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Sergeants’ group endorses Fioretti, citing police hiring promise and pension funding ideas

The Chicago Police Sergeants Association on Tuesday endorsed Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) for mayor, citing Fioretti’s promise to bolster the police force by 500 officers and the commuter tax he has proposed to solve the city’s $20 billion pension crisis.

Sergeants Association President Jim Ade said incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel “did not ask for our support,” nor did he respond to the group’s questionnaire.

Fioretti and County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia did answer the sergeants’ questions and were interviewed before the endorsement was made. Fioretti had “the best vision” for the Chicago Police Department, Ade said.

“He wants to hire more police officers, which is always a plus for us. His ideas of trying to find ways to pay for pensions was a big part of our decision as well. He had better ideas than anyone else on ways to get alternative funding for the pensions where it would not hurt the employee or pensioner as much,” Ade said Tuesday.

“The city faces a $550 million balloon payment in 2016. There’s no plan on how to raise some of that money. It’s got to come from somewhere. I don’t think [it] should come on the backs of city employees.”

Emanuel campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units.

The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.

The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies.

When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation’s murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100.3 million in 2013 and $95 million last year.

On Tuesday, Ade argued that runaway overtime is no substitute for police hiring. He argued that the manpower shortage is “bad enough where the supervisor on the street feels there should be more help out there on the streets to supervise the troops.”

Although only 40 of 1,190 sergeants jobs are vacant, Ade said, “If you’re gonna hire more officers, that means more supervisors can be made.”

Fioretti touted the sergeants’ association endorsement as a ringing endorsement of his plan to hire 500 additional officers.

“It’s a small union, but they’re supervisors. It’s an honor to have their support. It says we need more officers on the streets and new leadership on the fifth floor,” the alderman said.

“Public safety will be a priority under my administration and it has not been. Wherever I go, crime is the No. 1 problem. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in. We don’t have enough officers.”

To shore up police and fire pensions, Fioretti favors a 1 percent commuter tax on 620,000 suburbanities who earn their paychecks in Chicago and a land-based casino that has been on the city’s wish list for 25 years.

He also has talked about imposing a financial transaction tax on La Salle Street exchanges, while acknowledging that state and federal laws currently prohibit such a tax.

On Tuesday, he argued that he is the only mayoral candidate to offer a specific plan to solve the pension crisis.

“I’ve been talking about it through the whole of campaign. It’s a guarantee that must be honored and an obligation that I will fulfill through the various sources that I’ve been looking at: a pension obligation bond, using a commuter tax and the La Salle Street tax, which is on the table but not a top priority. There are easier ways to deal with this,” he said.

Last year, Chicago Police sergeants resoundingly rejected a new four-year contract tied to pension reform.

The failed agreement would have given them a 9 percent pay raise over four years in exchange for: raising the retirement age for sergeants to 53; increasing employee pension contributions from 9-to-12 percent by January, 2015; hiking health care contributions for new retirees to 2 percent of annuities; forfeiting cost-of-living increases every other year and limited C.O.L.A. in intervening years to 2.5 percent with simple interest.

City Hall and the sergeants union also had agreed to seek state legislation that would have given the city seven years to “ramp up” funding for police pensions, instead of coughing up another $550 million to stabilize police and fire pension funds in 2016.

Emanuel had touted the sergeants’ deal as a “road map” for other unions to follow, but the divide-and-conquer strategy fell flat with the rank-and-file.

The mayor blamed now-ousted Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields for torpedoing the sergeants contract.

An independent arbitrator subsequently handed down a $7.6 million contract that guaranteed sergeants an 8 percent pay raise over four years, but ended free health care for those who retire between the ages of 55 and 65.

Sergeants whose retirement took effect after Dec. 31 will be forced to contribute 2 percent of their annuities toward the cost of their health insurance until they’re eligible for Medicare.

The 8 percent pay raise is only a “floor.” If the Illinois General Assembly mandates a pension contribution higher than the current, 9 percent, sergeants can negotiate a higher pay raise.

Ade has said he fully expects to exercise that right.