SEIU* Local-73, which represents the 71 traffic control aides the city laid off two weeks ago, will meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a to-be-determined time about the lost jobs. “We met with them last night and they said they were going to talk with us,” said Local-73 Secretary-Treasurer Matt Brandon.
Brandon related the news at the end of the mayor’s second and final scheduled town hall meeting regarding the city’s $635 million budget deficit. The town hall was held Wednesday night at Malcolm X Community College on the near West Side and consisted of the mayor answering mostly pre-screened questions to a gymnasium-sized audience.
Emanuel used the occasion to strike blows against the “dishonest” budget policies of 22-year Mayor Richard Daley, without ever mentioning his predecessor by name.
But it was Emanuel’s own early policies regarding traffic workers and teachers that provided the most dramatic moments.
Like the first town hall, Monday night, one of the downtown traffic safety workers that Emanuel laid off – this time, Justin Ashe – took to the microphone to ask about the decision. “I’m reminded of what President Kennedy once said,” Emanuel responded. “Government must sometimes choose between bad and worse.”
The Mayor elaborated that the layoffs were the “bad” option because even with the layoffs the city could still provide traffic safety services. To that, many traffic control aides booed Emanuel and stormed out.
Emanuel then became more conciliatory, saying, “That was my evaluation, if you guys got another idea, let’s hear it.”
Brandon said the Local-73 members would have gotten even more animated – but knew they were promised a future chance to speak with the mayor.
Another conflagration dealt with the Chicago Public School budget and two education policies that are arguably at odds with one another. Emanuel wants a longer school day, but the mayor might not be able to pay for teacher’s added work. CPS didn’t even give teachers the four percent pay raise written in their collective bargaining contract.
“How can we find the money to increase the length of the school day?” asked Ed Hershey, who teaches at Lindblom Math & Science Academy on the South Side. “We don’t have money at my school for Kleenex.”
Emanuel responded that while times were tough for CPS teachers other places had it worse. “In Detroit, they are cutting teacher pay by 10 percent,” the mayor said.
Most other issues were problems that Emanuel could – fairly persuasively – blame Daley for creating.
“For too long we’ve been operating as if denial was a long-term strategy,” Emanuel said. “In good times and bad, we’ve been running a deficit, which we means we have structural problems, not just cyclical problems from a bad economy.”
The mayor particularly took Daley to task for “one-time fixes” like parking meter and skyway reserve funds to balance recent budgets – rainy day funds that are now not available to Emanuel.
The new mayor also repeatedly blasted the old one for misusing the Tax Increment Finance economic development program. Daley “called TIF’s a central economic tool,” Emanuel asserted, “But had no standards for that tool.”
What standards Emanuel will be able to implement are not clear, though a TIF reform task force did release its recommendations Tuesday.
One issue that did not crop up at the second meeting is the proposed privatizing of services at eight health care clinics – including mental health services. A coalition of mental health activists, lead by the group Southside Together for Power (STOP), protested in front of the first budget meeting. Activists like N’Dana Carter of STOP contend that for-profit health clinics would be incompatible with providing basic mental health needs.
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