Progress Illinois provides highlights from Chicago's jam-packed city council meeting, during which Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered remarks about his "turnaround agenda" and aldermen passed a historic reparations package for Burge torture survivors.
Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner faced a tough crowd Wednesday morning when he made a special visit to the Democrat-dominated Chicago City Council, where he delivered a 10-minute speech about his "turnaround agenda" for the state.
One of Rauner's more contentious "turnaround" items is a proposal to let Illinois communities enact local right-to-work zones, which he claims would help boost job creation and the state's economy. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city aldermen oppose such zones.
Before Rauner arrived for his address, aldermen railed against the governor's proposed right-to-work zones on the council floor before they unanimously passed a resolution opposing them. Many labor leaders and workers in the audience cheered on aldermen as they denounced the proposed policy.
With that backdrop, Rauner quipped at the top of his address: "A friend heard I was coming this morning, and asked if I felt like Daniel going into the lion's den, and I told him, 'No, Daniel had much better odds.'"
The governor's speech touched generically on his turnaround agenda. He never mentioned right-to-work, or, as he calls them, "employee empowerment," zones.
Instead, Rauner used his brief speech to stress the importance of collaboration in tackling the many pressing economic issues facing both the city and state.
"I'm eager to be your partner in a turnaround that benefits both Chicago and our great state," Rauner said. "But to achieve that, we must be willing to work together. Compromise. Accept things that we might normally oppose. That's going to be required of all of us. For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs."
The governor reminded the council that the state of Illinois "is in a terrible financial crisis."
"We don't have the money to simply bail out the city of Chicago," Rauner said. "It's not an option."
Emanuel is currently looking to Springfield for help on, among other things, pension reform and a boost in education funding. The mayor is also pushing for a Chicago casino, with the revenues to be put towards addressing the city's pensions problems.
Additionally, Emanuel wants Springfield to put a stop to the "dual taxation" of city residents as it relates to teachers' pensions. Chicago taxpayers provide funding for two teachers' pension funds -- one for Chicago teachers and another for suburban and downstate educators.
Rauner tried to put that dual taxation issue into context during his address.
"There is talk of so-called double taxation of Chicago residents for schools, but outside Chicago, folks see Chicago getting its own special deal, receiving over half a billion dollars every year in net extra funding compared to the rest of the state's school districts," the governor said. "These different points of view are [a] tremendous challenge for us to all overcome together. Chicago's agenda does not, and cannot, stand alone from the agenda we need to bring back Illinois. So, to achieve what we must requires sacrifice and compromise from all of us."
Following his speech, Rauner told reporters that he wasn't dismissing Emanuel's call for an end to the double taxation of city residents for teachers' pensions.
"The point that I was trying to make is ... the city of Chicago -- even adjusting for income level of students, adjusting for a lot of the criteria that drive taxpayer funding of different programs and schools, even adjusting for all that -- Chicago receives a disproportionate amount of money, many hundreds of millions of dollars, that no other community gets," the governor said. "That is true, and we've got to keep that in mind when we're talking about how Chicago may be different on certain pension payments and other things."
But during his press availability, Emanuel fired back at Rauner over the dual taxation issue and questioned why the governor is not pushing to change it.
"The governor always rails against high taxes. I can't think of anything higher tax than being taxed twice and getting the benefit only once," Emanuel said. "So if you really are against taxes, and it's uneconomical and it's bad economics for job creation, why would you allow the people in the city of Chicago to be taxed twice?
"You don't like taxes, but you seem to, when you have to deal with a very tough issue -- which is the inequality in the funding for our education, the fact that the state of Illinois is dead last -- you're allowing to exist in place two taxes that nobody else has to pay," the mayor continued. "And so my view is that's not the right way to go. And I want you to be true to your rhetoric, and let's put it into action."
When reporters told Rauner that, prior to his arrival, aldermen were bashing the idea of right-to-work zones, the governor said: "If they were taking a vote or passing a resolution about whether they want to have empowerment zones in the city or not, that's terrific. That's exactly what I want to occur."
"That's my point is local communities should be empowered to decide how their economies compete with other states and other nations," Rauner continued. "And I can guarantee ya there will be communities that don't want empowerment zones within their boundaries and there are communities that do want empowerment zones, and that's what I'm advocating."
Emanuel strongly rejects the idea of bringing right-to-work policies to Illinois.
"I think you're pulling the rug from underneath the middle class and people trying to get into the middle class," Emanuel said of right-to-work measures. "If the governor can figure out a way to work with people down in Springfield to do that, I'm going to fight that effort."
That being said, Emanuel explained that there is room for cooperation on other efforts, including workers' compensation reform, another item on Rauner's "turnaround agenda."
"That doesn't mean we won't work on other things together, whether that's financial issues, fiscal issues, or in the area of workers' comp, where I've said already there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, and I'm going to be clear about what I think we need to do," the mayor said.
