Emanuel gives pay raises to mayor’s office staff

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Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp and Mayor Rahm Emanuel after announcing new CTA improvements at the 95th Street Red Line Station. Thursday, May 12, 2016. File Photo by Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is giving sizeable pay raises to his personal staff — even as he continues to freeze the salaries of city department heads.

Tucked away in Emanuel’s proposed, 2017 budget is a new, $112,000-a-year assistant to the mayor and pay raises as high as 30 percent for existing members of the mayor’s staff.

The overall budget for the mayor’s office will rise by 5 percent — from $5.96 million this year to $6.28 million in 2017. That’s even after there is only one addition to a mayor’s office staff that currently includes 68 employees.

But, 45 members of Emanuel’s staff are in line for pay raises, some of them sizeable increases. There are a handful of small salary reductions.

The deputy chief-of-staff who fills the line-item jumping by $30,012-a-year—to $185,004-a-year—is Andrea Zopp.

She’s the former Chicago Urban League President hired in May to serve as deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer.

That’s a job Emanuel created for her as he faced deep distrust among black voters who believe their unsafe neighborhoods have been left behind.

Fresh off her failed campaign for the U.S. Senate, Zopp was charged with driving development in all 77 Chicago neighborhoods — but with a particular focus on long-neglected neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins made reference to Zopp, without mentioning her by name, in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times defending the pay raises in the mayor’s office.

“First, the overall headcount in the office has not changed. There were some new hires … and we made some structural changes in the office months ago to focus on neighborhoods and economic development,” Collins wrote.

“The team here will continue to focus our work on expanding opportunity for every resident of Chicago, and investing in every neighborhood of Chicago.”

At the same time he’s rewarding members of his own staff, Emanuel continues to freeze the pay of city department heads, most of them for the sixth straight budget.

The lone exception is Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans. She remains the city’s highest-paid public official with an annual salary of $300,000, compared to the $186,576 paid to her predecessor Rosemarie Andolino.

The 61 percent pay raise helped lure the hard-charging Evans to Chicago from the nation’s capital in May, 2015, where she served as vice president of engineering for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, Emanuel’s surprise pick to replace fired Supt. Garry McCarthy, ranks second among department heads.

Johnson inherited the $260,004-a-year salary negotiated by McCarthy before Emanuel pulled the rug out from under his only superintendent in the unrelenting furor that followed release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video nearly a year ago.

Like those of his department heads, Emanuel’s salary has been frozen at $216,210-a-year.

Emanuel’s staff has helped him weather the worst of the political storm stemming from his decision to keep the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year and release it only after a judge ordered the city to do so.

They’ve also helped him avoid another teachers strike and win hard-fought City Council approval of a new system of police accountability and a $1.2 billion avalanche of tax increases need to help solve the city’s $30 billion pension crisis.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in July that the tumultuous period had taken its toll, with the departure of eight key staffers in a relatively short period of time.

The turnover included: senior adviser and alter-ego David Spielfogel; strategy chief Clo Ewing; director of public engagement Ken Bennett; speechwriter Steve Silver; deputy chief of staff Meghan Harte; “body man” Mike Faulman; Sean Rapelyea, deputy director of the Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs and Communications Director Kelley Quinn.

By reorganizing his staff and raising their pay, the mayor may well be trying to solidify his staff and focus their efforts for the formidable job ahead.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the Progressive Caucus leader who is one of the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critics said the pay raises in the mayor’s office caught his eye, too.

“It looked like there was some shuffling around of people. Maybe they went off to different departments to run ‘em. And maybe there were pay raises there, too. But, I did see significant pay raises for people,” in the mayor’s office, Waguespack said Thursday.

“Some of them, you see like a $10,000 jump or even more than that. I don’t think that’s appropriate. But, if it’s built into new levels of work they’re taking on, that’s okay.”

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