Mayor Emanuel Booed at Budget Town Hall

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tries to calm audience members who booed him at a town hall meeting on the City's budget at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was jeered and booed by many of the people who arrived early at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011, in hopes of getting their concerns heard and addressed at the first of two public town hall meeting on the city’s budget.

Upon arrival, people learned that they had to fill out questionnaire cards rather than speak directly to the mayor. In a display of sheer disappointment, several people in the crowded main auditorium began loudly complaining about how they were denied the opportunity to speak, while the mayor attempted to answer some of the handwritten questions, which were read to him by Cheryl Hyman, the chancellor of the City Colleges, instead of the people who actually wrote the questions on the cards.A few people in the audience yelled out a question at the same time, “Why don’t you let them speak for themselves?”

The mayor finally conceded, and let a few people speak about issues they were concerned with. The intent of the public meeting was on developing the City of Chicago’s 2012 budget proposal to eliminate the gap between expected revenue and expected costs.

The mayor wanted to know from the general public their ideas on where city expenses can be cut, how they can raise new revenue, and if there are any services they can be eliminated while improving other services. But the evening gathering was overshadowed by concerns over the lack of jobs, safety issues and dilapidated, foreclosed buildings in neighborhoods like Englewood, the low-income African American neighborhood around Kennedy King College.

Charles Brown, a retired Chicago Police officer who has lived in Englewood for the past 43 years, wanted to know the starting date to enforce the Vacant Property Ordinance, which was introduced by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and supported by Emanuel, and recently passed by the City Council as a deterrent to crime and a measure to reduce blighted neighborhoods.

Brown said the ordinance will also have another benefit: “It can create money. If that ordinance is really enforced, we can bring back the traffic workers. We can do something for the teachers,” he proclaimed to a cheering audience.

Then he gave Emanuel — who stepped off stage to get them — pictures of properties allegedly mismanaged by Bank of America. “All of us here in Englewood, we went around and noted all those violations. We’ve got pictures in there, and you can see that we can collect some money off that,” he added.
Emanuel said the starting date to enforce the Vacant Property Ordinance is Sept. 19. But he told Brown he would think about changing that date.

“Because every day counts for a community that’s just holding on, trying to make it, and has other forces, not just the foreclosure forces, working against it. But I want you to walk out of here thinking it’s September 19, but knowing that you have given me something to think about and to work on,” Emanuel said.

The Mayor’s Speech
At the beginning of the two-hour, standing room only public meeting, Emanuel gave a short opening speech about the challenges with the City’s budget, what has been done, and what his administration proposes to do to address the current financial situation. In addition, he expressed his views and goal of working together with the public to address the City’s challenges for 2012 and beyond.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talking about what he's done, and expects to do to fill the projected budget gap, duirng his opening speech at the Townhall Meeting on the City's Budget, held at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

The lack of sufficient jobs, the problems with public education, and the talk of privatizing the public health care system were the other issues raised at the public meeting.

Emanuel said he and the public have to make the “tough” and “honest” choices necessary to balance the city’s budget and everyone should be “frank” about what is going to be done about it. He added that neither property taxes nor sales taxes wouldn’t increase, and said he didn’t think that the city should raise the utility taxes. Emanuel said he will make sure “economic security” is balanced with providing city services.

“The budget is going to be about investing in jobs and our economic competitiveness,” the mayor added.
About a month ago, Emanuel said the city launched www.ChicagoBudget.org to help people engage in the budget process by submitting ideas and discussing options online. Emanuel said that his staff and other city officials have been examining those ideas, providing feedback and considering what can be implemented. To date, the mayor said over 43,000 people who participated online and that over “1,800 ideas for saving money and doing things more efficiently were submitted.”

Emanuel is expected to deliver his budget proposal to the City Council in October. Until then, residents across Chicago can still contribute ideas on how to address the City’s fiscal challenges by calling 312.744.6670, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can also log on to the City’s interactive budget website, www.ChicagoBudget.org , to submit ideas, get information and join the conversation.

The Budget Director’s Report
The city’s overall budget is approximately $8.2 billion, which does not include the budgets of its “sister agencies,” such as the City Colleges, Chicago Public Schools or the Chicago Housing Authority, according to Alex Holt, the city’s budget director. During a presentation on the preliminary budget at the start of the meeting, Holt said that a large percentage of the city’s budget is allocated for public safety, and also for debt service, which is used to pay for roads, for burned buildings and firehouses, and other “critical activities in the city.”

Chicago City Budget Director Alex Holt discussing the decades old budget gap, during the Town-hall Meeting on the City's Budget at Kennedy King College on August 30, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

According to Holt, the shortfall in the city’s budget for 2012 isn’t really new. She said there has been a deficit between expected revenue and expected expenses for “the last decade,” and the gap has gotten “bigger and bigger” since 2007. Under previous Mayor Richard M. Daley, the city resorted to selling city assets, such as the rights to parking meters.

“In 2007, with the recession, (the deficit) got really quite large, and the city began to use more and more of those one-time resources to bridge the gap between what was available to us and what we needed to spend to continue to provide those services. As we’ve said, that mismatch continues and unfortunately, it continues into 2012. And we have to address this issue with some really difficult choices that will be necessary to eliminate this kind of gap on a going forward basis. So we don’t have to do this budget filling exercise on an annual basis,” she added.

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