CFL News
January 18, 2012

Emanuel Courts Aldermen With Compromises

The Chicago Federation of Labor sent aldermen a letter last week urging them to vote against the proposals because they would infringe on “the rights of workers, community groups and other constituents to engage in peaceful protest.”

Source: Chicago News Cooperative


Despite his reputation as a hard-charging and foul-mouthed politician, it’s a 10-letter c-word –compromise – that has become a buzzword of rookie Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

After tweaking his 2012 budget to secure unanimous approval from the City Council in November, compromise was the word of the day at City Hall on Tuesday also. Emanuel made 11th-hour revisions to his proposals to tighten regulations on protesters and cabbies, both of which cleared aldermanic committees and could receive final approval at Wednesday’s council meeting.

As with the budget amendments, the changes did not please everybody, drawing criticism that he had not skinned far enough back from his original positions and failed to engage with grassroots critics.

But by showing even a little willingness to bend, Emanuel again endeared himself to many aldermen who were weary of predecessor Richard M. Daley’s notoriously authoritarian leadership style and feared that the new mayor would operate in an equally despotic manner.

“The kind of defensiveness that was all too frequently a hallmark of the Daley administration has been absent from the Emanuel administration, at least in my experience,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward), praising the new mayor for having the “innate wisdom” to know when to hold his ground and when to forge compromises.

Before Emanuel retreated from his initial plan to raise fines on protesters who resist police, Moore said he spoke about his concerns with the mayor’s corporation counsel, his council lobbyists and “via email with the mayor himself.”

“He realizes no one has a corner on all wisdom, and that it is not only good government but also good politics to heed input,” Moore said. “He is more interested in making a deal than in getting his way on everything.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), said he met over the weekend with Emanuel aides and contrasted such collaboration with what he said was Daley’s “my way or the highway” approach to the council.

“I think he would have been in a rush to get things done with no questions asked,” Waguespack said of the former mayor.

As President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, in the two years before he returned to Chicago to run for mayor, Emanuel often was criticized for pursuing only what he saw as readily achievable and being reticent to push for more politically tricky proposals that Obama had promised, such as immigration and health-care reform.

Now, as mayor of Chicago, it is necessary for Emanuel to be similarly willing to appease diverse interests when politically expedient, said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who succeeded Emanuel in Congress and endorsed his mayoral campaign.

Although Quigley said Emanuel is “occasionally intense” in making his views known to other elected officials, the congressman said that does not mean he declines to be accommodating toward critics of his policies.

“He is not a pussy cat, but he is not a saber-tooth tiger either,” Quigley said. “He is inherently a practical guy.”

With both the protest and taxicab proposals, Emanuel’s concessions still left intact the core of what he sought from the start.

While still pushing for a raft of improvements by the taxi industry, Emanuel at last agreed to permanently increase the cost of a cab ride by $1.

In the latest plan to alter the city’s rules on demonstrations, drafted in advance of this spring’s NATO and G-8 summits here, the mayor again deviated from some, though not most, of what he first proposed.

On Tuesday at City Hall, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy confirmed that the administration abandoned its push to increase the minimum fine for resisting police officers from $25 to $200. The maximum fine would have gone from the $500 to $1,000. Emanuel also withdrew his proposal to require “parade marshals” for every 100 participants in a protest.

Still, Emanuel would receive authority to unilaterally grant no-bid contracts for the summits, and the city could deputize out-of-state officers to deal with protests.

Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the amendments were made in response to “a number of concerns, not just from aldermen, but from activists and people in the community.

“We were open to suggestions,” she said.

Former 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller was among the community leaders that Emanuel aides met with about the protest plans.

“I’m really glad this conversation is happening and that there is a flexibility there,” Shiller said Tuesday.

Shiller said mayoral aides engaged in longer discussions with Marilyn Katz, a public-relations executive who criticized Emanuel’s plans. Katz did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

One of the two ordinances affecting protests was approved unanimously Tuesday by a council panel, but the other drew three dissenting votes, from Robert Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Nicholas Sposato (36th).

Other critics also were not placated. The Chicago Federation of Labor sent aldermen a letter last week urging them to vote against the proposals because they would infringe on “the rights of workers, community groups and other constituents to engage in peaceful protest.”

“Our position has not changed,” CFL spokesman Nick Kaleba said Tuesday after Emanuel’s revisions were announced.

Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he did not know of any meetings between Emanuel aides and organized opponents of the ordinances, including the ACLU.

“He certainly has changed his position over time,” Grossman said, “but we haven’t seen any public negotiating.”

Even Moore, the 49th Ward alderman, acknowledged that he had a say in the amendments — but not in the drafting of the mayor’s original proposal.