- Al Podgorski/Sun-Times
- Mayor Rahm Emanuel just wants you to know the facts, with maybe a few near and almost facts thrown in.
Minutes after the mayoral debate on WTTW ended last night, Rahm Emanuel’s campaign sent out an e-mail to “fact check” things said by his opponents.
Facts would be a welcome addition to the mayoral race. Lots of claims and accusations have been flying back and forth, especially during the debates, so it’s helpful to know the truth.
But journalists won’t get the full version of it from Emanuel any more than from his rivals. The mayor’s fact-checking needs a little fact checking, and since he keeps making these claims, they’re worth flagging.
The parking meter deal: During the debate, Alderman Robert Fioretti gave a lame explanation for why he voted for former mayor Richard Daley’s selloff of the meter system, saying he’d been misled about the particulars by a city official whose name he could no longer remember.
If Fioretti is mayoral material, he’d admit that, along with 39 of his City Council colleagues, he simply failed to ask the right questions—or to make sure he’d actually read and understood the agreement—before voting to sell off control of the city streets.
Emanuel pounced, as any smart opponent would have. But he also went on to rip Fioretti for voting against Emanuel’s tweaked parking meter agreement, which the mayor describes as a great improvement for city taxpayers. “I made lemonade out of a lemon,” he said.
Sorry, but this is more like Kool-Aid that we don’t need to drink. As we’ve documented, Emanuel’s meter deal was barely different from Daley’s.
It’s true that Emanuel talked CPM into dropping some expensive bills it sent the city, but the new deal doesn’t prevent the company from sending more bills this year, or next, or in every one of the next 69 years. Plus, by reratifying the core of the meter agreement, Emanuel and the City Council also made it all but impossible for the city to find a way out of the deal in the future.
In 2013, the year Emanuel put his new deal in place, Chicago Parking Meters LLC collected nearly $136 million from the city’s parking system.
The mayor doesn’t ever mention that partners at the law firm representing CPM donated to his campaign during the time he says he was being tough and wringing concessions from them.
Policing: Fioretti and Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia renewed calls for adding as many as 1,000 police officers to the city’s force. Businessman Willie Wilson has also pledged to hire cops. Once again, though, none explained how they would be used or paid for.
Emanuel repeated his frequent claim that he moved hundreds of officers from desk jobs to the streets. “I put community policing back in the police department,” he said.
But merely ordering more officers to drive around in cars—if that actually happened on Emanuel’s watch—is not community policing. Central to the concept is the practice of assigning officers to specific beats where they can get to know residents.
In contrast, Rahm says the city can’t afford to hire enough officers to do this. Instead, he and the police brass have elected to spend $100 million a year sending officers to work overtime shifts in hot spots. Such initiatives tend to drive down crime, at least in the short run, but often heighten tensions with the community because officers aren’t there long enough to do much except stop and arrest people.
Moreover, city payroll records show that the number of officers on the force has dropped by about 300 since Emanuel took office.
Crime totals have fallen in the last four years—as they have nationwide since the 1990s—but an average of seven people are still shot in Chicago every day.
Tax increment financing: Garcia described the TIF program as a “slush fund” masquerading as an economic development initiative. The Reader—starting with my colleague Ben Joravsky—has reported for years on how and why that’s accurate.
But Emanuel’s campaign was happy to point out that Garcia did little to stop, slow, or even speak out against TIFs until he became a mayoral candidate. If Garcia wants progressive votes, he should explain where he’s been.
On the other hand, Rahm followed up his hits on Garcia with some tall tales about his own record.
During the debate, he claimed that the mayor doesn’t actually control the TIF program. That would be false. Aldermen may have some input about certain projects in their wards, but decisions about where and how to use the money—which amounts to more than $400 million a year—ultimately rest with one person commonly referred to as “Mr. Mayor.”
Emanuel also brushed off calls to use TIF funds on other needs, saying all but $200 million in the bank has already been budgeted. Even if that’s the case, it’s not chump change. But he’s presented no data to show where that figure came from. The nonprofit Civic Lab pored through hundreds of pages of TIF records last summer and estimated that $1.7 billion in TIF money was sitting in the bank.
In his follow-up e-mail, Emanuel claimed that 75 percent of TIF funds are spent on public works projects and that the details are available online: “One of Mayor Emanuel’s first tasks was to establish reforms that increased accountability and transparency.”
This boast can be checked by consulting the city’s website. Quick—find the place where you can see exactly where the money has gone, what it’s been spent on, and which companies and contractors were paid. It’s really hard, because it’s not there.
What we know is that the vast majority of TIF money is poured into the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods. That means that tax dollars are being used to build up downtown while outlying communities are starved for jobs and investments that the city says it can’t afford.