Alderman Greg Mitchell’s (7th) belief that “aldermanic prerogative is needed” to build up his ward has gotten him into hot water with five African American female business owners who say his refusal to issue them an “access to alley” letter has caused some of them to go out of business, sell or go bankrupt.
Thanks to Mitchell, the 7th Ward will not enjoy the conveniences of two daycare centers, one cigar shop and an event space. The fifth woman was the mother of one of the daycare owners who gave her daughter money from her husband’s life insurance policy. Jasmine Baynes, a Realtor, said she has lost at least $150,000 trying to get an “access to alley” letter needed to open her daycare center.
Information found on the City of Chicago’s website provides an explanation as to why these business owners requested what they referred to as an “access to alley” letter – it’s the law. Many if not most commercial businesses and residential apartment buildings require access to an alley. Put simply it means you are using the City of Chicago’s alley as part of your business and therefore must get approval from from the alderman. The alderman prepares an “alley access ordinance” to introduce to City Council for passage.
According to the Chicago Department of Transportation Driveway Rules and Regulations dated March 2, 2021, “An ‘alley access ordinance’ is required to allow motor vehicles to use an alley to access a property. An alley access ordinance may be obtained from the alderman of the ward in which the property is located. Applicants seeking a commercial driveway permit for a property which requires an alley access ordinance must submit the alderman’s approval with their driveway permit application. Written approval from the alderman on aldermanic letterhead pending passage of the ordinance is acceptable.”
Her efforts to get an “access to alley” letter from Mitchell began in 2018 when she was still in school getting her daycare director’s license. Baynes thought it would be the last step in her dream of owning her own daycare center.
After she earned her director’s license, she never thought it would be the beginning of the end of her hopes and dreams of becoming an entrepreneur because by then the pandemic began. Strangely, while she was trying to get the “access to alley” letter from Mitchell, she received a stop work order. When she called the city to find out what was going on, Baynes said she was told there was no record of a stop work order. That is when she began emailing Mitchell rather than talking to him on the phone.
Baynes wonders if it were Mitchell who initiated the stop work order “out of retaliation against business people in his ward he doesn’t want there,” she said.
She said at that point she didn’t need a work permit because she was only doing cosmetic work on her daycare center.
Still, Baynes continued to call and email Mitchell many times seeking the coveted “access to alley” permit, but finally had to admit she was at the end of her fiscal rope, having run out of funds including the money her mother, Jeanette Fiadzoe, gave her from her husband’s life insurance to help start up her daycare business at 2711 E. 93rd St.
Instead of holding a grand opening ceremony, she is now forced to sell her business and all because of Mitchell’s refusal to give her an “access to alley” letter. “I decided to sell because we could no longer financially carry it anymore,” she told the Chicago Crusader. “We had to sell the property because my mother used money from the life insurance funds.”
Baynes’ mother would be the fifth Black female affected by Mitchell’s refusal to issue an “access to alley” permit. Baynes said at one point Mitchell allegedly told her that the city was reviewing her request; however, she confirmed that “was not true.”
After repeated calls last December, Baynes said the alderman finally responded asking her to give him answers to five or six questions, but Baynes said she couldn’t comply with his requests because she still needed that “access to alley” letter in order for the city to give her the documents Mitchell requested. It was then that Baynes realized she was “getting the runaround, railroaded by Alderman Mitchell,” Baynes said.
In January of 2021, Baynes again reached out to Mitchell, and he reportedly told her he wanted the Building and Health Departments to come in. Stunned, Baynes said, “We are still under construction. All that he is requiring is under the licensing phase. He was trying to put the cart before the horse. There is no way he is requiring this of every business in his ward because if so, there would be no businesses in his ward.” It was then that Baynes found out there were other Black, female business owners being roadblocked by Mitchell.
“We are now in 2021, and we realized we will never get this letter,” she said.
Last week, Baynes filed a complaint with the city’s inspector general, not just for her case but so that this nightmare she has experienced won’t happen to other Black female business owners wanting to do business in the 7th Ward. “It has been devastating,” Baynes said. “We are all Black women. Alderman Mitchell is an egotistical bully. If it is not his way, it’s no way. He is running the ward as if it is like his way or no way. We asked him when is his next community meeting because he keeps saying his constituents don’t want these businesses.” Baynes said Mitchell hasn’t had a meeting since 2019. “When is he talking to the people about what they want in the ward?”
