You scratch our backs, we’ll stab yours
August 10, 2007
How hot is 11th Ward developer Tommy DiPiazza after Thursday’s news out of federal court?
As hot as the meatballs at Cafe Bionda? As hot as that spicy Bojo sauce I’ve heard about at Tavern on Rush? They’re hot.
But I think Tommy D. is even hotter.
Tommy D., the Tavern on Rush landlord, friend and alleged lieutenant to mayoral brain Tim Degnan, has been a frequent guest in my column lately. He’s been heated up as one of the guys accused by Tavern partner and famed restaurateur Phil Stefani of trying to squeeze Stefani out of his own place.
Yet the new development puts even more scrutiny on DiPiazza and Degnan and Mayor Richard Daley. In a motion filed in federal bankruptcy court, developer Thomas Snitzer, who created the controversial Bridgeport Village residential project, alleged that City Hall is extorting him.
Snitzer claimed Thursday the Daley administration invited him to drop a damaging civil lawsuit against Degnan and DiPiazza in exchange for favorable zoning for Snitzer properties in the Bridgeport area.
Back off our guys, and we’ll back off your real estate, the zoning will be changed from industrial to residential, the buyers will come and you can dig yourself out of a financial hole. Don’t back off, and see what happens.
Daley administration officials didn’t return my calls. Snitzer did.
“We’ve filed a motion to investigate these allegations of the city attempting to illegally link my properties with dismissal of my federal lawsuit, i.e., extortion,” Snitzer said.
The Bridgeport Village debacle has been reported thoroughly by Tribune investigative reporters Todd Lighty and Laurie Cohen.
In January, Snitzer filed a lawsuit alleging that Degnan and DiPiazza used their City Hall clout to squeeze $1.3 million in consulting fees for DiPiazza and more in kickbacks, in exchange for City Hall’s blessings to develop in Bridgeport, the ancestral home of the Daleys.
Once he stopped paying DiPiazza, Snitzer says, the Department of Buildings crashed down on him. According to his original lawsuit: “In a statement one might expect to see in a Hollywood gangster movie, DiPiazza told Snitzer that by not doling out these special favors, Snitzer was not showing them proper respect.”
Surely Snitzer didn’t have to kiss Degnan’s hand. Maybe DiPiazza’s, but not Degnan’s. Tim doesn’t roll that way.
The Daley administration’s response was that Snitzer’s development had to be stopped because of building code violations in his pricey residential homes along the South Branch of the Chicago River.
The city should protect the residents of defective buildings. That’s their job, to protect young people in crowded nightclubs so they won’t get crushed to death in a stampede, to make sure porches won’t collapse and kill more young people.
But Snitzer thrived in Daley’s 11th Ward, a stranger in a strange land for years — during the time he allegedly paid off DiPiazza — and the Daley administration didn’t stop him. He was stopped only when he says he stopped paying off, he insists.
“To see the project suffer serious economic damage and my reputation slandered because some people in the 11th Ward felt they weren’t getting a share of the pie is one miserable feeling,” Snitzer offered later in a carefully worded statement.
“The City should promote development for properties’ highest and best use, and not line ward leaders’ pockets or discriminate against anyone or any ethnic group. This type of extortion should not be tolerated in the 11th Ward or anywhere else.”
Snitzer is no angel. There definitely are problems with his developments, according to the stories I’ve read. But if the Daley administration was so concerned, why didn’t they just stop him?
Who protected Snitzer for all that time before he fell out of favor? It’s just the thing a federal grand jury might want to know.
Perhaps the answer is in the Department of Buildings, a department of paper and clipboards and pens. It’s the department that has made all the development in Chicago possible.
You can’t develop homes without the department. And you can’t open a successful high-end nightclub without it, either. That’s where you get occupancy permits, to open fancy clubs, like Reserve and Crescendo and RiNo and Manor.
I heard there’s an expert in the department called Bojo who can tell me all about occupancy permits and other stuff. His full name is Anthony Boggia.
So I called the department, and asked for an interview, offering to take Bojo and a department public relations person to Cafe Bionda or Tavern on Rush, where we can eat and I could learn how things really work, at least about the nightclub scene.
I’m sure Bionda boss Joe Farina and Tavern partner Marty Gutilla would love to see Bojo breaking bread with me. How about it, guys? I’ll buy.
In the meantime, Degnan and Daley have a hot Tommy D. on their hands.