Exclusive: Emanuel on police, Karen Lewis, CTU talks and more

SHARE Exclusive: Emanuel on police, Karen Lewis, CTU talks and more

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sits down for a conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times at his City Hall office. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will open one or more auxiliary police training facilities — and build a new academy shared by police and fire — to help deliver on his promise to hire 970 additional Chicago Police officers over the next two years to combat a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings citywide.

Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that half of the two-year, $133.8 million price tag for the new officers would be “built into” his 2017 budget, which is set to include roughly $30 million in “targeted” taxes, fines and fees.

Those new fees are expected to include a 7-cents-a-bag tax on paper and plastic bags that’s projected to raise about $10 million. That tax would give consumers an incentive to bring re-usable bags on shopping trips and stop a ploy by major retailers to get around the city’s partial ban on plastic bags.

The spending plan will also forge ahead with a previously shelved, $31 million plan to turn the 311 non-emergency hotline into the two-way communications system it needs to be — but without the privatization that sparked a mini-rebellion in the City Council.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, the mayor also talked about the “Ferguson effect’s” divergent impact on police officers and street gangs, and voiced guarded optimism about averting a teachers’ strike because of his improved relationship with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

“I called [Lewis] on election night. . . . We had a good conversation,” the mayor said. “I made my mistakes. She has acknowledged to me also certain things that we both would have done different absolutely. Both for our personal relationship and for the overall well-being of the school system.

“We have a good working relationship. When she makes a core request, I try to hear it, listen. . . .There’s no [longer] overwhelming personalities at the table. . . . The general attitude collectively is to try to find an agreement within the financial envelope of Chicago Public Schools. This is difficult. It shouldn’t be made more difficult by personalities.”

On Tuesday, Emanuel is scheduled to unveil a 2017 city budget without the burden of solving the city’s pension crisis. That heavy lifting requiring massive tax increases is done.

On the same day, Chicago teachers plan to walk off the job for the second time in four years if a new contract agreement cannot be reached by then.

The mayor talked about all of that and more:

Q. How will you pay for the 970 new officers?

A. When I started the process with our team, I said, “This is my No. 1 priority.” I want every child to have a mentor that needs a mentor. Every young man. And I want to have the force [expanded] given that we’re facing something different and unique. I said to the superintendent, “What is it you need?” We even went beyond what he asked for. And that will be within the budget so it’s not a one-time. . . . Permanently in the budget is going to be the two-year process to pay for these police. It’s not this little like thing over here. It is in the structure of the budget.”

Q. Will the budget have taxes, fines and fees of any kind?

A. It will because it will be joined with reforms. . . . We will have no general revenue. But, there will be revenues in targeted areas and there will be reforms — like on energy, like going after deadbeats and enforcement of things where people have been sloppy in payment. . . . It’s mainly targeted to people who are more in the, what I would say the abusive area where they’re not paying their fair share. . . . There will be fines and fees. . . . [But] there’s not gonna be anything on red-lights or on speed cameras.

Q. Layoffs?

A. There’s a tightening as it relates to positions as a whole. It’s not really layoffs so much as certain positions that won’t get filled.

In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times at his office in City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Chicago Police Department needs to expand its training facilities. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times at his office in City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Chicago Police Department needs to expand its training facilities. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Q. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson says you’re looking into the possibility of opening auxiliary training facilities to move these 970 new officers through the academy.

A. We need the capacity to meet the two-year objective. So, we are looking around the city at taking over or using facilities that exist. Rehabbing them, so we can actually graduate more officers. We’re gonna keep the training reforms we put in place.

Q. There’s only so much training they can be done at that old facility?

A. Physically, that floor plan, that facility has X amount that you can handle. This year, we’ll do somewhere between 700 and 800 officers. We need more space, more capacity, more trainers.

Q. Would you use some of the public schools you closed?

A. They’re gonna look at finding something. Police, facilities and human resources are all working together to find a place, rehabilitate it. I have resources to do it so we can actually add the capacity of officers.

Q. Are you going to forge ahead with your long-term plan to build a new training academy for police and fire?

A. Yes. . . . I want to create a 21st Century training facility for public safety. They have been directed to now, first and foremost get a temporary site . . . to handle right now. Second, find a permanent place to build what is necessary for the future.

Q. How will you pay for it?

A. It’s a capital expense. It’s not an operating expense. I have ideas about how to do that.

Q. Last year, aldermen resisting privatization forced you to shelve your plan to overhaul 311. Will you resurrect that?

A. When we sell the land at Goose Island and move that [Fleet and Facilities Management] facility and the 250 jobs to Englewood — which is not only good, but will also create foot traffic for the Whole Foods [and] the new Starbucks — there will be extra resources. That’s what we’re gonna do to modernize 311.

