Progress Illinois provides a recap of Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.
With no debate on the matter, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved up to $1.9 billion in new borrowing, with $1 billion going to Chicago Midway International Airport and $900 million being allocated to a general obligation bond. Just four aldermen rejected the borrowing, with Alds. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and John Arena (45th) voting 'no'.
On Monday, the Finance Committee signed off on the two borrowings that will pile onto the city's debt. The $900 million general obligation bond would go towards refinancing old debt and pay for capital projects, equipment and "typical" infrastructure improvements to the city's streets, sidewalks and light poles, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters after the council meeting. The $900 million would also help pay for $100 million in legal settlements from a year ago, while $60 million would be set aside for aldermanic "menu money" for ward infrastructure improvements.
"About a little over half of this is about modernizing Midway, and we did it because I totally rejected the idea of privatizing it," Emanuel stressed.
The city has not authorized borrowing since Moody's Investors Service cut Chicago's bond rating by three notches in mid-July, citing continued pension problems and other budget woes.
The mayor went on to say that the additional borrowing is not "in isolation to an overall way of rebalancing our fiscal house, putting it in order, attacking each of the problems, not doing what we used to do."
He touted changes he's made to garbage collection and health care in the city as well as "a series of structural changes, where in fact, on the operating budgets, three-quarters to two-thirds of the structural deficit has been eliminated."
But looking at the long-term pitcure, Emanuel stressed, "There is nothing better to do, and more important to do, than pension reform."
While talking with reporters, Waguespack noted that the city has a problem with both piling up debt as well as spending.
"You can't separate the two," the alderman stressed. "We have to start looking at what we're doing citywide. Looking at these big projects and saying, 'Maybe we need to scale back a little bit.' I'm not talking about austerity, and I know some people have said that. That's not what we're talking about here; it's just look at what projects we really need and what we don't need."
Arena said he thought today's vote on the deals were rushed.
"We know a little bit about (menu money), but that's just a carrot that's dangled in front of the council. What I want to know is how is the rest of the money being spent," the alderman asked while talking with reporters. "$900 million and a billion dollars in short-term lending. There are just too many unanswered questions. We asked those questions in the Finance Committee. We spent far too little time on the actual substance of the spending here and far too much time on who is going to benefit from writing this paper."
Arena said he and other aldermen had asked the administration on Monday for a list detailing how exactly the $1.9 billion would be used. Aldermen were told they would have that information prior to today's vote, Arena said.
"They didn't honor that promise, so they don't get my vote," the alderman added.
Chicago aldermen routinely vote for authorizing new borrowing without council debate, which Arena said is a "flaw" in city government.
Asked why he didn't speak out against the proposals on the council floor, Arena said "There just wasn't the opportunity to do it."
"I barely had time to register my 'no' vote," the alderman continued. Emanuel "wants to move this stuff forward fast so that you don't have time to have a discussion on it. And if he wants to have transparency, then he should be encouraging discussion on this type of thing, and he should be bringing this to us a month before and not 48 hours before we're supposed to consider it as a full council."
Emanuel fired back saying council members had a chance to debate the issue in committee, adding that he "didn't restrict it, but they had a chance."
Five-Year Housing Plan Wins Approval
Also without debate, the full council approved the city’s five-year housing plan. Alds. Fioretti, Waguespack, and Arena voted against the the 2014-2018 housing roadmap, which outlines more than $1.1 billion that will go toward the construction, rehab and preservation of more than 40,000 units of housing in the city.
As Progress Illinois has reported, members of the Chicago Housing Initiative coalition and a group of aldermen wanted the five-year housing plan to include "one-for-one replacement" for standing public housing units that are redeveloped with city funds, among other requests. The plan was not amended to include those demands.
Possible Regulations For Ride Sharing Companies
The mayor, along with Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), introduced an ordinance that would require ride sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to have a city license that would be issued for a one-year term. The proposed "transportation network provider" license in the city would come with a $25,000 fee plus $25 for each driver. Additionally, ride sharing companies would have to "operate vehicles that receive an annual 21-point inspection" and conduct regular background checks and drug tests of their drivers, who would also have to take part in a driver training program. Under the proposal, ride sharing drivers would have to pay the city of Chicago's ground transportation tax.
