In the last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Council have implemented many ordinances and programs under the guise of protecting Chicago’s children. Though the children are the justification, revenue and national attention are the real motivators for these often-controversial pieces of legislation. The city is not fooling taxpayers when they use emotionally charged justifications, so the aldermen and Emanuel should be more transparent about their agendas.
The mayor and City Council often push cigarette regulations “for the youth.” Since taking office, Emanuel has adamantly discouraged smoking in Chicago, using the 2014 budget to implement a 110 percent increase on cigarette tax, taking it to $7.42 a pack, the highest in the nation. During the Jan. 15 City Council meeting, Alderman Will Burns (4th Ward) said the tax is an effective way to deter children from smoking. Although this may be true, the city is also $339 million in debt and the high tax translates to significant revenue, implying that money was a motivating factor behind the inflation. Not to mention boasting the country’s highest cigarette tax is great for Emanuel’s political image as a champion for tobacco reform.
Despite the evident misuse, endless pronouncements of ordinances “for the kids” continue. During the same City Council meeting, the council passed an ordinance that requires electronic cigarettes to be regulated in line with other tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes have yet to be federally regulated, so their health implications are unclear. Just like analog cigarettes, electronic cigarettes can only be purchased by those older than 18. Despite the adult requirement, the ordinance passed on the grounds that e-cigarettes normalize smoking, so children could be at an increased risk of picking up the habit. During the meeting, some aldermen went so far as to say it is the City Council’s job to protect children and the aldermen would be doing a disservice to the kids if they let e-cigarettes remain unregulated.
After a 30-minute debate, Alderman Rey Colon (35th Ward) was one of only two to vocally oppose the ordinance, saying the council was passing the legislation because it wanted to continue its progressive anti-tobacco charge and that protecting children was merely a smokescreen for the city’s true intentions. He quoted the film, “My Cousin ,” adopting a New York accent to articulate the famous line, “The youth, the youth,” as he mocked the council.
The city’s concern for children’s well-being was even more manipulative when it was used to justify closing more than 50 Chicago public schools in summer 2013, forcing thousands of students to relocate. The lengthened, sometimes more dangerous, commutes students began to endure required the expansion of the Safe Passage program, zones with increased police presence and crossing guards to protect children who have to cross gang lines and unsafe streets to get to school. This program contradicts Emanuel’s alleged concern for children.
A few weeks later, children were again a “concern” for Emanuel when he used them to justify installing 50 speed cameras around schools and parks as part of the Children’s Safety Zone Program, an effort to increase safety by cracking down on speeding. The cameras are intended to dissuade drivers from speeding to protect children as they cross busy streets. Revenue generated by the cameras will go to safety initiatives such as anti-violence programs, after school programs and traffic safety improvements, according to the press release.
Although the revenue will directly benefit the youth, the effectiveness of speed cameras is debatable; there is not enough evidence to prove they curb drivers from speeding, as reported Oct. 14 by The Chronicle. Therefore, Emanuel’s interest in the cameras seems somewhat weak. If he was truly concerned for children crossing busy streets, he could have implemented less controversial solutions such as lengthening the time vehicles stop at red lights. Again, revenue was the motivator, not the children.
Right now, the aldermen and Emanuel are passionately defending laws to protect the children, but these laws are wolves in sheep clothing. Aldermen are politicians, after all, masters at spinning facts and emotions to pass an agenda. Instead of participating in “child’s play,” they should adopt a new tactic: honesty.