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CHICAGO (CBS) – A trade newspaper for the city’s taxi industry has threatened to out five aldermen who it claims are “secretly gay,” unless the City Council bans ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and SideCar.
In an editorial in The Chicago Dispatcher, publisher George Lutfallah said the trade publication “has learned that five of the city’s 50 aldermen are closeted homosexuals. In the next issue of this newspaper, set to be published early next month, we will disclose their names unless our demands are met.”
Among a list of 10 demands, Lutfallah said he wants the city to ban ride-sharing services, and to “actively enforce” the current regulations for taxis.
“The city is moving forward and will steamroll our industry if we don’t act in earnest. They did it to my grandfather more than a hundred years ago when they destroyed his horse-drawn-carriage business by allowing horseless machines to carry people around the city,” he wrote.
It’s unclear if the editorial was meant as satire, especially since Lutfallah also demanded the City Council ban the Internet and require people to buy newspapers; and change the name of the Willis Tower back to the Sears Tower. Those are two demands the City Council hardly has the power to meet or enforce.
If aldermen do allow ride-sharing, Lutfallah suggested a number of regulations, some of them equally peculiar. He suggested ride-share drivers be required to get annual chest X-rays, “like the city-endorsed doctor had me do to renew my chauffeur’s license last month. The riding public has no idea if rideshare drivers have tuberculosis.”
He also said the city should require GPS tracking of vehicles used by ride-sharing companies, “so that our informant can keep telling us when Aldermen are taken from their homes and dropped off in Boys Town.”
Lutfallah also lamented the number of women driving for ride-sharing services.
“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,” he wrote.
The bizarre editorial comes as aldermen are weighing an ordinance introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would impose new regulations on ride-sharing companies that already operate in the city with no official rules from the city.
The measure would require ride-sharing companies to have insurance, pay a $25,000-a-year fee, and pay a $3.50-per-day-per-vehicle ground transportation tax.
Cab companies argue those fees are insignificant compared to those imposed on the taxi industry, noting the medallion required for a licensed taxi costs about $350,000.
Cab drivers have sued the city over the lack of regulations for ride-sharing companies, noting they are not required to operate vehicles that are accessible to the disabled, or to pick up anyone off the street.
Ride-sharing services also do not have to take customers anywhere they want to go — they simply connect customers with drivers who might or might be willing to take them to a specific location. Customers can only sign up for ride-sharing services using smart phones and credit cards.
“These ridesharing vehicles are private cars. They don’t even have the required roof light that indicates they are taxis, which makes it impossible for their riders to know they are getting in a vehicle that will transport them,” Lutfallah wrote.
He also acknowledged his threat to expose aldermen he claims are homosexual is controversial, but he claimed it’s necessary.
“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,” he wrote.
Lutfallah declined comment on whether the editorial was serious or satirical.
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO for Equality Illinois, said the intent did not matter, and he condemned what he called an “outrageous attempt to blackmail the city of Chicago and scornfully humiliate members of the Chicago City Council.”
“However this article was intended, it is no joking matter. We call on the publication to immediately retract its extremely offensive article and apologize to the city’s LGBT community, women drivers and customers, the City Council and the public at large. Such comments strike at the core of communities that are still fighting for full recognition and equality,” he added in a written statement.
“The comments about women taxi drivers are equally objectionable and contemptible and patently false,” he added.
The Illinois Transportation Trade Association, which represents cab companies and taxi medallion holders, also condemned the Chicago Dispatch’s editorial.
“The ITTA and our affiliated taxi companies unequivocally condemn the piece that ran in today’s Chicago Dispatcher and the hateful message it sends. This misguided attempt at parody has no place in this discussion and demonstrates an extreme lack of judgment or sensitivity,” ITTA vice president Angela Benander said in an email. “This shameful editorial certainly does not represent the beliefs of our association, the thousands of hardworking employees in the transportation industry nor those of our valued customers.”