Chicago Publishers Howl as City Imposes Rack Law; a Convention of Travel Agents Is Coming to Town in May and Mayor Daley Is in a Hurry to Tidy Up His Streets

Article excerpt

A convention of travel agents is coming to town in May and Mayor Daley is in a hurry to tidy up his streets

At the beginning of the Chicago City Council's April 1 meeting, aldermen lauded the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Sun-Times with a resolution and a standing ovation.

About an hour later, the same council pushed through a City Hall plan that would force the Sun-Times and dozens of other newspapers into multiple-title news racks for all downtown distribution -- whether the papers like it or not.

"That irony was not lost on us," said Mark Hornung, the Sun-Times' vice president of circulation.

And the papers, it is clear, do not like the city's plan: A one-year "pilot program" that will replace 560 news boxes along the main streets of Chicago's Loop and North Michigan Avenue downtown district with 60 multiple-title boxes to be supplied by JC Decaux, the French "street furniture" supplier that was a minor player in San Francisco's recent news rack experiment.

"The city has done minimum to nothing to involve the publishers in coming up with a plan that can be a win/win. The city has just dictated a plan and they think that is the end of it," said Hermene Hartman, publisher of the free-distribution black-interest paper N'Digo.

NEWS BOX `CLUTTER' CITED

Newspapers say Chicago officials first approached the Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and a few national dailies at the beginning of the year about supposed news rack "clutter" in the Loop.

"We had been working towards a voluntary program" said Vincent Casanova, vice president of manufacturing and distribution for the Chicago Tribune.

At the end of March, however, the city suddenly called a meeting of big and small newspaper publishers -- again, ironically, on the day Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sun-Times production plant -- and announced City Hall was going to install the Decaux boxes by Memorial Day.

"This meeting was the most appalling meeting I've ever been to in my life. They changed the agenda, they didn't have a copy of the ordinance that was going to be passed -- they couldn't even get a room. And they were going to put in 60 of these boxes by the end of May, said Douglas Wertheimer, editor of the Chicago Jewish Star. Over the years, the twice-monthly tabloid has butted heads several times with the Daley administration over news racks -- including one celebrated incident in which city employees apparently targeted the tabloid's racks for illegal removal. …