Yesterday’s City Council meeting included a memorial for the late Cardinal, remarks from the new Archbishop, passage of long-awaited restitution to Jon Burge torture victims, a gallery full of Chicago labor leaders and much more. But everything was overshadowed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s speech to Council, a last-minute addition to the agenda announced yesterday afternoon. Rainier’s appearance before Council, unprecedented in recent memory, served to notify Council that no easy bailouts will be coming from Springfield, and that labor unions are his number one target.

Latino Caucus Presser For CPS Intervention With UNO Schools

Before Council kicked off, members of the Latino Caucus, backed by about 50 UNO charter school parents and activists, announced the introduction of a Council resolution, calling for the Chicago Board of Education, “to step in and settle this squabble,” according to former UNO President, Ald. Danny Solis. Text of resolution.

The presser, which Caucus chair George Cardenas kicked off by warning “Chicago’s children’s future is at stake,” ultimately amounted to aldermen stating the importance of UNO schools in their overcrowded communities and their desire for the original United Neighborhood Organization and the UNO Charter School Network organizations to settle their differences. Their only option, to offer up a resolution, served to underline City Council’s lack of oversight and input on Chicago school’s operations. Since the 1995 School Reform, the Mayor has total control over Board of Education appointments and budgeting and Council is merely left to watch.

Attendees: Caucus Chair George Cardenas (12), Joe Moreno (1), Ald.-Elect Ray Lopez (15), Danny Solis (25), Ray Suarez (31).

Remembrance of Cardinal Francis George

The Council meeting began with a prayer and moment of silence in honor of Cardinal Francis George, who passed April 17th. A short prayer from Roman Catholic Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich was followed by a moment of silence, with live music from a pianist and violinist.

Ald. Ed Burke (14) spoke at length honoring Francis George as a “true Chicagoan,” who “did not fear Chicago politics.”

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2) says he worked with Francis George on 2nd ward issues, and praised him as a man of strong faith, quoting Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life, one is though none is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle. Cardinal Francis George lived his life as though everything was a miracle.”

Ald. Cullerton, Ald. Suarez, and Mayor Emanuel also spoke in praise of Cardinal Francis George’s life.

 

Reports from the Committees

The full City Council passed all reports from the standing committees. When retiring Ald. James Balcer (11), Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, finished submitting his report to the record he waved and shouted, “That concludes my report, and goodbye!”

Highlights of passed ordinances:

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed ordinance to create a $5.5M fund for Jon Burge torture victims and a resolution providing an official, citywide apology.

  • Two last-minute police-related settlements totaling $765,000 from Finance Committee.

  • Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to launch and maintain a so-called “People’s Plaza Program” through a joint public-private venture.

  • An ordinance co-sponsored by Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) empowering the Police Superintendent to close bars and nightclubs that are chronic public safety threats, spurred on by the Dolphin Club murders.

  • Mayor Emanuel’s ordinance to amend the city’s red-light camera program. CDOT would have to hold community meetings before it installs or removes any future cameras and a payment program was created for violators.

  • A concession agreement that would extend Goose Island’s agreement for three years to cater all concerts and special events at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion in Millenium Park.

  • Ald. Marty Quinn’s (13) proposed ordinance to crack down on the unauthorized sale of stolen catalytic converters.

  • An ordinance that would extend a dental program currently offered at all Chicago Public School students to private or parochial schools that operate in the city. Medicaid pays for the program.

  • An ordinance expanding language access to city services. Ald. Ameya Pawar(47) introduced an ordinance standardizing city translation services for people whose first language isn’t English, with a single paragraph appointing a working group to develop a new municipal ID for Chicago residents.

  • Three appointees to the Chicago Emergency Telephone System Board.

The reports of the committees concluded with a report from Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), the Chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Development, regarding a resolution Mayor Emanuel introduced earlier this week in opposition to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to designate “right-to-work” zones around the state. At the start of O’Connor’s speech, Mayor Emanuel could be heard from the podium, saying of the Governor, “Where is he? Where is he?”

O’Connor called jobs in right to work states are “half jobs,” and that Rauner’s plan would actually create a right for employers to hire low wage, low-benefit jobs that were stolen away from those who secured them through collective bargaining. Organized labor seated in the gallery balcony broke into wild applause. Creating half jobs is, “a great thing to do if you’re shopping in a supermarket, but when you’re playing with people’s lives… that’s a damn shame,” he said.

Following Ald. O’Connor’s speech, one by one, aldermen stood up and seconded the sentiment. Ald. Pat Dowell (3) called on organized labor to consider fairness for minorities in creating new labor opportunities. Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2), John Pope (10), James Cappleman (46), Danny Solis (25), Timothy Cullerton (38), and Joe Moore (49) also played to the gathered union crowd, many referring to childhoods in union homes.

