First-year victory

By Vanessa Morton

After months of heated debate, protests and changes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first 2012 proposed budget plan sailed through the City Council on Nov. 17.

Emanuel’s balanced $8.2 billion budget passed in a landslide as the Council voted unanimously in support 50-0. The plan fills a $635.7 million budget deficit through spending cuts and an increase in initiatives that will save the city money without increasing property or sales taxes.

“I think we made [a] strong, good and solid budget, and the departmentship I was seeking made that budget better,” Emanuel said in a news conference after the meeting. “It reflected their constituents, it reflected their concerns. Most importantly, it reflected their contribution and ideas in helping us deal with the challenges the

city faces.”

While Emanuel’s administration plans to save more than an estimated $406 million through reforms and health initiatives, as mentioned in The Chronicle on Sept. 26, the budget also includes 385 total layoffs that will be effective on Jan. 1, along with the elimination of more than 2,150 vacant positions.

In addition to these layoffs, cuts are also called for, which have invited the most controversy during the past couple of months. These cuts include 25 police station consolidations, reduced library hours, the closing of 12 mental health clinics and an increase in water fees, as previously reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 17 and Nov.14.

However, after a three-hour meeting the plan was passed with 40 of the 50 aldermen standing up and commending the mayor for his efforts.They spoke on the hard decisions that had to be made, joked about the past administration and expressed their support for the city’s management and future plans.

Alderman Regner “Ray” Suarez (31st Ward) said the success of the budget resulted from an “unprecedented” partnership between the mayor, his administration, aldermen and the people of Chicago. He added that the budget was honest and had set the right priorities in changing the way the city government has done business.

“Today, the vote on the 2012 balanced budget proposal was a vote for change and a break from the past, which share the goals of getting the city’s finances back on track and ensuring economic prosperity in the future,” Suarez said. “We made tough decisions that will move Chicago forward, [and] everyone gave a little, so no one had to give a lot.”

Alderman Michelle Harris (8th Ward) agreed with Suarez and said the budget was a call for change. As the world continuously changes, she said the city needs to change with it and added that the budget was fair and equitable.

“I think that we’re going to have to give in order to get where we need to go,” Harris said. “We’ve got to step into some shoes that maybe we’re a little uncomfortable with because we live in a world where nobody wants to change. But the truth of the matter is as the world changes, we must all change, we must all grow.”

Adding to the support, Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) declared that this would be his 21st budget voted on. He admitted to the council that he has voted against many of the budgets within the last two years. However, he said while he didn’t agree with everything on the current budget, he felt that it was the most honest he has seen since past administrations.

“I am not going to allow the idea of the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Moore said. “And by and large, given the difficulty of the situations we are facing today, this is a good budget.”

He also credited the transparency shown throughout the mayor’s administration.

“Unlike previous years, there has been an open dialogue between the members of this body and the executive branch,” Moore said. “He and his people have had an open door, they’ve met with us at any time we’ve asked and they have worked with us to reach solutions that make some of these proposed cuts a little less painful.”

Despite the conflicts prior to passage of the 2012 budget plan, Emanuel said he believes that his plan will help bind people together not only in hindsight, but also long term.

“So across a waterfront of issues, we’ve heard the suggestions, we’ve heard the recommendations [and] we’ve heard the debate,” Emanuel said. “[But] this budget acts, and it acts with force about doing what I think is important and also with what the aldermen think is important for the city’s future.”