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Rahm vows to salvage stalled ethics reforms; council OKs Uptown, Congress rehabs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed after Wednesday's City Council meeting that he would salvage his stalled ethics proposal. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Wednesday to salvage his stalled ethics plan before leaving office.

Earlier this week, aldermen from across the city took issue with the watered-down requirement that the City Council’s Zoning Committee hold a hearing on “zoning map amendments” no more than six months after they’re introduced.

The change is aimed at preventing aldermen from doing what now-deposed Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) stands accused of doing: That is, working through contacts in multiple city departments to put a brick on a Burger King franchise owner’s project until his demands for legal business were met.

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin, two of Emanuel’s staunchest City Council supporters, argued that the mandate could set aldermen up for a political fall by circumventing the “community process.”

After Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel was asked how he’d get aldermen on board with just over two months before he leaves office.

“This will be our fifth legislative package on ethics. I believe we will get it done,” he said.

“We made some changes. We listened to aldermen without losing the … core purpose of this ethics package. And my desire is to see this all the way through. I’ve been clear with the aldermen that you cannot, in the face of what’s happened over the last two months in the city, stall out on ethics reform. You can’t do it. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for the confidence of the public … in their local government.”

Also at Wednesday’s action-packed Council meeting, one of Emanuel’s last as mayor, aldermen approved a redevelopment agreement for the Uptown Theatre along with a lucrative tax incentive for the $75 million project. The development was made possible by a massive infusion of government money far beyond the taxpayer help that would have been required had the Infrastructure Trust succeeded in saving the 93-year-old Uptown.

That jigsaw puzzle of funding: $13 million from the surrounding tax-incrementing-financing district; $3 million in “Adopt-a-Landmark” funds; $14 million from the state’s “Property Assessed Clean Energy Act”; $8.7 million in federal tax credits and $10 million from the Build Illinois bond fund.

Chicago taxpayers will also contribute $6 million to improve the streetscape that will define the Uptown Theater District.

Other items OK’d Wednesday:

• Another redevelopment agreement for the Congress Theater, which includes an $8.9 million tax-increment-financing subsidy.

• A crackdown on marketing and advertising stickers that get slapped all over city bus shelters, bike racks, street signs and light poles.

• A $5.25 million settlement tied to the Jon Burge torture era. It goes to Alonzo Smith, who claims Area 2 detectives Peter Dignan and John Byrne tortured him into confessing to a 1983 murder he did not commit. It’s the only Burge case thus far to produce a sworn deposition from former Mayor Richard M. Daley. But, a judge has sealed a transcript of Daley’s answers to questions under oath.

Finally, Emanuel on Wednesday also introduced an ordinance regulating “E-bikes and mobility devices.” The ordinance “clarifies where e-bikes and scooters are allowed on city streets and modernizes the code to accommodate personal low speed electric devices,” according to the mayor’s office.

It does not allow private scooter sharing. The city continues to meet with stakeholders and mobility providers to consider the role of scooter sharing in Chicago that balances public safety with the “ability to learn from a new mobility service,” an Emanuel spokesperson said.

Emanuel proposed a new ten-year lease in a vacant city-owned building at 66 E. Randolph to serve as the downtown headquarters for After School Matters. That’s the award-winning arts and education program started by Former First Lady Maggie Daley.