Ald. Cullerton called the right to work zones “a leap backwards to the dark ages,” and said skilled labor helped build the city from the ground up. Ald. Moore said Chicago joins mayors and city councils across the nation in passing a similar resolution, but says Springfield and Chicago need each other and encouraged both parties to work together.

Finally, Mayor Emanuel chimed, saying he’s opposed right to work his entire life. “This city of Chicago just hosted the NFL Draft, the James Beard Awards, Microsoft Ignite, and the cable industry… today Chicago’s number one in the hospitality industry.” He says the city and union workers made tough compromises at McCormick Place without lowering wages.

Instead of moving on to scheduled business, Ald. Burke volunteered as the designated time-killer ahead of the governor’s appearance, comparing the governor’s unprecedented visit to City Council to the story of the Prince of Wales’ visit to Chicago in 1860, and Mayor “Long John” Wentworth’s famous introduction: “Boys, this is the Prince. Prince, this is the boys.” After a few minutes he explained, “You understand we’re just killing time here.” The Council burst into gales of laughter.

Rauner’s Speech To Council

Gov. Rauner entered the chamber shortly after, to light applause. Some of the assembled organized labor members in the balcony booed. He asked for an “indulgence” before he started his speech and requested Republicans in the room raise their hands. Ald. Waguespack suggested to members around him that Rauner probably didn’t know Council was non-partisan. About four people in the gallery raised their hands.

Rauner made reference to his outsider status several times throughout the speech, saying he was like Daniel in the lion’s den, and that having won just 20% of the vote in Chicago, it might be a good move for the city to secede. Peppered with references to how much the rest of Illinois citizens dislike Chicago and how he works for everyone in Illinois, including Chicagoans, Rauner’s 10 minute speech laid out Chicago’s importance to the state, its dire financial straits, and the need for partnership with Springfield.

His main message: “For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs.” Then, after more talk about how the rest of Illinois was Chicago to secede, Rauner laid down his terms, “We don’t have the money to bail out Chicago. That’s not an option.” He suggested few olive branches, except that Chicago might want to have more local powers over issues like gaming.

The Governor provided few specifics about how he would implement his Turnaround Agenda, but emphasized the difficulties of Illinois and Chicago’s economies. “Over the last 15 years, Illinois has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. We can’t afford to let that continue. We must get more competitive. After years of overspending and overborrowing, Illinois and Chicago taxpayers are in a vice grip that is choking our ability to fund our schools, invest in our social services and recruit job creators.”

He closed the speech by asking Chicago to help with the heavy lifting to, “accomplish so much more than we can alone.” After Rauner’s left the Chamber, Ald. Joe Moreno (1) stood up and gestured to the aldermen seated near him, Rebroyas and Ervin, then said off-mic in an exasperated voice, “Work together! Sacrifice!”

 

Post-Rauner Speech Press Conferences

Gov. Rauner and organized labor held press conferences in sequence immediately after Rauner’s remarks as Council continued its business. Not surprisingly, the messages and tenor of the events were diametrically opposite.

Rauner’s availability, in a packed Room 201A filled with the Chicago and Springfield press corps, lasted slightly longer than his speech to Council. In it, he reiterated that he will not increase spending to bail out Chicago, and that much of his agenda is linked to reducing union influence at every level.

On his priorities:  “Well in terms of what Illinois needs, I have been clear for two and a half years. We need local control, voter empowerment, pro-growth regulations and an overhaul of the government, empowering local voters and taxpayers to get more control of government costs, and that’s laid out crystal clear within our turnaround agenda. That’s what we need, and I’ve said that consistently.”

To emphasize his statement, his office sent out a press release that evening, quoting the above and stating, “To be clear, the governor’s top priorities are listed below:

  • Term limits

  • Property tax freeze

  • Allow local control of ability to create employee empowerment zones

  • Allow local control of contracting and bargaining in schools and local governments

  • Allow local control of competitive bidding on taxpayer-funded construction projects

  • Pension reform

  • Worker’s compensation/tort/unemployment insurance reform

  • Ethics reform/end conflicts of interest in government”

Then, directly refuting a regular stump speech item from Mayor Emanuel’s reelection campaign, about how it is unfair that Chicagoans pay into teacher’s pensions for all of Illinois, in addition to Chicago pensions:

“There are some additional facts that need to be part of the conversation. There’s this statement, well Chicago’s different, it pays taxes to go into it’s own pension as well as pensions to go into other community’s teachers’ pensions. That’s true. It’s been true for a hundred years, I think….The City of Chicago, even adjusting for income level of students…Chicago receives a disproportionate amount of money, many hundreds of millions of dollars that no other community gets. That is true. we need to keep that in mind when we’re talking about how Chicago may be different when we’re talking about pension payments.”