Q. So, you won’t privatize it.

A. No, [But] Chicago is gonna have a mobile 311. We were the first city to create 311. It was built for another era of land-lines. People communicate today totally different via mobile technology. Our 311 system is not a system for the modern 21st Century. So if you want to text a picture, if you want to text a message about your tree trim request, my goal ultimately is to have a two-way communication, not one-way communication.”

Q. Will there be a teachers’ strike?

A. There is a general attitude at the table of trust and cooperation and a goal to get our teachers a pay raise [and] a secure pension. And a goal to make sure that we don’t . . . make any financial decisions that adversely affect the classroom.

Q. Will you sweeten the pot with a TIF surplus beyond the $32 million built into the CPS budget?

A. I know one thing from being in a negotiation: You’ve got to trust the people you’re sitting at the table with. If I do anything in an interview with you that violates that trust, whatever I tweak around, that would be harmful. … I’m not gonna do anything that messes up our negotiations. So, I’m not gonna give you that. What I will say as it relates to TIFs is, every budget I have surplussed it. I created a policy around that. I’ve eliminated and shut down 18 TIFs. More than anybody has ever done. And I’ve re-directed it where now, over 80 percent of them go into either schools, libraries, parks or transportation.

Q. CPS is losing enrollment. Wouldn’t parents run for the hills if there’s another strike?

A. There’s a lot of academic gains — at the elementary level, the high school level and towards college. Massive gains that are far better and stronger than nationwide numbers or other urban systems. That should be a reason for people — not only to want to stay but be part of that by getting their kids enrolled. [But] any time people create uncertainty, it’s not good.

Q. Eddie Johnson told a harrowing story this week about a female police officer being beaten by an offender who was afraid she was going to die, but still refused to fire her weapon for fear of being second-guessed. How are you going to turn that around?

A. There are two factors — not one. You’re right to ask me about the police officer. . . . But, there’s also a “Ferguson effect” on the gangs. It’s not just about cops. They are aware of the narrative. They are more emboldened because they know what’s happened, the change in our police. They know it before any foundation president or before any think-tank or any criminologist has studied it. They realize there’s a change out here. They’re the first to feel it. The quote-unquote “Ferguson effect” is wider than just police. And the discussion that’s happening nationally is missing the other side of the equation.

Q. You talked to the female officer. What did she say?

A. We’re gonna go for a run when she feels better. She’s a hockey player. Thank God she’s a tough cookie. I mean, she really is a tough person. She talks about hockey, the love of it and working out. She weight lifts. And she had a good attitude. She’s holding on to one part of the cuff. And what’s literally going through her mind while her head is being bashed is, “If I do x, I can create a viral video.”

Q. How do you change that?

A. You have no idea as a citizen when you go up to an officer who’s done something right — small, big medium or large — and say, “Thank you.” That is as big as the next 250 officers we [hire] . . . Too often, the paint brush is done in such a broad stroke. An officer will do wrong, and we say it’s the police department. Everybody gets described. . . . [W]e collectively  — the mayor, you as a journalist, your paper, the media — have to be conscious that the narrative in which they now operate has created its own challenges to their job.

Q. Will you make another push for a Chicago casino this fall? I’m hearing that you will.

A. Then, you should go with [what you hear]. You know my position on a casino. I’m gonna repeat what I said in 2011 when you asked a question similar. It is not a panacea to Chicago’s economy.

Q. But it would be nice to have?

A. It can be if done right. If not, no.

Q. At Michael Reese? Is that possible?

A. I have an RFP out. I’m not gonna pre-judge a process.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said progress is being made on an express train to O’Hare — and he intends to run for a third term. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said progress is being made on an express train to O’Hare — and he intends to run for a third term. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Q. What else is on your agenda for the veto session?

A. Pension agreements. I’m also gonna push for an infrastructure bill so we can make further improvements in our transportation system citywide. I have other issues as it relates most importantly to school finances, where the state, which has penalized teachers’ pensions and school systems with poor kids, levels the playing field.

Q. CTA express service to O’Hare Airport. Will you get it done? Do you have Chinese investors?

A. We have made significant progress on the engineering front. And now, I’ll just say, “Stay tuned.” … It’s not about the money. The world is awash with cash looking for a return. It’s an engineering question. Once you figure out the engineering question, people will want to invest in it.

Q. You’re raising money. I know you can’t afford to look like a lame duck. But, is there a possibility you will run for  a third term?

A. Of course there is. . . . It’s a strong likelihood. My intention is to run for a third term.

Q. You have to say that now.

A. No. You don’t think I’m gonna do it because you’ve made a decision about my life. . . . The person that said that I [could be a one-termer like] Jane Byrne assessed that situation. Are you using those political skills?

Q. What did you think of former Mayor Daley’s pique about being blamed for not solving the pension crisis?

A. Elected labor leaders weren’t gonna tell their members what they had to pay for in benefits. People in the civic watchdog groups were asleep. They were like trained seals applauding because stardust got thrown in their eyes and they weren’t asking the questions that needed to be asked. Collectively, people in leadership took their eye off the ball. Not one person.

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