In an effort to protect consumers, the measure would also mandate that ride sharing companies have mobile applications that display the "driver's ID and picture, the license plate of the vehicle, the vehicle's insurance policy as required by the ordinance, instructions on how to file a 311 complaint, and information about how the fare is determined," according to a release from the mayor's office.
But Alds. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ed Burke (14th) say there needs to be a tougher crackdown on ride sharing operators in the city that charge a fee. The two aldermen want the city to go after the "illegal taxicabs" for failing to comply with the regulations that taxicabs and other chauffeurs have to follow.
"These shared ride companies are both unregulated and unlicensed, and for all we know they also lack the proper insurance," Beale said in a statement. "There are very legitimate reasons why these regulations were put on the books in the first place. And I see no reason why we should look the other way and ignore them so that these companies can operate free of them."
Ald. Ervin Calls On State Rep. Derrick Smith To Resign; Urges 10th District Candidate Eddie Winters To Withdraw From Race
Before the council meeting, West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) called on State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) to resign from his 10th District seat over concerns about the official's "integrity." Smith, who faces federal charges for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe, was kicked out of the Illinois General Assembly back in August 2012, but he was voted back in during the November 2012 general election. Ervin lives in Smith's 10th District, which includes the Chicago West Side neighborhoods of Garfield Park and West Town, but it also extends close to the lakefront.
Smith's lawyers filed a motion this past December that seeks to dismiss the pending case against him, citing concerns about its vagueness.
At a press conference, Ervin said he does not "think it takes a judge and jury to determine that taking $7,000 in an alley for a letter of support is wrong."
"To this day, Rep. Derrick Smith still has not denied taking $7,000, offered any apology to constituents, but Rep. Derrick Smith has crippled our ability to have honest representation," the alderman added.
Ervin said he considers Smith to be "guilty of the most heinous violence, selling out the children of our community."
Smith's office did not return Progress Illinois' request for comment.
Also Wednesday, Ervin called on 10th District candidate Eddie Winters, a Chicago Police Department sergeant, to withdraw from the race to win Smith's seat. Ervin specifically pointed to allegations of domestic violence against Winters. Former Ald. Ed Smith (28th) allegedly called Winters a "wife beater" who “failed to pay child support and leaves his kids starving” in remarks last month at a West Side church. (At the church, Ald. Smith also reportedly voiced his support for another 10th District candidate Pamela Reaves-Harris).
"While none of the individuals in this race live in my ward, I want what is best for this community," Ervin said. "Our communities are not for sale and our women are not punching bags."
But Winters, who held Smith's seat in the Illinois General Assembly from September 2012 to January 2013 following the lawmaker's expulsion, said the domestic violence allegations are a "flat out lie", which is why last month he filed a defamation lawsuit against Ald. Smith.
Winters, who is "absolutely not" withdrawing from the race, said Ervin is trying to draw attention away from more pressing issues in the 10th District, like high rates of crime, foreclosures and a lack of quality schools.
"He's doing this because he has a candidate that he is trying to put in the race," Winters said, adding that Reaves-Harris "is clearly his candidate."
At the morning press conference, Ervin would not say who he supports in the race for the 10th District, which has two other Democratic candidates, Antwan D. Hampton and Beverly Petreet, vying for the seat in addition to Reaves-Harris, Smith and Winters. Republican Mark Calonder is also running for the 10th district seat.
Alderman Urges Obama To Stop Deportations
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) introduced a non-binding resolution that calls on President Barack Obama to "suspend any further deportations of unauthorized individuals with no criminal history." The resolution also urges the president to issue an executive order to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to "spouses, children and parents until Congress passes a humane immigration reform."
The measure has been referred to the council's human relations committee.
"We have children in schools ... traumatized (by) the fact that their parents are being persecuted not for (any) other fact but they don’t have the proper documentation to be in this country," Cardenas stressed in remarks before the council meeting.
He pointed out that nearly two million people have been deported under the Obama administration.
"This is the same government that is supposed to [considered] everybody equal under the law," Cardenas added. "The resolution is to protect families from separation from deportation ... this is what this is about."
Alonzo Rivas with MALDEF added that the immigrant community "cannot wait for Congress to get its act together and pass comprehensive immigration reform."
"It is within the executive power to put an immediate moratorium on deportations and grant individuals on deportation proceedings deferred action," he said.