Foie gras back on the menu

A two-year-old ban on the sale of foie gras in Chicago restaurants was reversed today, ending a controversial prohibition described as both progressive or preposterous, depending on who was asked.

The City Council voted 37-6 in favor of repealing the ban, which was passed by a vote of 48-1 in April 2006.

The ban won praise from animal rights advocates but was derided by Mayor Richard M. Daley, representatives of the restaurant industry, and aldermen who saw the issue as outside the proper role of the City Council.

There has been a movement building within the council to repeal the measure since the day it was passed, according to Alderman Brian Doherty (R-41), who opposed the ban.

Fois gras is a delicacy offered by some gourmet restaurants - and briefly, as a protest launched in response to the ban - by  opponents who added it to everything from deep-dish pizza to soul food.

It is produced by force feeding ducks and geese to enlarge their livers.

"I think the city has taken a giant step backwards," said the original sponsor of the ban, Ald. Joe Moore (D-49). "The city has made a mark as a city of compassion, a city that was standing up against cruelty, and it's taken a step backward."

But what riled Moore most was the "ramrodding" of the legislation through the council.

There was no debate on the measure. Ald. Tom Tunney (D-44) used a parliamentary maneuver to "discharge" the ordinance from the Rules and Ethics Committee - without a hearing - for consideration by the full council. Mayor Daley then called for a vote over the shouted objections of Moore (D-49).

"What happened to me today could happen to all of you,"  Moore complained to his colleagues in the chamber. "All we were asking for was a debate."

Moore had harsh words for the mayor, whom he accused of stifling debate, and a warning for his colleagues on the council, which he sees as "ceding what little power it has given itself."

"Even in the ugliest days of one-man rule, members of the City Council still had the opportunity to debate the issues, to state their case," said Moore.

"Quite frankly for the mayor to fail to recognize me, to debate the merits of this issue was the height of arrogance…I thought the City Council still had some semblance of democracy; but apparently today it doesn't."

Moore further characterized the maneuver that brought the issue to a vote in what he called a "kangaroo legislative session" as a harbinger of how future controversies could be handled, like the upcoming vote on the Children's Museum's request to move to Grant Park.

"The motion to discharge is a motion that has not been made since I've been a member of the city council, and from what I understand from talking to some of the old-timers here, hasn't been done since the "council war" days," said Moore, referrring to the polarization that marked the council during the administration of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.

"There is no debate anymore in the city council. Nobody was going to engage in debate, so I guess the mayor thought it was okay to cut it off."

The mayor applauded the lifting of the ban as a needed "correction."

"Once you get into every menu item dealing with food…we would be here forever debating all types of issues and all types of food and that's not the council's role," said Daley.

Daley dismissed the notion that he was being autocratic by failing to recognize Moore on the floor.

"We've had extensive, extensive, extensive debate on the issue," said Daley. "On this everybody knew how they were going to vote. This has been talked about and debated about constantly by international, national, local press, by the whole culinary industry and hospitality people."

Didier Durand, chef at Cyrano's Bistro and Wine Bar at 426 N. Wells St., said that he will be adjusting his menu to recognize the return of the rare treat immediately.

Durand said the restaurant never eliminated it altogether.

"We served it according to requests," said Durand, who says he will continue to keep the delicacy priced at $20 per order.

He will be celebrating this evening with a press release party featuring a live duck, he said.

Michael Tsonton, owner and chef of Copperblue Restaurant at 580 E. Illinois St., and organizer of Chicago Chefs for Choice, is relieved that the issue has been laid to rest.

"It's important for people to know the difference between science and emotion," said Tsonton. "Nice to see Chicago's returning to a level of common sense."

Doug Sohn, owner of Hot Doug's Sausage Superstore at 3324 N. California Ave., paid a $250 fine last February for his defiance of the ban. He said he was looking forward to putting foie gras sausage back on the menu. But he plans to wait until the ink is dry.

"I definitely will be waiting to see it on paper," Sohn said.

Along with Moore, Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle, (D-4), Ray Colon (D-35), Ricardo Munoz (D-22 ), Scott Waguespack (D-32) and Ed Smith (D-28), voted against lifting the ban.

The following aldermen abstained from voting: Thomas Allen, (D-38), Eugene Schulter (D-47), Leslie Hairston (D-5), Sandi Jackson (D-7), Billy Ocasio, (D-26) and Manny Flores (D- 1).

Mary Ann Smith (D-48) was absent.

Reporter Kwame Shorter contributed to this report.

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