Finally, on Chicago Public Schools’ financial straits:

“Part of our recommendation, on our turnaround agenda on our schools, [they] belong to our families, not to the special interests, whether its the collective bargaining units or any influential group inside the schools or inside the government. Those groups should not dictate terms or decide what is done or not done. The schools don’t belong to them, they belong to the taxpayers. We don’t have a balance of power in Chicago or Illinois.The schools belong to the families and parents, not to the insiders. Right now the power is with the insiders. We’re recommending Chicago get to decide what should be collectively bargained and what shouldn’t. That’s a very big change and a very important one to decide what’s affordable over time.”

A counter-press conference, held by the Chicago Federation of Labor and other labor organizations in the 2nd Floor hallway, was low on substance, but included well over a hundred chanting, shouting workers with “Save the Middle Class” signs. Kicked off by CFL President Jorge Ramirez, he set the tone, “Attacking the most vulnerable in our society does not make you a better governor….Illinois won’t get better by attacking our most vulnerable citizens.”

Ramirez’ remarks, and then those from supporting speakers from labor-friendly organizations for the next ten minutes, were punctuated by loud cheers, leading up to a chant, “Turn back Rauner!”

 

Farewells to Exiting Aldermen

Following Rauner’s departure from the Chamber, and a few minutes of milling around, Ald. Ed Burke began this portion of the meeting by reading off the names of the retiring and outest aldermen of the City Council. He then turned to Ald. John Pope (10) and ask, “Do we know?” Pope shrugged it off and the farewells continued, with Clerk Susana Mendoza reading and entering into record resolutions highlighting the work many of those aldermen did during their time on the City Council. Reading the resolutions in order by ward, Mendoza also skipped over Ald. Pope.

At one point, Ald. Carrie Austin (34) asked to speak, “I have laughed, cried, hollered, screamed and used some choice words with all of them.”

Many of the retiring aldermen spoke at length as they reminisced about their time on the council, while others, had little to say. Ald. Ray Suarez (31) left the meeting early and was absent for this part of the meeting. Ald. Lona Lane (18), who is currently sick with a respiratory condition, missed the entire meeting. Ald. Deborah Graham(29), acknowledged her colleagues before walking out of the chamber. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2) choking up during his farewell, noted that the past eight years have been some of the best in his life, adding that he is especially grateful for his staff and their help while he was battling cancer.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38), whose family has been on the council since the Chicago Fire, and Ald. Mary O’Connor (41), who only served one term, drew the biggest rounds of applause from fellow aldermen.

In his final remarks to the members who were leaving, Ald. Burke channeled the, “original mayor Daley,” who, Burke said he was fond of saying, “The good Lord never closes a door that he doesn’t open a window. And I’ve served with 253 people in this chamber over the last 46 years, and I’ve come to learn the wisdom of that observation […] And I know that will be the case in each and every one of your instances.”

Ald. Burke then took a moment to personally praise Ald. Balcer. “There isn’t a more sincere person that I have served with in all those years.” Burke then recalled the first time he saw Balcer. It was back when Balcer was a private citizen testifying to the Council about the struggles he faces as a veteran in need of health support. Burke called it, “one of the most compelling pieces of testimony he ever heard in this chamber.”

Later in his remarks, before he adjourned the meeting, Ald. Burke looked around the room at his colleagues, laughed, and said, “Finally, Fioretti said something profound.”

 

New Business Highlights

  • Ald. Will Burns (4) introduced a resolution that would bar Spike Lee from using state tax credits to film his new project, Chiraq. Since the state manages the credit, the resolution would have little impact in preventing Lee from getting the $3 million credit.

  • Ald. Ed Burke (14), Ald. Danny Solis (25), Ald. Tom Tunney (44), and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39) introduced a resolution to hold hearings on the city’s fiber-optic infrastructure.

  • Ald. Joe Moreno’s (1) resolution regarding UNO Charter schools (story above)

Mayor’s Presser

In his typical post-Council meeting press conference, Mayor Emanuel stuck to his guns on Springfield’s need for Chicago, but says he saw some places where he and Gov. Rauner could work together, like workers compensation. “A strong Illinois is dependent on a strong Chicago.”

But the two split on teacher’s pensions, a familiar refrain from Emanuel, who raised his voice when talking about so-called “double taxation. “As a Chicago resident, [Gov. Rauner] pays twice. One by paying property taxes, he pays for the teachers pensions in Chicago. Second, when he pays income taxes he pays for teacher’s pensions in Naperville, Schaumburg, Rockford… if you’re going to make fundamental change, here’s a great place to start.”

He says one of the fixes for the teacher’s pensions crisis is a single educational pension system or getting rid of the “inequity on taxes.” He says he hopes to work together with the governor to increase education funding, a campaign promise Rauner made.