The City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to issue up to $1.1 billion dollars in general obligation bonds, after the city’s new Chief Financial Officer warned aldermen that it was the only way the city could avoid going into default.
During Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, the City’s CFO, Carole Brown, spent more than two hours assuring aldermen that the new borrowing plan was just one of several steps the Mayor plans to make to address the city’s debt problems and junk credit rating. She said the money would help pay off lawsuits and debts dating back to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration. And while several aldermen raised concerns that they didn’t understand the language of the agreement or what was specifically at stake if they failed to approve the mayor’s plan, there was almost no pushback when it was brought before the full Council yesterday.
Without debate or even a roll call vote, it took aldermen less than ten minutes to give Mayor Emanuel the authority to issue the largest bond deal of his tenure. Aldermen spent three times as long praising Mayor Emanuel’s pick of Ginger Evans as Commissioner of the Department of Aviation before her appointment was called for a vote.
Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke (14) ushered through the bond vote’s passage using a familiar tactic that allows for quick passage: a roll call vote on the first agenda item applied to the rest of the committee ordinances. Burke requested roll call on uncontroversial appointments to Special Service Areas (SSAs). After Clerk Susana Mendoza called the roll, those appointments passed 44-0.
Ald. Burke then brought up Mayor Emanuel’s bond ordinance, noted that it passed in committee with only one dissenting vote, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32). Burke offered the only testimony on the ordinance. “Your honor, clearly a lot has been said about the condition of the city’s finances. This is a step that is necessary to refund the existing debt and begin to take steps to claw out of the financial condition that we’re in at the present time,” Ald. Burke explained. “Unless there’s objection, I move to concur on the recommendation of the committee by the same roll call which applied to item one on the agenda [the SSA appointments].”
Invoking Rule 14, Ald. Burke said he and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) would abstain. Ald. Thompson is related to the Morgan Stanley underwriter the city picked to underwrite the bonds (William Daley), and Ald. Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, provides legal services for BMO Harris, another bank participating in the deal.
Burke then turned to Ald. Waguespack and asked if he “wish[ed] to be shown as voting no.” He did and was joined by Ald. John Arena (45).
Quickly banging the gavel to signify that the motioned passed, Mayor Emanuel signaled to Burke that he could move on to the next agenda item. As Burke started to read the report, Ald. Waguespack looked and gestured to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who was sitting two seats away.
Ald. Ramirez-Rosa, whose mic wasn’t turned on, quickly stood up and requested a rule suspension and to be recorded as a no vote. The Mayor acknowledged the freshman aldermen and requested the record reflect the third “no” vote.
The Council then proceeded on to the rest of the scheduled agenda, approving ordinances to loosen alcohol restrictions on Navy Pier, appointing Ginger Evans as the City Department of Aviation’s new commissioner, and various other ordinances that passed in committee. (For more information on what passed, check our subscriber-only archived Committee Reports here.)