Absent mayor, active community

By The Columbia Chronicle

As the City Council’s Nov. 15 deadline to approve the 2013 budget looms, a group of aldermen is seeking to narrow the divide that has emerged between the council and the public that emerged after Mayor Rahm Emanuel cancelled the traditional public budget forums.

The Progressive Caucus of the Chicago City Council, which was formed in 2011, is composed of core City Council members including aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), John Arena (45th), Rick Munoz (22nd), Toni Foulkes (15th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Nick Sposato (36th).

The caucus allows the public to voice opinions about the proposed budget by hosting forums in which city residents can give aldermen feedback on public funding and how it should be disbursed to

various programs.

“The annual budget is the most important aspect of public policy,” Fioretti said. “With an administration that has pledged transparency, [the mayor] has shut the

public out.”

During the second forum on Oct. 24 forum hosted at Wells Community Academy High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., constituents expressed frustration with Emanuel’s budget proposal. Topics ranged from problems in the educational system to business and retiree benefit programs.

“The aldermen here tonight are the only ones who will fight for our community,” said Rich Holland, a 36th Ward resident. “We all should recognize that they want to fight for our future and for the redevelopment of districts outside of downtown.”

Former Mayor Harold Washington first organized the community forums in 1983 to close the gap between city policy and the community. Emanuel decided to cancel this year’s forums after last year’s meetings turned into accusations against the city’s administrative staff, according to a statement by the Mayor’s press office.

According to Waguespack, the caucus includes 7 aldermen, or a 14 percent of the City Council, and is collectively seeking public input to uphold what the council believes are core democratic principles, despite the mayor’s decision to cancel the  meetings.

“The progressive caucus has the ability to make an impact,” Waguespack said. “I am concerned with the direction our city is headed in, and [the way] the budget affects that path is alarming.”

Joe Zephron, a 25th Ward resident, said at the Oct. 24 forum that as a resident of the 25th Ward, Chicago neighborhoods outside the downtown area need to mobilize for budgetary reform.

“There needs to be cooperative development with the budget, as opposed to seeking out for-profit companies for the city,” Zephron said. “There are cities like Cleveland that are having great success forming low-income worker cooperatives and rebuilding from within.”

Other residents, such as Kirk Hilendorf of the 35th Ward, said constituents question the integrity of the budget and its ability to sustain public employment in

city government. He said the city should adjust business tax rates to alleviate some of the stress placed on low- and middle-income families who are struggling to make ends meet.

“[The budget] is balanced on mythical math and placed on the backs of the working people of Chicago,” Hilendorf said at the meeting. “The city has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. It’s an egregious attempt to target the middle-class families of Chicago.”

For footage of the budget hearing, go to ColumbiaChronicle.com