With the runoff election behind him, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was urged Thursday to break the stalemate that has stalled two City Council reforms: the creation of an independent budget office and a measure empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said if Emanuel is serious about forging a genuine partnership with a new City Council, he’ll do what it takes to deliver the two reforms.
“We have new council members who ran on progressive platforms. This is in line with the new council. It’s in line with what the mayor ran on. It was a part of his campaign platform. We need to get this done now,” Pawar said.
“The mayor’s got to work with us. Maybe it’s a matter of breaking the stalemate by getting all of us in the room and saying, `This is something we need to have happen.’ He should call a meeting and break the stalemate.”
On the day after the election, Emanuel was asked whether he would break the stalemate stalling the two reforms now that the mayoral campaign is over.
He would say only, “You have my commitment we’re gonna continue to make reforms and push through what we have to. There’s no part of city government that’s walled off from reform or change.”
Nearly 18 months ago, the City Council voted to create a $485,000 independent budget office to provide aldermen with expert advice on mayoral spending, programs and privatization and guide the City Council through Chicago’s $20 billion pension crisis.
The reform has been stuck ever since because of a stalemate over whether former independent Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) has the independence and policy expertise to lead the office as the first-ever, $107,000-a-year City Council Financial Analyst.
Pawar has waged a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to block Shiller because he believes other candidates interviewed were more qualified and independent.
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) has been equally determined to engineer the appointment of Shiller.
The last thing Emanuel wanted to do before the mayoral election was to mediate a dispute between warring City Council factions and risk alienating one side or the other.
Pawar and Austin are also protagonists in the second power struggle.
Last fall, Pawar helped Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, line up 35 aldermen to co-sign an ordinance shifting the power to investigate aldermen and their employees from Legislative Inspector Faisal Khan to Ferguson, provided the IG is prohibited from launching investigations based on anonymous complaints.
Austin and Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) lobbied their colleagues behind-the-scenes to sit on the ordinance. Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) agreed not to hold a hearing.
Khan gave her a ready-made excuse when he filed a lawsuit against Emanuel and several committee chairman seeking to compel the city to give him the $1.7 million he believes is needed to complete his term and finish the job he came here to do.
Pawar noted Thursday that the independent budget office could play a pivotal role in resolving the pension crisis that has dropped Chicago’s bond rating to two levels above junk status.
By December, the City Council must decide whether to raise property taxes —or find other new revenues —to fund a state-mandated, $550 million payment to shore up police and fire pension funds unless the Illinois General Assembly lifts the hammer hanging over the city’s head.
Aldermen must also eliminate a $300 million operating shortfall and find an additional $50 million in annual revenues to cover increased payments going forward to two other pension funds covered by reform deals hammered out last year.
“There’s a lot of us in the City Council who are gonna be reluctant to vote on anything without some deal in place on this [independent budget] office,” Pawar said.
“It’s not just about the decisions the mayor puts forward or the decisions we make as a Council. It’s about having the public’s confidence. In order to ensure that, we need the right person in this job.”