Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent $10.2 million on the clean-up from a Super Bowl Sunday blizzard that buried the city in 19.3 inches of snow and had the potential to bury his re-election campaign.
“This isn’t about dollars and cents. This is about making sure our streets are plowed and passable so that Chicagoans can get to and from work and to the grocery. Most important, [it’s about] ensuring emergency vehicles can move throughout the city during and after a snowstorm,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.
“We responsibly budget for snow — including a snow escrow — to make sure our city remains safe for residents throughout the challenging Chicago winters.”
That $10.2 million brings the total spending for snow removal this winter to $29 million.
When the storm hit just over three weeks before the Feb. 24 election, Emanuel’s political life flashed before him.
He spared no expense, well aware that a tepid, belated and arrogant city response to the Blizzard of ’79 had buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic.
After a blizzard of complaints about side streets, alleys and sidewalks still buried in snow days after it stopped snowing, Emanuel leased 220 pieces of heavy equipment and operators to assist in the neighborhood clean-up.
It was the first time that City Hall had shifted into what’s known as “Phase 4” of its snow plan since the Ground Hog Day blizzard of 2011 that shut down Lake Shore Drive and stranded hundreds of motorists and CTA buses for hours.
That happened in the waning months of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration and produced embarrassing photographs seen around the world.
Emanuel vowed never to repeat it.
Now that all of the bills have been tallied, we finally know what the clean-up cost Chicago taxpayers.
Cash-strapped Chicago spent $10.2 million to remove all of that snow, according to the city’s response to a Freedom of Information request from the Chicago Sun-Times. That includes:
- $5.6 million for the salt used to prevent Chicago streets from turning into skating rinks.
- $2.1 million on employee overtime and other labor expenses.
- $1.5 million on city equipment.
- $967,454 to lease outside equipment and pay a towing vendor. The payments went to: Brandenburg Industrial ($234,252); United Row Towing ($208,614); M.A.T Leasing ($184,582); KLF Trucking ($141,862); Plote Construction ($109,457) and Christofano Equipment ($88,683).
The $10.2 million clean-up tab is half of what it cost Chicago taxpayers to dig out from the 2011 blizzard.
The total snowfall this winter is 40 inches, compared to 70 inches last winter.
Last year, a “snow escrow” salted away in anticipation of a brutal winter allowed Chicago to absorb $33.2 million in snow-removal spending — $12.9 million over budget — without raising taxes.
City Hall expects to follow the same script this year to avoid making a $300 million operating shortfall even worse.
Although Emanuel once again set aside a “base budget” of $20 million for snow removal for all of 2015, covering the end of this winter and the beginning of next winter, there’s roughly $10 million extra set aside in the motor fuel tax fund that covers snow removal and bridge repairs.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that former Hired Truck kingpin Michael Tadin was among a handful of contractors cashing in on Emanuel’s pre-election decision to lease heavy equipment to help Chicago neighborhoods dig out from the Super Bowl Sunday blizzard.
Tadin is the perennial city trucking magnate whose $1.25 million loan to a security company co-owned by then-Ald. Patrick Huels (11th) forced the 1997 resignation of Daley’s former City Council floor leader. Tadin’s trucking company had received a $1.1 million city subsidy with Huels’ help.
Tadin-owned M.A.T. Leasing turned out to be the third-highest-paid outside vendor in the Super Bowl Sunday blizzard clean-up.
During a Sun-Times interview last month, Emanuel acknowledged that, when the snow kept on coming on Super Bowl Sunday, he couldn’t help but think about Bilandic and the Blizzard of `79.
After carrying on his tradition of visiting local churches, Emanuel said he made it home, changed clothes and hustled down to the 911 center, where he told his staff, “This is game day. That [Super Bowl] is over. This is game time. Everybody had better get their s— together.”
Although some aldermen and their constituents complained about the condition of their side streets, Emanuel argued that city employees did “valiant work.”
“The city never came anywhere close to shutting down public transportation like New York. Never came close to Lake Shore Drive. And never came close to Atlanta. And we faced 19.4 inches in 26 hours. It’s a heroic effort by all the public employees and all the residents,” the mayor said.
“But there are things you can do better. We’ve got more things to do. We’re not done.”
After the snow emergency ended, Emanuel directed the Department of Streets and Sanitation to turn its attention to studying the alternate-side-of-the-street parking idea championed by the mayor and South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) that could put an end to the dibs system.
During the height of the storm, Sawyer suggested requiring motorists to move their cars from one side of the street to the other whenever heavy snow is forecast. Minutes later, Emanuel embraced the idea.
If temporary parking can somehow be found in parking-starved Chicago neighborhoods, that would allow the city to plow snow-covered residential streets all the way to the curb — and without having to worry about burying vehicles that homeowners have painstakingly dug out.
“[Sawyer] is scratching an itch that I’m gonna scratch, too. I just don’t know how yet. That’s what makes this a great job. . . . We’re not stagnant. The grid system has worked, but now we’re gonna go on to other things,” the mayor said at the time.
“We do it for street sweeps in the spring. Can we use the same concept that, when it’s north of 10 [inches], we’re gonna give you times when you pull the cars out. We’ll plow that curb-to-curb and get it done. People are gonna say, ‘Where am I gonna park?’ That’s a legitimate thing. That’s what these people will figure out.”