Immediately after Rauner's speech, worker advocates, union members and labor leaders rallied and held a press conference at City Hall outside the council chambers. The group chanted "Turn back Rauner!"
Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez pushed back on the policies being advocated by Rauner, particularly right-to-work zones.
"What we're looking for is something to lift up all of us in our community, not to tear us down," he said, referring to an agenda for the state. "The fact of the matter is Gov. Rauner [has] put forth a number of items that specifically attack the most vulnerable among us."
The lack of details in Rauner's speech was also "disappointing," Ramirez said.
"He's got a plan, but he didn't share it with us today, and that's the problem," he stressed. "He's saying support me because I'm your governor, yet what he's offering right now in Springfield would wreak havoc on our communities, especially the most vulnerable."
Reparations Package For Burge Police Torture Survivors
Prior to Rauner's address, aldermen passed a historic reparations package that will create a $5.5 million fund for the torture victims of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge. As part of the reparations package, the city also issued a formal apology to Burge torture survivors and their families, several of whom attended the meeting to witness the momentous vote.
Under the reparations package, dozens of Burge torture survivors who have been unable to sue for various reasons, but mostly because their statute of limitations expired, could receive up to $100,000 in financial compensation. The reparations package comes with other forms of redress for torture survivors and their families, including counseling services and free enrollment in the City Colleges of Chicago system. Also, the measure requires the Chicago Public Schools to incorporate a lesson about the police torture cases in history classes, and the city would have to establish a public memorial commemorating the torture survivors.
Some aldermen, police torture survivors and advocates had been pushing for reparations legislation since it was first introduced back in October 2013. That initial proposal called for a $20 million reparations package for Burge torture victims.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Emanuel said the reparations package was important to "express that we were able to own up, look our past in the eye and be held accountable as a city for a wrong we did."
"There is no amount of money that we're gonna pay that will totally heal or close the book," the mayor added. "But it is about a culture of accountability and (to) be accountable for a wrong. I'm hoping that this stain is removed. I'm hoping other cities see that when there's a mistake, you can do it."
Burge was accused of torturing as many as 120 African American men between 1972 and 1991 along with officers under his command. The ex-police commander, who was convicted of perjury in 2010 for lying about the police tactic of torturing suspects into confessions, was released from federal custody in February.
Mark Clements, a survivor of the torture committed by Burge and his officers, was at Wednesday's council meeting.
While he was appreciative that the city issued a formal apology to the Burge torture victims and their family members, Clements said he wants an "apology directly from Mayor Daley, the former mayor."
Clements, 50, spent nearly three decades in prison after being tortured by police into confessing to crimes he did not commit when he was just 16 years old. Clements, who was unable to sue because his statute of limitations expired, said he will not be accepting money from the reparations fund, saying $100,000 is "too low."
However, Clements called the reparations package "a great start as far as the city of Chicago acknowledging what took place to men and what took place to some women inside of police stations."
But he said more needs to be done about the many alleged Burge torture victims who are still in prison.
"The mayor has jurisdiction where that he can go to the Cook County State's Attorney and he can suggest that these people be granted automatic hearings on their claims," Clements said.
Red Light Camera Reforms
Aldermen approved mayor-backed reforms to the red light camera program requiring, among other things, that public meetings be held before such devices are installed or removed.
As part of the reforms passed Wednesday, payment plans would be adjusted, giving violators more flexibility in terms of paying off their fines. Additionally, the measure speeds up the installation of pedestrian countdown clocks at red light camera intersections currently without such timers. Under the ordinance, the Chicago Department of Transportation is also authorized to "engage an outside academic team to conduct a comprehensive review of the red light camera program's policies, effectiveness and efficiency," reads a news release from the mayor's office.
The reforms, which do not include a lengthening of yellow lights, come after Emanuel announced plans to take down 50 red light cameras from 25 intersections where serious crashes have been reduced.
"Red light enforcement cameras reduce some of the most dangerous crashes and allow our police officers to focus on preventing and fighting crime - not writing traffic violations. I remain committed to making additional reforms to enhance public trust while maintaining this life saving program," Emanuel said in a statement issued after the council meeting. "Over the past few months, I heard your concerns about the program and announced reforms designed to seek public input and further improve safety, and we are building on those reforms today."
Settlement In Police Sexual Assault Lawsuit
Also on Wednesday, the city council signed off on a $415,000 settlement with a woman who alleges to having been sexually assaulted by two then-Chicago police officers back in March of 2011.
The woman, being called Jane Doe, filed a federal lawsuit against the two officers, Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez, who were on duty during the alleged incident and are no longer on the force. They resigned after the allegations against them surfaced.
On the night of the alleged attack, the officers reportedly came across the woman, who was crying and intoxicated, near a train station in the Wrigleyville neighborhood and offered her a ride home. The woman alleges she was sexually assaulted in the officers' police car and in her Rogers Park apartment.
The officers each pleaded guilty to official misconduct in January 2014, after sexual assault charges were dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors.