is a detriment to the neighborhood, as some residents insisted at a neighborhood meeting conducted by Moreno last week. The store, however, sits in Maldonado's 26th Ward. He said there's no evidence the store is a bad neighbor, and he does not plan to support Moreno's call for hearings.
That stance led Moreno to question whether contributions made to Maldonado's campaign fund by the store's owner are playing a role, something Maldonado angrily denied.
The company that owns Armitage Food — listed as IBNN Inc., 3635 W. Armitage, in campaign disclosures — contributed $1,500 a year to Maldonado's campaign in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, records show.
"The level of contributions from a small liquor store raises a concern, and I would be disturbed if that were the reason for no action in the past from the alderman of the 26th Ward," Moreno said.
When told of Moreno's comments, Maldonado fired back, saying he's never challenged Moreno's campaign contributors.
"I'm perplexed by that comment," Maldonado told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "He's way out of his mind when he dares to make a comment like that. I think it's disgraceful for him to make those kinds of comments. ... He's way out of touch. I resent deeply those comments made by Ald. Moreno."
Adding to the drama is the fact that the store is in Maldonado's ward, and Chicago aldermen rarely venture across ward boundaries and question another alderman's decisions. Moreno said he got involved because the store is near his ward's border and his constituents have complained to him about customers hanging out in front, drinking and causing problems.
Maldonado said Moreno doesn't know enough about the situation, and cracking down on the store would be "irresponsible" because his office has not fielded complaints.
"I don't have any empirical evidence to go after them," Maldonado said.
When residents raised the campaign contribution issue last week, Maldonado said the money had no effect on his handling of the store.
"I take donations from businesses in the ward and outside," Maldonado said last week. "It's amazing that some individuals in the neighborhood think that I'm so flexible that I'll go along with a business owner just because they gave me a donation. I give business owners reasonable time that they need to correct issues they may have, and if they don’t, I take action."
Bashir Choudry, who owns Armitage Food and IBNN Inc., said business owners typically contribute to the local alderman, and he said his store is an asset to the neighborhood and has been responsive to community demands since it opened in 1993.
"It's not an absent operation," Choudry said. "I've been there for 20 years; it's our bread and butter."
Choudry said that loiterers and others sip liquor in the parking lot from time to time — before employees are able to spot them — but he said most of his customers are law-abiding patrons of the store.
"We never have any problems like that. It's not possible. I’m very strict about that," Choudry said, adding that the store employs a security guard and three security cameras.
Moreno said he plans to go over Maldonado's head and take his case directly to the City Council after first talking with Maldonado about the store.
"I approached Ald. Maldonado a few weeks ago and let him know about the petition and the meetings I was having with my constituents that were affected by the store," Moreno said. "I told the community that I would approach him first.
"He said he had no issues with the store. I told him I was going to move forward with addressing the issues the community had with the store, and he walked away from me saying he would have no part of it."
Moreno said he plans to ask Wednesday for Armitage Food to face "deleterious impact status," which would trigger public hearings and possibly lead to action against the store.
Maldonado scolded Moreno on the issue last week, saying Moreno should "talk about this location with more knowledge" before passing judgment.
Moreno said he has faith that the hearing process can work.
"I have faith in [the deleterious impact] process because I’ve been through it four times," he said. "If we can get them to work with us we should. ... If not, we’ve got a lot of hammers to shut them down."