Aldermen not on board with Emanuel's library cuts

October 21, 2011

Download Story
(Flickr/margaretv)

Updated at 4:05 p.m.

Chicago aldermen appear ready to revolt on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's budget over dramatic layoffs slated for city libraries.

Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey told the council the roughly $10 million city funding reduction would mean 284 job cuts and, consequently, hours and service cuts. She watched her words carefully, but was clearly not on board with Emanuel's proposal.

"Our mission is to provide library services in every neighborhood, and we'll do the best we can," Dempsey said Friday morning.

Dempsey also warned the reduction could jeopardize library funding from the state. The cuts were not popular with aldermen, including the influential budget committee chair, Carrie Austin, who called it "ridiculous" that Emanuel hit libraries with so many layoffs.

"I think all of our hearts bleed for the libraries, because they are more than just the library, they’re an intricate part of all of our communities," Austin said. "It’s just very disheartening."

Alderman after alderman promised to try to reverse the cuts. John Pope suggested raising taxes. Tim Cullerton wondered if Oprah Winfrey could kick in $10 million.

"I'm appealing to her on behalf of the libraries in Chicago," Cullerton said, as Dempsey laughed.

Later in the day, Austin said about 10 aldermen are currently working on an alternative to the library reduction.

"If your goal is the $10 million...I think we can find that in another aspect," Austin said. "It's going to be hard on the citizens of Chicago no matter what we do, because ultimately the citizens are the ones that pay the price."

Mayor Emanuel has defended the reduction, noting some cities have closed library branches. The cuts are part of the mayor's 2012 budget proposal, which sought to close a $636 million budget deficit.