Pulling a “Fioretti”

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(Photo: Would you give this man your birthday cake?)

[Cross-posted at ILLINOIZE.]

Last summer, when Bob Fioretti‘s campaign to unseat Chicago’s controversial Ward 2 alderman Madeline Haithcock was just getting off the ground, the Ward 2 pretender was making the rounds of downtown nonprofits to drum up support. Now, anyone looking at (or talking to) Bob Fioretti might get the idea that he’s possibly a bit, well, flighty of mind. Lord knows, his (is it or isn’t it) hair decision doesn’t help his case much.

Neither, in the eyes of me and my colleagues, did his mistaking one downtown highrise for another one day early last August. Apparently not one to be stopped by a little thing like an incorrect address, Fioretti burst like gangbusters into the 16th floor conference room where my confreres were feteing me on my (don’t you mind which number) birthday.

The look of befuddlement on his face was priceless. But he didn’t miss more than a beat. Regaining composure but realizing he was, obviously, in the wrong place, he strode into the room, looked at our festively set table, and said in all seriousness, “I’m Bob Fioretti and I’m running for Alderman of the second Ward, can I have some of your birthday cake?”

And from that moment on, every one of my colleagues began referring to doing something so absent-minded as to be asinine as “pulling a Fioretti”.

I hope that Fioretti’s style (and ability to decipher an address plaque) have improved since last year. Because if he wins the South Loop’s Ward 2 from Haithcock in the upcoming aldermanic run-off election on April 17, he’ll be helming one of the most contentious Wards in the city. And the problems there all revolve around location, location, location.

Ward 2, an odd mish-mish of South Loop and near southwest side addresses, is perhaps the city’s hottest current development market for residential condos, most of them in the form of River North-esque condo towers. And just like in River North, NIMBYism runs high on the south end of downtown, too. As one condo tower after another has gone up on Haithcock’s watch, residents have hemmed and hawed about losing light, and views, and other totally unguaranteed amenities of urban living.

Until recently, the most vocal anti-development group was the condo association at Folio Square, a small condo loft-conversion near the corner of Polk and Clark. They unsuccessfully demanded that Terrapin Properties‘ planned adjacent Burnham Pointe development be moved up the block in order to make sure they kept their stunning views of Blackie’s Bar across Clark Street.

Even Haithcock, widely criticized (like Ward 42’s soon to be former alderman Burt Natarus) for taking her marching orders from local developers (see these pointed Ward 2 threads in YoChicago and Skyscraper City), apologized at length on her now curiously off-line aldermanic website that there was nothing legally she could do to help. The few remaining wags at Folio Square finally shut up as Terrapin broke ground on the corner last December–and, boy, I bet they were miffed when the construction caused the closure of the surrounding sidewalks.

Their current silence is golden–downtown needs all the development it can get before the historic current housing cycle busts, only an idiot buys a high-rise condo next to an empty lot and expects to keep their views forever, and most importantly, Folio Square had more of a say about development than most downtowners usually ever get (hence the 42nd Ward’s happy ouster of Natarus by the avowedly resident-friendly Brendan Reilly). And for fullest disclosure, I’m especially glad Folio Square shut up, since my partner, Devyn, will be living in the new building.

But these kinds of squabbles over the correct balance between the need to keep Ward 2 livable and the need for new development will only continue, and pretty soon it may even be residents fighting residents. Try putting this on your Ward 2 radar screens: calls from newly arriving residents in the condo towers going up on Clark between Polk and Roosevelt for the old-guard residents of the Dearborn Park super-block to take down their literal brick walls and finally open up their jealously guarded east-west cross streets. Mark my words, the battle is coming, and it won’t be pretty.

Whoever comes out ahead on April 17 had better pull a page from the Brendan Reilly strategy book and start talking about building bridges between residents and developers and including residents in the development review process if they ever expect to be seen as a legitimate authority in the Ward.

Haithcock failed miserably in that regard. Given the ongoing development pressure in the South Loop, downtown deserves a lot better. And if Haithcock goes down, her successor, Fioretti, will need to work hard to convince Ward residents that he’s really on their side. For his sake, I hope they find him more persuasive than I did.

Because last August I told Bob Fioretti to go find his own birthday cake.

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