(CBS) – A building owner says a Chicago alderman threatened him over the closing of the Double Door music club – comments that were caught on cell phone video.
What the alderman said is raising questions about his power and whether he went too far.
2 Investigator Dave Savini reports.
The video shows Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) talking with building owner Brian Strauss.
“I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t trust you,” Moreno says.
“Don’t trust me for what?” Strauss asks.
“I don’t trust your word. I don’t think you’re a man,” the alderman responds.
At one point, Moreno points in Strauss’s face.
The building they are standing in front of — and arguing about — is at the corner of Milwaukee and Damen. It housed historic music venue Double Door for two decades, until Strauss evicted the business in February.
Strauss said the video was taken the day of the eviction. The alderman knew he was being recorded, he says.
In the video, Moreno says he’s upset over the “tragedy” of the club’s closing.
“It’s a part of life,” Strauss says.
“Right,” Moreno says. “And part of life is also that you’re not going to have a tenant in here for three years.”
The fight reportedly stems from Moreno wanting to keep the Double Door, a campaign donor, in the building.
“I felt that he was intimidating me and that that he was threatening me,” Strauss tells Savini.
Strauss claims the alderman tried to convince him, at a City Hall meeting, to sell the building to Double Door for millions less than its worth. Strauss said no.
While Strauss fought in court to vacate Double Door’s lease, Moreno introduced an ordinance to change the building’s zoning. Called “down zoning,” it would restrict the type of commercial and residential renters Strauss can sign.
“You can’t sign new leases for your tenants,” Moreno says. “It’s going to be an empty building with no income for you or your family. End of conversation.”
Faisal Khan, the former Chicago Inspector General, now runs government watchdog group Project Six, which has reported on the incident.
“It’s business owner’s worse nightmare,” Khan says about what was on the video. “What troubled me the most were the aldermanic threats.”
One of the threats involved sending building inspectors to the site.
“I’m going to have inspectors here on a daily basis, you watch,” Moreno says.
Strauss responds: “Listen, you can threaten me all you want.”
“I’m not threatening you,” Moreno says. He predicts the building owner would come back to him, on his knees.”
Reached by Savini, Moreno says he has done nothing wrong.
“I’m glad the video is out there,” he says.
“That’s the way it goes. People get heated.”
As the argument ended on the tape, Moreno walked over to one of the Double Door owners, shook hands and said, “I can’t be more frank than that.”
Moreno says it’s his job to protect community institutions like Double Door. He also says there are a lot of problems at the building and he wants to make sure the building is safe.
Strauss says any past violations were minor and have been repaired or in the process of repair. He plans to sell the building to a private developer.
The Double Door’s Sean Mulroney issued his own account of the lease dispute:
“After extended litigation and extensive settlement discussions, Mr. Strauss decided to lock out Double Door from the place where we had been a tenant for almost 24 years. Mr. Strauss terminated the lease under particularly dishonest circumstances after accepting substantial additional monies from Double Door and realizing the benefit of almost $100,000 in improvements just a year prior.
At the request of the Mayor’s office and with the participation of Alderman Moreno, Alderman Solis and Commissioner Reifman, the parties attempted to work through the matter and provide a reasonable solution for all. Mr. Strauss did not participate in good faith. It was at that meeting the he was informed that the change in zoning was not an unusual step for an alderman to take in order to protect the integrity of the community. In this case Milwaukee Avenue is a protected boulevard and consequently, there is a heightened need to insure that any new use conform with that designation and the wishes of the community.
Double Door no longer has any skin in the game so to speak. We are excited about the prospect of reopening in a space with a landlord that appreciates being paid on time and without issue. We were grateful for the attention of Alderman Moreno and worked closely with him to be a part of Wicker Park, just as we did with his predecessor, Alderman Manny Flores.
Mr. Strauss has been mis-advised and poorly represented by the counsel he chose to represent him. It would have been to his benefit to have hired an attorney with experience in city and zoning matters. All the information was there in front of him. He just didn’t want to see it.”