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Emanuel to hold first team meeting for committee chairmen

The costs of complying with a federal consent decree will be well worth it, in terms of an improved police department and better police-community relations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago aldermen have been showing rare signs of independence in recent months, emboldened by the Laquan McDonald controversy that has weakened Mayor Rahm Emanuel politically.

That political pushback is at least part of the reason Emanuel has scheduled a first-ever meeting next week with the City Council’s 16 committee chairmen.

After campaigning for re-election on a promise to listen more and talk less, Emanuel is trying to “build relationships” that he failed to build during his first term.

“We’ve had a little bit of a respite from things coming at us pretty fast. It’s just a chance to see what people are thinking about in a non-stressful atmosphere,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.

A mayoral confidante, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged that Emanuel did too much dictating and too little consensus-building during his first term in office.

“It’s better to engage aldermen. Work with them in partnership. Make them feel that their opinion matters,” the mayoral confidante said.

“The mayor is finally trying to approach what he’s doing in a way more suited for a mayor. These are things that he didn’t do before and should have done before. But it’s never too late,” the confidante added.

It’s the first time in five years that Emanuel has summoned the entire roster of committee chairmen together for a team meeting.

It comes at a time when several of them have strayed from the reservation.

On the day he was chosen to chair the all-important Education Committee, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) flashed his independence by declaring that the selective enrollment school on the North Side once known as Obama Prep should probably not be built.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, has bucked the mayor by proposing a dramatic rescue for a taxicab industry fighting for survival in the ride-hailing era.

Beale’s still-pending ordinance would require Uber and Lyft drivers to get city chauffeur’s licenses; be fingerprinted by a city-approved vendor; and get their vehicles inspected by City Hall.

A minimum of 5 percent of the total fleet of both companies would have to be accessible to customers with disabilities. And no ride-hailing vehicle that is more than six years old could remain on the streets of Chicago.

Lyft and Uber, whose drivers owe the city $15 million in unpaid parking tickets, red-light and speed camera fines and water bills, also would be required to immediately settle those debts to renew their operating licenses.

Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, is an Uber investor. The mayor has resisted efforts to license ride-hailing drivers on grounds that it could kill competition that consumers have demanded.

On Thursday, O’Connor insisted that all of the talk of aldermen pushing back has been overblown. It has been happening all along, he said.

“The way he interacts with aldermen invites pushback. They reach out and try to find out what people are thinking. If he wasn’t interested in that, he’d just put up a wall like others have,” O’Connor said, without naming names.

The mayor needs all the help he can get from committee chairman for the difficult votes ahead.

Even after raising property taxes by $588 million for police and fire pensions and school construction, Emanuel has offered to raise property taxes by an additional $170 million for teacher pensions whether or not the state does its part to bail out the nearly bankrupt Chicago Public Schools.

The mayor also might be required to raise the monthly tax on telephone bills in Chicago, now that the Illinois Supreme Court has struck down his plan to save the Municipal Employees and Laborers Pension Funds.

Yet another concern is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s refusal to sign a bill now on his desk that would give Chicago 15 more years to ramp up to 90 percent funding of the police and fire pension funds.

The city had to borrow $220 million to cover a shortfall caused by Emanuel’s assumption that his old friend Rauner would sign that bill.

Rauner is refusing to sign it unless it is part of a deal that includes the governor’s pro-business, anti-union reforms.

“He’s got an agenda to push through. If we have to work harder to get it through, that’s what we’ll do,” O’Connor said Thursday.

One committee chairman, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned whether Emanuel’s pep rally for committee chairmen would be too little, too late.

“He’s trying to build relationships, but he created that monster, the way he’s been operating and governing. It backfired. He came in thinking he was going to have the same power Mayor Daley had. Instead of cultivating it and growing it, he thought it was going to be transferred,” the alderman said.

“Now, he’s trying to work closely with the chairmen to lock us down for the tough votes. But a lot of people are pushing back. There’s a lot of opposition out there and it’s growing.”

Contributing: Mick Dumke