Why did Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno have a change of heart? ABC7's Ravi Baichwal talked to the 1st Ward alderman Wednesday.
It's a lesson in how Chicago politics works -- the power of aldermanic prerogative -- and what happens when a local zoning issue morphs into a national cause celebre.
Nearly a year ago, 1st Ward Alderman Moreno withheld his support of a zoning change that would allow Chick-fil-A to open in the parking lot of a Home Depot on North Western Avenue. He went public with that opposition after Chik-fil-A chairman Dan Cathy publically supported organizations that work to deny equal rights for gays.
That ignited a firestorm of protest on both sides this summer. The Chick-fil-A in Schaumburg was mobbed with supporters of the company's free speech rights.
Now the alderman says the company has sent a memo to its staff and franchisees about "who we are," an e-mail that commits Chik-fil-A to "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
But the memo goes no further than what the company said at the time of the crisis.
"Is it a panacea? Does it cure all? No, it doesn't," said Moreno. "It's a big step in trying to provide for equal rights for all folks regardless of sexual orientation."
The alderman says he has been shown proof that Chick-fil-A's charitable arm is no longer giving money to "groups with political agendas," something promised in a letter from Chick-fil-A Moreno received last January.
"The only thing that I was concerned on is their policy and their giving, and those policies and their giving have changed dramatically," said Moreno. Anthony Martinez, executive director of the pro-gay Civil Rights Agenda advocacy group, calls the "who we are" statement a step forward, but there is room for backsliding.
"The words that they sent out is not exactly an anti-discrimination policy," said Martinez. "So we would like to see that adopted that specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity."
As for Chick-fil-A, ABC7's calls to the Atlanta-based company were not returned.
Officially, the alderman says his change of heart also has to do with Chick-fil-A's willingness to change its traffic planning for the site on Elston -- an important consideration so that he couldn't be taken to court for denying the zoning change because he simply didn't like the company.