Mayor Rahm Emanuel worked through a last-minute compromise with the City Council over how to spend unclaimed property tax rebate money, though a handful of aldermen said the deal still doesn’t do enough to help stem gun violence.
The proposal ended up passing the full council 35 to 10.
At issue is nearly $15 million that wasn’t claimed by eligible homeowners last year. The fund was created as a way to help Chicagoans shoulder a historic property tax increase, but many families didn’t end up applying for the reimbursements.
Aldermen and the mayor have been debating for weeks about how best to spend the extra cash, especially given the city’s gun violence crisis. The mayor publicly announced many of the initiatives he plans to use the money for, even though the council hadn’t yet approved them. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) introduced a competing ordinance, which proposed that the majority of the funds go to street-level violence prevention programs.
A preliminary council vote on Emanuel’s proposal was originally scheduled Tuesday morning, but many aldermen complained that the administration’s priorities were misplaced. The mayor’s office had wanted to spend some of the money on planting trees, which didn’t sit well with some aldermen.
“For those that want trees, I love trees as well, but just not in this respect,” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward), a powerful ally of Emanuel who chairs the council’s budget committee.
In backroom conversations with Lopez and other aldermen Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, the mayor’s office took off the table its original proposal to plant 1,000 trees around the city, instead diverting the $500,000 to fund more technology in police districts.
“As I’ve said in many conversations with many of you already, this proposal has been focused on public safety, and not in one bucket of public safety,” Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp told aldermen Wednesday.
But this wasn’t enough to appease everyone, including Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward). Hairston was one of a handful of aldermen who said the city needed to be spending more of the rebate money to violence intervention programs.
Hairston read off a ward-by-ward list of violence statistics because she said it didn’t seem like the mayor’s office saw the violence as an urgent problem.
“I’m sure that the mothers of the children hoped that their kids would not succumb to violence in the city. We hope every day that the violence does not touch our families. We hope that the killings and the shootings stop, but hope is not enough,” Hairston said.
Zopp promised aldermen that the mayor’s office is committed to finding $1 million for violence intervention, but it wouldn’t be included in the rebate proposal. It’s still unclear where that money will come from. But to emphasize the point, the mayor’s press office quickly sent around a statement to reporters that said it agrees “completely” that the city needs to support violence prevention.
Zopp also told aldermen that the city is already funding violence intervention initiatives, but when asked by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) how much the city spends on those efforts, neither Zopp nor Budget Director Alex Holt had the figures handy.
Lopez, who was in the middle of most of these debates, told his fellow aldermen that he was satisfied with the mayor’s compromise, referring to it as a first step.
“I’ve heard in this body, plenty times, that we can’t sacrifice the good in order for the perfect,” Lopez told his colleagues Wednesday.
Here’s a breakdown of the rebate plan :
- $2.8 million for more body-worn cameras for Chicago Police officers
- $2 million for a capital fund for rehabbing vacant homes in designated neighborhoods
- $1 million for a cybersecurity training program for City College students
- $1.6 million for new crime-fighting technology at two police districts
- $1.8 million to support after-school sports programs for CPS students
- $3.5 million to fund park infrastructure improvements
- $1 million for a small business incubator on the West Side
- $1 million for a call center in the South Side
In other council news:
— The council officially confirmed Emanuel appointee Ed Siskel as the city’s new corporation counsel. Siskel has worked in the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice and was recently a partner at the law firm WilmerHale.
— Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) decided to hold his proposal to tighten restrictions on street performers. Reilly said he wants to find some “appropriate alternative locations,” for some of the noisier performers. Those locations could be parks, lakefront areas and additional CTA stations.
— Eighteen aldermen who make up the City Council’s Black Caucus said they will vote against a new police contract if it doesn’t include big changes, such as removing a provision that gives officers 24 hours before they have to give a statement on a police shooting.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), who is the chairman of the caucus, said that large time gap encourages officers to lie.
“I’m hoping that the FOP will look at this and say it’s a good initiative to correct what has been wrong in this contract for many, many years. And if not, we have to go to battle on it,” Sawyer said.
The current contract with the Fraternal Order of Police expires on June 30th.
FOP President Dean Angelo said officers give statements immediately after shootings, and he called the aldermen’s suggestions anti-police rhetoric.
Emanuel told reporters Wednesday the next police contract will be markedly different than the last one but didn’t give specifics.