Retired city employees are furious about what they call a “heartless” 2015 email written by Mayor Rahm Emanuel bragging about the now-completed, three-year phase-out of the city’s retiree health care program, including a 55 percent subsidy.
“I had to sell the house I lived in for 30 years and move by my son in Indiana where I could afford to live. I had to leave my 18 month-old, 2-year-old and 4-year-old grandkids. And he’s bragging about it? It’s blatant disrespect. I don’t think he’s human,” said Denise Greb, 62.
“I’m on a widow’s pension. I don’t get COLA. The widows are screwed. I don’t think he even cares what he’s doing to people. He’s playing with peoples’ lives.”
Retiree Carole Majeske said she was sickened by the mayor’s cavalier reply to an October 2015 email from venture capitalist Henry Feinberg.
“Since when did Rahm Emanuel let a judicial ruling get in his way and not find a creative work-around solution?” Feinberg wrote then.
Emanuel replied, “Never. Which is why I eliminated retiree health care. Only elected official to eliminate — not cut or reform — a benefit. Thank you very much. A $175 million saving!”
Majeske is a retired Chicago Police officer. Her husband is a retired laborer. They are among the roughly 10,000 city employees who started working for the city before April 1, 1986, and do not qualify for Medicare.
As of Jan. 1, they are on their own to search for coverage that’s difficult or too expensive to find.
“To brag about this and to dump us after everything we’ve been through for the city is just mind boggling. He has no scruples. He has no heart,” said Majeske, 72.
“After having dedicated our lives to the citizens of Chicago, neither one of us have Medicare. We’re the last group denied getting into Medicare. We were promised health insurance of the rest of our lives.”
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment about the latest email uproar.
The 2015 exchange of emails with Feinberg was among about 2,700 private emails released by City Hall last month as part of an agreement that ended a marathon legal battle with the Better Government Association.
The email chain started just days after Emanuel unveiled a 2016 budget that included a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction.
Feinberg wrote, “Massive tax hikes w/o reform is the problem that got us here.” He enclosed an article under the headline, “The Shock and Awe Address Rahm Should Have Given.”
It proposed radical solutions under the threat of bankruptcy, including terminating contracts and collective bargaining agreements; “broad and deep” layoffs and pay cuts; “massive operational changes and a ban on future contributions to city employee pension funds, with a “new, affordable plan” to cover only new employees and “certain participants particularly hurt” by termination of old plans.
Emanuel took exception to the radical recipe, calling his budget endorsed by the Civic Federation a “major restructuring of our finances … You may want to look it up.”
Feinberg stood his ground, reminding Emanuel that, when the two men met for lunch at Cocco Pazzo, “I shared with you my conviction that pensions were the 1,000-lb. gorilla in the room” and the “mission critical objective that could/would sink Chicago even if you made progress across many other fronts, which, to your credit, you have.”
“So, we may need to agree to disagree. Massive tax hikes without pension reform is fiscally insane. Bruce [Rauner] gets it and is sticking to his guns,” Feinberg wrote.
Emanuel countered, “You obviously have not read the Supreme Court decision on the State of Illinois Constitution. Their view is pretty clear. No reform allowed.”
That’s when Feinberg noted that Emanuel had never before “let a judicial ruling get in his way” without finding a “creative, work-around solution,” prompting the mayor to make the remark that has become a rallying cry with city retirees.
Clint Krislov, an attorney representing the retirees, said Emanuel’s email exchange with Feinberg reminded him of one of President-elect Donald Trump’s infamous tweets.
“It’s one thing to say they have to make changes because they can’t afford it, which is not true. It’s another thing to take great glee in cutting off senior citizens who don’t qualify for Medicare of the coverage they’ve been assured they would receive for their whole lives,” Krislov said.
“This is a Trump-like, narcissistic [remark] taking pride in harming other people. Retirees believe this expresses the true heartlessness of this administration. What’s new about this is the pride in harming other people with no remorse. He’s proud of what he’s done.”
The retirees request for an injunction against the city is still pending before an Illinois Supreme Court that decided a similar case in favor of state retirees, citing the state Constitution’s pension protection clause.
Mike Underwood, a retired Chicago Police officer with Parkinson’s disease, is the lead plaintiff in the still-pending lawsuit. He was shot, stabbed and suffered numerous broken bones while serving as a police officer in Austin.
“That was a despicable comment by the mayor. Bragging about throwing retired city workers into poverty. It shows a lack of morals and a lack of character,” Underwood said.
“He acknowledges in that email that retiree health care is a benefit and that benefits are protected by the Constitution. The mayor is boasting about breaking the law. It’s cruel. It’s heartless. The mayor should be ashamed of himself.”