April 11, 2000 02:49pm
'Hefner Way' Stirs Chicago Debate
by: Kate N. Grossman
(CHICAGO, IL) -- Playboy may seem tame in today's world of online porn, lewd pro wrestling and shock-talk shows, but the old magazine can still cause a stir.
After heated debate, a City Council committee Tuesday approved the naming of a street after Hugh Hefner, whose Playboy empire has its headquarters in Chicago. The vote came after Hefner's daughter pulled a rabbit out of her hat by taking centerfold, uh, center stage.
On Monday, the committee had voted down the proposed ``Hugh Hefner Way'' after listening to arguments that Hefner's work is degrading to women. But by midday Tuesday, Hugh Hefner Way got the OK.
``I understand that my father and Playboy provoke debate and discussion about deeply felt issues of personal freedom, about sexuality and about morality,'' said Playboy chairman and CEO Christie Hefner, who requested the street naming. But she defended her father's work as a celebration of things ``that are beautiful and sexy.''
``Hugh Hefner is the quintessential American success story - one of many that deserve recognition on our city's streets,'' she said.
City alderman have honored more than 800 Chicagoans with street signs, most of them in the past few years. Debate is rare and a City Council vote is usually a formality.
Hefner, in Chicago to sign a Playboy issue featuring his twin girlfriends, took the debate in stride.
``Hey, they made it very exciting,'' he said. ``It shows the prejudice in this society that still exists. But it's what has made me a very successful and very wealthy man.''
To make Hefner's sign - posted Tuesday at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street - permanent, it must be approved by the full City Council on Wednesday.
Hefner started Playboy in Chicago in the 1950s and his bunny symbol was long associated with the Chicago skyline. The company has grown beyond the magazine into cyberspace and pay television but remains headquartered in town - something that was not lost on members of the City Council.
During a rancorous debate following Hefner's speech, several alderman spoke of Hefner's contributions to the city. Christie Hefner offered a laundry list of donations her father has made to local organizations, including the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Chicago Urban League.
Just before calling a vote, Alderman Ed Burke reminded the city of Playboy's place in Chicago's business landscape.
``You continue to be a remarkable, successful and caring Chicagoan,'' Burke told Christie Hefner. ``We are proud to keep your business in Chicago.''
University of Chicago law student Jim Madigan testified against Hefner, calling the magazine ``masturbation material.'' Madigan brought a copy of Playboy and opened the centerfold wide for the committee's inspection.
He said said he respected Playboy's right to produce the magazine, but ``the question is do we have to honor it?''
After the vote, Madigan said he wasn't surprised by the city's reversal.
``Clearly money and business trumps the exploitation of women,'' he said.