EAST VILLAGE — Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) butted heads with an influential neighborhood group in a contentious town hall meeting earlier this week, suggesting the group is mostly interested in blocking progress.
At the meeting Monday, Moreno described the East Village Association's leadership as "a cadre of nine or 10 people that have been trying to control this neighborhood" and warned, "It's not going to happen under me."
An audio recording of part of the nearly two-hour long meeting at Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave., was posted online by Steven Rynkiewicz, a member of the East Village Association, a volunteer group that often weighs in on development proposals.
At one point, Moreno tells Neal McKnight, the group's former president, "You are embarrassing yourself." McKnight interjects and Moreno says, "Keep your mouth shut for once."
The remarks came at the association's monthly meeting, which was also billed as a town hall-type forum to solicit ideas on how to fix the city's budget gap.
"I am not going to let NIMBYs get in the way [...] because they are talking about garbage arguments," Moreno said at the meeting, attended by about 20 people.
Listen to two heated moments from Monday's meeting:
The barbs started after Moreno confirmed that a plan to bring The Golden Arms bar to the former Club Foot spot at 1824 W. Augusta Blvd. "is not happening."
Moreno said, "Basically the owner of the property raised rent and Golden Arms did not want to come there."
The move would have required a local liquor moratorium to be lifted, which the association did not support. Moreno called the debate over the issue "healthy" but said the area's longstanding liquor moratorium was "ridiculous."
"I am very seriously considering lifting all moratoriums in East Village because they are old ways of dealing with protections in our city," Moreno said at the meeting.
In recent months, some neighbors living by the former Club Foot said that they did not support it becoming another bar under a different owner, though an online survey garnered a lot of support for the project.
Moreno said he has had more complaints about hot dog stands on Ashland Avenue than he did when Club Foot was open. The corner spot has been empty since it closed nine months ago.
Moreno cited city-negotiated Plans of Operation that spell out operating requirements for some bars as a way to address liquor license concerns. Such a plan was worked out so that a new Taco Bell could sell alcohol.
Greg Nagel, a local realtor and member of the East Village Association's executive board, demanded to know why Moreno lifted the moratorium back in 2012 so CVS could get a liquor license, and why Moreno accepted campaign contibutions from a late night bar seeking a 4 a.m. license, prompting Moreno to question Nagel's past presidency of the volunteer-run association.
Greg Nagel, speaking out about CVS' liquor license at East Village Association meeting. [Provided]
"I came here to talk about the city budget," Moreno said, telling Nagel, "You've embarrassed yourself enough, go away."
Nagel replies, "No, you've embarrassed yourself enough."
In the recording, Moreno can be heard talking about plans to tax smokeless tobacco and says he would support a possible property tax increase if necessary.
In discussing cuts to the city budget, Moreno asks a homeowner stewing over a tax increase, "Do you want to cut funding for the mentally ill?"
The homeowner replies, "Sure, if that's what it takes," prompting Moreno to tell the man, "I'm not your guy."
At the start of the meeting, Moreno told the association's leadership they "have a lot of work to do."
"If you are going to refer things to me you have to be a legitimate neighborhood organization that does legitimate things and not just say no all the time," Moreno said.
The fact Moreno questioned the legitimacy of the group angered some people.
"He asked to come to talk to us and the first thing he did was stand up and tell us that we were not legitimate," said one person who asked not to be named.
Suzanne Wahl, a longtime East Village Association member who was at the meeting, called it "almost surreal."
"Prior to last night I had always had wonderful dealings with [Moreno], his office has been extremely helpful in so many cases. Up until now he has withheld the liquor moratoriums and as a resident who also has children, I felt he was on the side of long-term property owners and people raising our families here. After last night, I felt he was on side of 20-something renters that want more alcohol and bars. It would be like someone you really knew and liked all of a sudden ripped you a new one," Wahl said.
Some people at the meeting said they supported Moreno's outbursts.
"I have never been prouder of Ald. Joe Moreno than I was last night. Ald. Moreno began his talk by stating what many in the community have been wanting for years: for [the East Village Association] to be a real community organization, rather than one that bullies and seems to only exist to try to be a defacto zoning board for the neighborhood," said David Burns, who has been an Association member for about 18 months and resident of the neighborhood since 2001.
On his Facebook page on Tuesday, Moreno referred to Monday's meeting and plugged another Town Hall appearance on Tuesday with members of the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association.
"We had a lively conversation at the East Village Association meeting yesterday evening and I'm still interested in hearing your revenue ideas so please join me TONIGHT at Output Lounge 1758 W. Grand at 6:30 p.m," Moreno said.
Reached Tuesday, Moreno told DNAinfo Chicago by text message that he stands by his statements made at the meeting in regards to possibly lifting all of the liquor moratoriums in the area.
For a longer recording of Monday's meeting, listen here:
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