There is an astonishing controversy in my hometown of Chicago this week after The Chicago Dispatcher, and its publisher George Lutfallah, threatened the City Council with outing five members as homosexuals unless it capitulated on a list of demands for legal and policy changes. If this were a serious attempt at extortion, it would be as shocking as it is self-defeating. Some demands seem an attempt as humor, though the strong suggestion is that you should not mess with drivers who see more than politicians would want to be known to their voters.
The Chicago Dispatcher has suggests that it has used its army of drivers to collect intelligence on city council members who have used cabs on same-sex dates. It claims that five alderman are “secretly gay” and said that the drivers could recount how “Aldermen are taken from their homes and dropped off in Boys Town.” Boys Town (which is near my family’s Northside home) is an area populated by gay bars and a heavy gay and lesbian population. Five alderman would represent a tenth of the 50 member city council.
The ultimatum is that disclosures would come in the next issue of the paper next month: “In the next issue of this newspaper, set to be published early next month, we will disclose their names unless our demands are met. . . . “The five aldermen we will expose next month will only include those who have concealed their gay lifestyle to their constituents. They are public servants who have a duty to truthfully disclose their sexuality to the voters. They are living a lie.”
There are 10 demands, including a ban on ride-sharing services and a commitment to “actively enforce” the current regulations for taxis. However, other demands include what seems satire like banning the Internet and changing the name of Willis Tower back to Sears Tower. (The latter demand is probably unnecessary since most Chicagoans that I know continue to refer to the “Sears Tower.”).
Other aspects of the article are downright weird: “One company boasts that 40 percent of its drivers are women. Taxi driving is a male-dominated profession and it should remain that way. The last place for a woman is behind the wheel. If a woman needs a ride somewhere, she will only feel safe if the driver is a man.”
New rules would allow ride-sharing companies to operate legally with insurance and a $25,000-a-year fee, and $3.50-per-day-per-vehicle ground transportation tax. Cab companies object that this imposes a fraction of the costs for conventional drivers, noting that the medallion required for a licensed taxi costs about $350,000.
Lutfallah has refused to say whether the editorial was serious or satirical.
The implication however is that Taxi drivers have the goods on members of the city council. Since they are describing things that occurred in public, the suggestion is that they are free to discuss such information. However, even some acts in public can be viewed as the basis for intrusion upon seclusion claims. That was the case in Nader v. General Motors Corp., where Ralph Nader was able to show that GM hired detectives to follow him closely. One such instance involved looking over his shoulder at banks to read his bank slips, which was found to be an intrusion upon seclusion even though it was a public place.
What is most striking is that — regardless of whether this is satire or serious — it only pushes the city council further toward rejecting the demands of the companies to show that members are not intimidated.