Emanuel sloughs off controversy, launches citywide distribution of municipal ID

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing ahead with the CityKey municipal ID card, despite some criticism. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Clerk Anna Valencia on Thursday launched citywide distribution of Chicago’s municipal identification card with an array of new sweeteners to boost participation and wash away the controversy.

After a news conference at the Field Museum that resembled a campaign kick-off, Emanuel dismissed as a “red herring” the claim by failed Republican gubernatorial challenger Jeanne Ives that accepting the CityKey as legitimate identification for voter registration is “literally suborning voter fraud.”

“It’s an attempt to divide people where this is actually trying to bring people together,” the mayor said.

“The undocumented cannot vote. That’s clear.”

After a four-month pilot program, the ID created to help undocumented immigrants now will be distributed citywide.

The Field Museum was chosen for Thursday’s launch to highlight a new benefit: CityKey holders get into the museum free, once a year, on a day they choose.

That’s just one of nearly two pages of discounts and other benefits at restaurants, coffeehouses, theaters, gyms, banks, sporting events and Navy Pier. Lyft even offers ride-hailing customers a 25 percent discount on the “first or next five rides.”

Those new sweeteners are on top of already-announced plans to allow CityKey to be used as a Ventra and library card. Later this year, the city also hope to offer discounts on prescription drugs.

CityKey will be free for the first 100,000 applicants, followed by a $10 fee. Cards will be printed starting Monday at the W Building at Kennedy-King College, 6301 S. Halsted, with additional “printing events” to be scheduled in neighborhoods across the city. To purchase ID’s at City Hall, Chicagoans will need to schedule appointments with the city clerk’s office.

South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has called CityKey a $2 million “waste of time, money and resources” that would be better spent on programs in impoverished black neighborhoods.

Other African-American aldermen have made the same claim, and believe Emanuel is using it to bolster his standing among Hispanics to make up for declining popularity among African-Americans angered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

But the two black aldermen who attended Thursday’s citywide kick-off argued otherwise.

“We do need more resources in our community. … But, it’s not an either-or,” said Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) added: “I have a couple of homeless shelters in my ward. I deal with Breakthrough Ministry. I deal with a lot of recovering addict programs. I deal with St. Leonard’s House where guys get out of prison have a place to stay. … All of these folks need ID’s right away … in order to get a job.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th) accused the news media of creating controversy where there is none, exacerbating longstanding political tension between blacks and Hispanics.

“I feel bad for that because it’s basically going into the Trump agenda where you split people who have some real concerns and real needs,” Solis said. “And instead of us organizing ourselves and going for what’s right and proper, we start fighting among ourselves.”

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