By: Mark Fitzgerald Chicago Jewish weekly fights City Hall over newsbox placement, decries city employees who shift their box locations sp.
CHICAGO MAYOR RICHARD M. Daley is a neatnik. He hates litter, he hates graffiti ? and he really hates to see a jumble of newspaper boxes chained to light standards downtown. So last spring when Daley ordered one of his periodic crackdowns on newspaper box placement ? a campaign to tidy up the city in time for the World Cup matches in July ? almost all the many papers serving the city went along, dutifully lining up in rows of six and adding weights or chaining themselves together rather than to light poles. Over the past few years, Chicago's newspapers have avoided a newsrack ordinance by cooperating in a voluntary effort to keep the boxes in some order. One free-distribution Jewish newspaper, however, is refusing to get with the program ? and is now the apparent target in an increasingly bitter feud with City Hall. The Chicago Jewish Star has just a couple of dozen honor boxes in downtown Chicago ? but says its twice-monthly paper has become a special target of city employees. Jewish Star vice president Paul Wertheimer says the Skokie-based paper's boxes have been moved, vandalized and even discarded by city employees over the past two years. One box in front of a downtown museum of Jewish culture has been moved and vandalized repeatedly. In occasional meetings and correspondence with the paper, however, city bureaucrats always denied municipal employees were tampering with the boxes, Wertheimer said. Late on a warm Wednesday night in June, however, the Jewish Star finally got proof of its suspicions. Staking out a newspaper box, a Jewish Star photographer snapped a picture of a Chicago Streets and Sanitation worker cutting the chains of a Star box and moving it. The picture ended up on the front page of the July 15 Jewish Star, over a headline reading, "On Chicago streets, free speech succumbs to 4-foot-long bolt cutters." Adding injury to this insult, Wertheimer said, that issue's entire allotment of 2,000 copies for downtown boxes disappeared within a day or so. "That's an example of the ugliness of this thing," Wertheimer said. City Hall, Wertheimer said, "is simply arrogant. This is going to stop. They don't control private property. And their whims don't control where we can place our boxes . . . as long as we don't block access or endanger public safety." The Jewish Star is trying to enlist the American Civil Liberties Union in its cause, and has interested the Illinois Press Association in the dispute. "Obviously, our number one concern is that newsracks are being damaged, moved, which is not consistent with the agreement the city has with newspapers. Furthermore, there seems to be no health or safety issue involved here, as far as we can see," said IPA executive director Dave Bennett. Wertheimer said his paper has never been invited to meetings about the voluntary newsstand arrangement. "It appears the city's idea of a voluntary agreement is if you don't agree to volunteer, they will volunteer you," Wertheimer said. "There needs to be a showdown with the city on this constitutional issue," he added. It's hard to get a consistent answer from City Hall about the dispute with the Star. Tom Smith, a senior planner in the Department of Planning and Development, heads the voluntary newsstand effort, according to published reports and newspaper representatives. In a telephone interview, he denied that was one of his responsibilities and declined to comment extensively on the case. However, in a 1992 letter to Wertheimer, Smith wrote that "no one in the employment of the City of Chicago has been authorized to move, alter or rearrange any newspaper boxes as part of the voluntary, North Michigan Avenue [downtown] clean-up program." And Department of Planning and Development spokesman Greg Longhini similarly said city employees are not moving newspaper boxes. "City employees have never, to my knowledge, moved a newspaper box. We have no authority to do it. We don't do it," Longhini said. But the spokesman for Streets and Sanitation says that the worker photographed moving the Jewish Star box was a city employee ? and so what? "What he was doing was perfectly legal," said spokesman Terry Levin. "There has been an incredible proliferation of newspaper boxes. What the city is doing is lining them up. Anyone who wants to be at a particular intersection can be. "The single, only complaint we've gotten has been from the Jewish Star. This stuff in the [Star] article about 'it's against the law' ? it's nonsense," Levin said. "I didn't know Terry Levin was a constitutional lawyer," Wertheimer said in response. "He obviously has no knowledge of what he's talking about. They know they don't have a right to do this. If they did have a right to do it, they would do it in the middle of the day. . . . " "If our distributors and readers can't find them, then our advertisers stop. We plan to keep moving our boxes back to where we want to, as long as they don't disrupt traffic or impede access," Wertheimer said. ? (Staking out a newspaper box, a Jewish Star photographer snapped a picture of a Chicago Streets and Sanitation worker cutting the chains of a Star newsbox. The above picture ended up on the front page of the July 15 Star over a headline reading, "On Chicago streets, free speech succombs to 4-foot-long bolt cutters.")[Photo & Caption]