| by Project Six

This originally appeared in the Chicago City Wire on November 13, 2017

By S. Laney Griffo

A Chicago alderman accused of abusing his power has been placed in the spotlight after a government watchdog published an investigation on its website.

Project Six, a nonprofit that focuses corruption in Illinois, has been following a Chicago landlord’s fight against Alderman Joe Moreno of Chicago’s 1st Ward, Project Six reported.

Brian Strauss is the owner of 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., which was the location of the Double Door concert venue. In 2015, after months of Double Door not making supplement lease payments, Strauss began the eviction process and sought a new tenant.

According to the investigation, Double Door was a campaign donor for Moreno. Moreno stepped in when Double Door became at risk of losing its location.

“In that year there have been multiple instances where Alderman Moreno has stepped over the line and abused his power as alderman with the city zoning system, with his powers in city hall and also has really just acted as, for lack of a better word, a bully to Brian Strauss,” Nathanial Hamilton, director of marketing and communications for Project Six, told Chicago City Wire.

Moreno introduced a proposal to Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards that would lower Strauss’ building’s zoning, limiting the types of businesses he could rent to.

The proposal was passed in June, the investigation stated.

“He went from having a $10 million offer on his building in 2016 to now just August of this year, he had an offer for just $6.5 million,” Hamilton said. “So over the course of a year, take the exact same building in the exact same condition, its value has dropped $3.5 million as a 100 percent result of Alderman Moreno’s actions.”

According to the investigation, Moreno wasn’t the only elected official involved; other aldermen and City Council members had to vote on Moreno’s proposal.

“Over the course of a year we’ve seen multiple different things that Alderman Moreno, himself, has said and done and how he’s acted but also many other both alderman and appointed city officials that have both known about it and let it happen or actively helped Alderman Moreno bully this private business owner,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton believes Chicago’s system allows for this sort of corruption and that Strauss is not the only business owner dealing with similar situations with other aldermen.

“Really the core issue that is the reason for all these problems that we’re seeing in this case is the system that exists in Chicago gives, really almost, absolute power to local Aldermen,” Hamilton said.

Because of this system, Hamilton said people in Strauss’ position have very few options. Strauss has filed a case against the city of Chicago and Moreno, claiming they violated his rights.

Hamilton thinks Strauss has a chance to win the case because Moreno has been so blatant with his corruption, but the lawsuit is costing taxpayers money.

“Whatever the outcome of that lawsuit is, whether it goes to trial and Brian Strauss wins, or even loses or if the city settles, that lawsuit is now going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the lawsuit will likely be heard this month.