It looks like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pumping the brakes on his proposal to privatize 311.
Emanuel introduced the idea as a way to fund necessary and expensive upgrades to the non-emergency phone service. He also said it would generate about a million dollars in savings, a fraction of the total $7.8 billion dollar budget.
The rumors of the plan’s demise started early Wednesday morning, after 36 aldermen signed a letter to Emanuel saying privatization would wipe out jobs and make city government less responsive.
“We urge you to halt plans to privatize Chicago’s 311 City Services,” the letter said. “We understand the tremendous fiscal challenges the city faces and appreciate your efforts to address those challenges. But outsourcing 311 risks damaging an effective city service for very little if any real savings and pressing this proposal now only serves to distract us from the serious budgetary issues facing our city.”
A spokeswoman from the mayor’s administration wouldn’t comment on the proposal, instead directing reporters to Alderman Toni Foulkes.
“It has been completely taken off the table,” Foulkes then told reporters. She said she was worried that with privatization, people outside of the city would be taking the daily service calls. “We wanted people here in Chicago, [who] lives in Chicago, that knows our city.”
Foulkes also said she’s working with the mayor’s administration to come up with a plan to fund those capital investments the mayor and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications have said the 311 system needs.
Aldermen have been telling WBEZ for weeks that the mayor would likely shelve privatizing 311, so he can say he’s compromising with aldermen who don’t like it.
“I think the mayor is listening, per his sweater commercials,” Alderman Rick Munoz said, referring to an ad from the last election where Emanuel promised to talk less and listen more in his second term.
But at a later press conference, the mayor would only say that he fundamentally believes in what he originally laid out.
“I hear what members have to say,” Emanuel said. “I’m not gonna negotiate publicly.”
Another sign that this proposal may have always been a long shot: Emanuel’s own budget has always planned for keeping the people who work for 311 on the payroll next year. A spokesman for AFSCME 31, the union that represents 311 employees said that while the reports about Emanuel’s cancellation of the privatization plan are “encouraging” the union is still waiting for a “clear commitment in writing from the mayor’s office that there will be absolutely no privatization.”
In other City Council news Wednesday….
Aldermen continue to try and chip away at some of the mayor’s unpopular proposals, and they’ll likely keep at it until the final vote on October 28th. You can hear about Ald. George Cardenas (12) adventure in politicking over the garbage collection fee here:
Another example of that tinkering is on the mayor’s controversial plan to allow Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to pick up travelers from both Chicago airports. A few aldermen joined together Wednesday on an amendment that would require those drivers to get chauffeur’s licenses if they wanted to pick up or drop off at O’Hare and Midway, something cab drivers have long called for.
“Our thinking is that, if you have to have a chauffeur’s license, you’re probably gonna be one of the more professional Uber, Lyft, Sidecar drivers, that means you’re doing this more as a living, fine - let’s give them access to that, but let’s make sure there’s a standard,” Arena said.
Other aldermen, like Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke (14) have suggested that the tens of thousands of ride-hailing drivers could be a potential revenue boon for the city. Those companies currently pay different fines and fees than cab drivers do, so many aldermen have been trying to come up with ways to “level the playing field.”
As of now, the city picks up $15 dollars for every new chauffeur’s license, and then receives another $8 for each renewal. But the potential drivers pay hundreds more for drug tests, public chauffeur training courses at Olive Harvey and other necessary qualifications.
Cab drivers have complained that letting ride-hailing companies onto coveted airport turf would kill the cab industry.
Dave Kreisman, a spokesman for Cab Drivers United AFSCME local 2500, said while requiring a chauffeur’s license is a “step in the right direction toward fairness,” every driver, whether it be Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or cabs, should have to follow the same rules and regulations, not just those working at the airport.
Mayor Emanuel says he still needs to study the new amendment.
Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.