Free Minds & Free Markets

Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to 'Come Back To Me On Your Knees' Sued for Abuse of Power

Brian Strauss sues to protect his property rights.

Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss's building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property.

Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno's abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss' rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

According to Strauss's suit, Moreno's threats and eventual downzoning "were completely out of character with both the zoning and actual uses of the neighborhood," "were proposed in bad faith," and "were done for personal rather than a public interest".

Strauss's trouble began in late 2015, when he tried to evict the Double Door Music Hall from a Wicker Park property his family had owned since the '60s. (The eviction was prompted by several lease violations.) Moreno, who had received more than $7,500 in campaign donations from Double Door's management, requested that Strauss let the business stay on.

Strauss declined and began looking for another tenant. Then Moreno's gloves came off.

"I'm tired of hearing about the sympathy of you and your family," the alderman reportedly told Strauss and his attorney at one meeting. "Double Door is going to be in that building, there will never be another tenant in there, there will never be another sign on that building."

Over the coming months, Moreno—in meetings brokered and attended by staffers for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—tried to get Strauss to sell his building to Double Door for $7 million, despite its market value of nearly $10 million.

When that failed, the alderman started introducing downzoning proposals for Strauss's property that would have made it off limits for most business uses. In June 2017, Moreno even tried to reclassify the building as a residential unit, which would prohibit practically all commercial uses.

That failed, but in September the city council did pass a downzoning ordinance, which prevents Strauss from converting his property to a general restaurant, a bar, or even, ironically, its previous use as concert venue.

In a very public, and very disturbing, encounter with Strauss, Moreno made clear his zoning changes were all about extracting concessions.

"You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen," he raged. "It's gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family."

Other officials went along with this under the longstanding practice of "aldermanic privilege," which basically means that other aldermen don't interfere with their colleagues' zoning and regulatory practices in their own wards.

Moreno's actions have taken their toll on Strauss's attempts to sell the building. Three sales have now fallen through, with developers citing the downzoning proposals as reasons for walking away.

Strauss is now asking for $9.6 million in damages from those lost sales, saying that Moreno's "extreme and outrageous" conduct amounts to a taking of his property without due process of law.

As Reason's Eric Boehm noted when this story surfaced in May, Moreno is not a big fan of property rights. He previously tried to prevent a Chick-Fil-A from opening in his ward because of the owners' views on gay marriage, and also attempted to block the construction of a Wal-Mart because it wasn't "a perfect fit for the area."

Said Boehm:

The rule of law requires that government officials have their authority held in check, specifically to prevent abuses like the ones that Chicago's civic system seems to encourage. Moreno is free to believe that Chick-fil-A's executives are wrong about gay marriage, and he's free to dislike shopping at Wal-Mart. He should not be able to use his position of authority to block those businesses from operating in his ward, and he certainly shouldn't be able to threaten property owners with targeted zoning changes if they don't kneel before him, as if he were some sort of feudal lord.

Strauss agrees, telling the government watchdog Project Six, "This isn't about the numbers, it's about aldermanic abuse of powers. You are just messing with people."

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk/Double Door

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  • Longtobefree||

    " . . . . and that's how we do it in Chicago."


    Chicago used to be a great place to live. Then, the yuppies came. Wicker Park is the yuppie epicenter. Don't even go there to visit.

  • gphx||

    Every time the power goes out those yuppies start smashing glass and stealing Docksiders and Izod. Damn albino porch monkeys.

  • Longtobefree||

    I read once that no work boots have ever been taken during a looting rampage.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Maybe the property owner should have gotten his firefighter buddies together and beat the hell out of the crooked Alderman.

  • Finrod||

    To do it the real Chicago way would involve giving the slimy Alderman a brand-new pair of cement shoes and a personal view of the bottom of Lake Michigan.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Feudalists gonna feud.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Abuse of Power is a legal charge?

  • Tionico||

    yup Sure is

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As Reason's Eric Boehm noted when this story surfaced in May, Moreno is not a big fan of property rights. He previously tried to prevent a Chick-Fil-A from opening in his ward because of the owners' views on gay marriage, and also attempted to block the construction of a Wal-Mart because it wasn't "a perfect fit for the area."

    I don't understand here. This seems to suggest that a politician that uses his powers for good might be able to later apply them in other ways which might not be so good? This seems like a lot of moves ahead on the chessboard to be looking at. Let's just concentrate on the Chick-Fil-A reasoning and stick with that.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Look, i may disagree with the Cathy family's stance on gay marriage, but if anyone EVER tried to prevent a Chick-Fil-A from opening in my area i would never stop punching them.

  • some guy||

    Diane is worried about the Chick-Fil-A reasoning. Citizen X is worried about the Chick-Fil-A seasoning.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It's pickle juice and sugar, and it's delicious as fuck.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I didn't realize there was a chick-fil-a only a few blocks from where I work. I discovered it last week at 2:30 and the line was stretching out the door.

    My point is:

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    line was stretching out the door.

    Clearly, you live in Trump Country.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Midtown Manhattan. That's why it felt noteworthy.

  • some guy||

    It's Chicago. The only "perfect" fits for the area are people as corrupt as Moreno and those willing to tolerate them.

  • fdog50||

    "Not a perfect fit for the neighborhood" means the Alderman was offered an "imperfect " amount of money for his approval.

  • some guy||

    The number of reasons for not moving to Chicago is countably infinite.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Plus those accents.

  • Dr Fallout||

    yep, some mighty fine casserole.

    We should nuke Chicago from orbit; it's the only way to be sure.

  • Jerryskids||

    Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That's a world I'd love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They'd love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality.

    Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that's the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development.

  • buddhastalin||

    Sometimes I almost wish the left could have their way. I'd laugh my ass off watching NYC going from the greatest city on earth to Venezuela. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people.

