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Emanuel yanks trees to salvage property tax rebate plan

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) attended an Operation Wake-Up vigil last week held across the street from the school where 12-year-old Kanari Gentry-Bowers was fatally wounded. He wanted more of the leftover property tax rebate money spent on anti-violence efforts. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday yanked his plan to plant 1,000 trees — and agreed to raise at least $1 million for year-round jobs, mentoring and street intervention programs — to salvage his plan to spend $15 million in unclaimed property tax rebate money.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) called the trees a “gimme” — an item thrown into the mayor’s plan with the intent of negotiating it away if aldermen resisted.

But rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) went along with the compromise — and the plan to shift $500,000 from trees to strategic support centers in high-crime districts — after the mayor agreed to put $1 million into “violence interruptors” by this summer and privately raise up to $45 million more for the jobs, mentoring and intervention programs that Lopez favors.

“Many will say this is not sufficient or not complete. But I have faith that we are taking the first [step] of what hopefully will be a continued march toward protecting our children together,” Lopez said.

“Forty-five million dollars is not enough. If we were going to have a comprehensive program that . . . helps all communities, all returning citizens, all hard-to-place hires and helps interrupt the violence, we would need three times the amount that’s even being discussed right now. One-hundred-fifty million dollars. But we’re not dealing with that. We’re dealing with making progress.”

The Budget Committee endorsed the compromise on a 20-4 vote. Two hours later, the full Council did the same by a vote of 35-10.

The dissenters were Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), George Cardenas (12th), David Moore (17th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th).

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) (right) said Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) included tree planting in his spending plan knowing he could get rid of it to help reach a compromise on how to spend leftover property tax rebate money. | Sun-Times file photo

Munoz was not satisfied with the mayor’s promise to raise the money privately. Not when some of the unclaimed rebate money is being used to make park improvements and create a small business incubator on the West Side and a call center on the South Side.

“For you to come before us and ask us to spend this kind of money and not even consider including some street intervention money so that some of our communities can enhance these programs is just not good. It’s actually a slap in the face to the City Council,” Munoz told Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp.

“It just seems like you’re tone deaf to the fact that these kids need something to do.”

Dowell wasn’t happy, either.

“Where is this money coming from? When will this money be available? We cannot wait until the summer time. And we cannot wait until you raise $45 million,” Dowell said.

Zopp countered, “We are gonna commit to at least a $1 million. We are hoping to raise 10 times that.”

Budget Director Alex Holt added, “If we don’t get the grant money, we will make it happen” by finding the money in the city budget.

Hairston read aloud a ward-by-ward list of shooting surges to underscore her demand that the mayor’s promise was not good enough.

“Out of all the wards in the city, there are only eight wards where shootings and killings went down,” she said.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) read aloud a list of shooting surges, ward by ward, to underscore her demand that the mayor’s promise to do more about violence was not good enough. | Sun-Times file photo

“We have the money. We need to move it toward violence intervention. . . . I’m sure the mothers of those [murdered] children hoped their kids would not succumb to violence…But, hope is not enough. We have to back it up.”

Last week, Zopp defended all of the items on the mayor’s list as having “some tie to” public safety, including the trees and park improvements.

Even Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th), the mayor’s most powerful African-American supporter, came out against the trees.

Emanuel was determined to avoid a floor fight that he would have won but with an embarrassingly high number of “no” votes.

So he yanked the trees and agreed to use his formidable fundraising skills to support the priorities Lopez wanted.

Afterward, the mayor took the 10 dissenting votes in stride.

“You’re asking . . . a guy who was the point-person for President Clinton when we passed the assault weapons ban by one vote,” the mayor said. “When you go 35-10, which is better than three to one, I have a slightly different view about how to count that vote.”

The mayor noted that his 2017 budget included $60 million for hundreds of additional police officers. It also included $6 million for mentoring, $2 million for summer jobs and $1 million for afterschool programs in addition to investments in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods.

“This package is another down payment . . . and I’m not gonna stop in trying to find resources to enhance public safety,” the mayor said.

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