“I thought aldermanic privilege was removed when Mayor Lightfoot took office, but he is still trying to exercise that. He is using the “access to alley” letter as his weapon of choice because he knows we can’t get past Zoning or anything without that letter,” Baynes said. Male business owners, she said, have no problems with the alderman.
Asked if she is thinking of filing a class action lawsuit, Baynes said, “That is not off the table. We want to know if what he is doing is legal.”
In 2019 Mitchell told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Aldermen definitely need to use their power responsibly but at the same time we do need the appropriate authority and tools to get things accomplished in our wards. It is about a balance. Aldermanic prerogative is needed in many cases to build up our wards and get our residents the resources they need.”
Baynes said, “If the alderman’s top priority as a candidate was to increase business development in the area, why would he reject four viable businesses that could help bring economic development into an area full of dilapidated buildings?
“At least three of the businesses proposed planned to utilize previously vacant property,” Baynes stated. “The owners invested their own resources to fix them up and turn them into fully functioning properties, but thanks to Greg Mitchell these buildings all continue to sit vacant.
“When Aldermen in the city of Chicago like Jim Gardiner and Ed Burke are under investigation for abuse of their power, these actions by Alderman Mitchell beg the question if there are other motivations behind his actions,” Baynes told the Chicago Crusader.
Representing other Black female victims is Jocilyn Floyd, a senior mediator for the Chicagoland Mediation Services, LLC, which is the mediator for Yolanda Kemp, owner of the Open Arms Day Care in the Jeffery Point Shopping Mall located at 96th and Jeffery. Floyd said Kemp is being harassed by Mitchell since she requested a parking access letter last June. Kemp owns an after-school business she is trying to open in that mall. Initially, Floyd said Mitchell denied Kemp’s request.
Since Mitchell has refused to grant Kemp a parking access letter, Floyd said she has had to go around the alderman to get this parking access letter. “Kemp needs some inspections after the build out is complete.” After that, Floyd said the alderman does not have to approve anything.
Floyd’s second client is Mr. Ibrahim Musleh, the owner of Fresh Market, located at 9557 S. Jeffery. “The alderman sends inspectors to follow up on false reports. The inspectors say they got a call. The complaints come from Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and not Public Health,” Floyd said, believing that Mitchell is allegedly behind these “unwarranted inspections.”
“Alderman Mitchell said my client is a liar, but that is completely not true,” Floyd said referring to Mr. Musleh. “I offered the alderman an opportunity to have a private conversation, but he refused. I think he is operating on retaliation. The same day of these false inspections, the daycare center had a break in. It is very suspicious,” she said. “He says the community doesn’t want another daycare, but the alderman doesn’t hold meetings,” Floyd said.
When told that in 2019 Mitchell told the Chicago Sun-Times that aldermen need to use their power responsibly, including aldermanic prerogatives in building up their wards, Floyd said, “Based on Alderman Mitchell’s statements, there should be an audit that confirms how many new businesses have launched in the business corridors.
“This audit should include the demographics of business ownership including diversity statistics. Additionally, the audit should confirm the number of businesses Alderman Mitchell supported vs. the amount of applicants that were seeking licensure in the 7th Ward. Considering the alderman would like to maintain the use of Aldermanic Privilege, I would be curious to see how this would impact businesses seeking Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF), Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) funding,” Floyd stated.
“In my opinion, when driving down 71st, 75th, 79th, 83rd and 95th streets, I see unsafe buildings in an underserved community. I see shuttered business doors and streets with poor infrastructure. I also see people struggling with addiction and in mental health crises with nowhere to go and crime out-of-control. Unfortunately, the alderman decided to do away with the Special Service Area (SSA) #49 (South Shore/Exchange) program that aided some of these business areas.
“As for his homeownership initiative, this too would require close evaluation. There are several programs that would aid homeowners in the community, yet these programs don’t receive any support from the Alderman. Programs that address property maintenance and safety for 7th Ward homeowners see very little candidates. The 7th Ward does have a large diversity population of homeownership ranges, but middle-class Black families don’t want to live in a war zone, as he has yet to address this issue,” Floyd stated.
“As for his Civic Engagement, this would be challenging to discuss as the 7th Ward Office (per http://www.gregmitchell7thward.org). There have been no events since 2019. What can be confirmed related to Alderman Mitchell’s activity is he voted to pass the budget and accepted a 5.5 percent salary increase for 2022,” said Floyd.
After making yet another call to the alderman’s office, one of his assistants said he would have the alderman return the call. That did not happen, nor did Alderman Mitchell respond to the Chicago Crusader’s emails.