  • commentguy||

    Maybe learn something about Singapore before you assume that all government regulation of property ends up in anarchy and poverty.

  • Galane||

    There's a place that tried that. It WAS the Union of Soviet Socialist "Republics'.

  • Carter Mitchell||

    Move to North Korea. You'll feel right at home.

  • John||

    Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to 'Come Back To Me On Your Knees' Sued for Abuse of Power

    Havey Weinstein is a Chicago Alderman? Who knew?

  • ||

    You joke, but there really isn't much difference between Harvey and Chicago's Aldermen.

  • Radioactive||

    who weighs more? it's the only conclusive way to tell...

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    There's one big one; Harvey was never elected to anything.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Weinstein has far more influence on our lives than this Chicago douchebag. One can only hope he's driven to suicide, and the story keeps growing to further d3stroy much of the Hollywood left.

  • John||

    Former Olympic Gymnast says NBC tried to bury her accusations of sex abuse. What is it with NBC and sex crimes?

  • Otis B. Driftwood||

    Christ, the incessant whataboutisms as a response to any woman coming forward marks the left as emotionally and intellectually bankrupt.

  • John||

    I don't think this is left or right. NBC owns the rights to the Olympics. It getting out that women's gymnastics was a haven for perverts and sadists would have been bad for ratings. That was all that was going on there.

  • ||

    What is it with NBC and sex crimes?

    Is anyone else worried that with Fox and NBC that we're going to end up 'Title IXing' the rape culture media?

    Elizabeth 'Die Fhrerin' Warren rising?

    /seriously not serious

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Please let someone prevail against a Chicago alderman.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Savage beatings are often effective.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    What manner of rapscallion must this knave be, to besmirch the honour of a machine politician?

    /Rahm Emanuel

  • Otis B. Driftwood||

    I'm willing to put up with a little despotism if the despot promises to take from others and give to me.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Thank you for pointing me towards Bastiat. I had not heard of him m before, and he looks interesting.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    It would be a shame if Moreno's house were to catch fire.

  • buddhastalin||

    Where's the district attorney in all of this?

  • Karl Hungus||

    Probably 100 percent on board.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Only 100 percent?

  • Karl Hungus||

    This is Chicago. You'll have to grease some palms if you want more than a hundred percent.

  • ||

    These corpses don't dig themselves up you know!

  • Karl Hungus||

    "You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen . . . It's gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family."

    Tarring and feathering seems appropriate.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Too good for a petty tyrant like this scumbag. That this conversation was being recorded and the shithead alderman shows no remorse over it speaks volumes. I hope he's sued so far into poverty that his great grandchildren end up penniless.

  • Longtobefree||

    Tarring requires the use of petrochemical compounds; Feathering requires abuse of chickens.
    Not gonna happen in a people's republic.

  • mysmartstuffs||

    This "Block Yomomma" thing is really, really not clever. And makes you look like a racist. You must realize that, right? Right?

  • dchang0||

    The racist card has been overplayed so much nobody gives a shit any more.

    In fact, I automatically discount anyone who plays it, even if they are correct on the point.

    And I was actually the victim of white supremacist physical violence in the past. Yes, that's how bad the racist card has been overplayed.

  • dchang0||

    (And yes, there is a difference between the race card and the racist card. To play the race card, according to the rules of the SJW left, one can only be a member of an oppressed racial minority. A white person can never play the race card. It is played in order to gain sympathy or as a negotiating tactic against a white person.

    The racist card is when a person calls another person a racist in order to browbeat the other person in an argument and/or virtue signal. A white person can play the racist card, such as a leftist SJW white male calling another white male racist in order to gain brownie points with a leftist audience.

    Either way, both of these must be stopped, or our political discourse will be forever mired in the Oppression Olympics.)

  • macsnafu||

    This politician should consider himself lucky the guy didn't grab a gun and shoot him to death. I'll bet he was tempted to.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Impossible. Chicago's strict gun laws mean nobody in the city has one.

  • p3orion||

    And we have a winner!

  • Elias Fakaname||

    He could have used a sword to cut his head off. Then he could get the alderman's quickening.

  • Longtobefree||

    Cultural appropriation.
    Unless you are an immortal.

  • Tionico||

    and it infuriates the gummit dweebs that folks from OTHER counties in Illinois can get their Mother May I Card and then carry lawfully in Chicago. Like that Uber driver who shot the punk was target practicing on some folks on a front porch. Surprised the punk, cause he was CERTAIN no one in Chicago could legally be packing. HE got his just reward. And good on him.

  • techgump||

    The real crazy part of this act is that aldermen, and politicians in general, are being paid with tax dollars to use thier time doing this utterly counter-productive, vindictive bs. And people eat it up and call it "necessary". Imagine if you got paid, from the taking of society's producers no less, to harass people you simple don't like. Make no mistake, this isn't a one off occurrence. This is exactly what this guy does day in and out. Gov't is a bloated waste-land, where good money goes to burn, and attracts people just like this to it's power.

  • dantheserene||

    Alderman is a particularly odious example of the breed. They exist to help their friends and hurt their not-friends.

  • dchang0||

    It's an awful lot like members of the HOA board, just on a grander scale and with the power of law enforcement instead of civil suits.

  • TJM||

    The "aristocracy of pull".

  • TxJack 112||

    This is what they mean when people use the phrase, "The Chicago Way". The gangsters who run the city do it from city hall instead of the streets and hotels like Capone did in the 1920s. If there is truly justice, Strauss will win and Moreno will go to jail for corruption or at least, be removed from the City Council. However, I doubt either is likely considering what a cesspool Chicago actually is and always has been.

  • Longtobefree||

    Capone also did it from City Hall; just by remote control.


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