Chicago’s warrior for the 1 percent

November 10, 2011

Shaun Harkin explains what Rahm Emanuel has in store for the 99 percent.

CHICAGO HAS a new boss: Rahm Emanuel. And six months into his reign as mayor, it's clear from the company he keeps that he's right at home with other bosses who have been running the city for years from their perches in the boardrooms of Chicago's biggest banks and corporations.

That's the conclusion of a recent article in the weekly Chicago Reader written by investigative journalists Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke. Joravsky in particular was tireless chronicler of the wheeling and dealing of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Now he's in hot pursuit of Emanuel--and in his latest article with Dumke, he reveals the millionaires who have ready access to Rahm's inner sanctum.

Joravsky and Dumke submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of Emanuel's "in-house" schedule, which isn't publicly available. And based on what's in the schedule, that's no coincidence. The two journalists got records for June, July and August this year, and they show mayoral meetings with a virtual Who's Who of the city's financial and business elite. "Noticeably absent from the schedule," the two wrote, "are meetings with neighborhood leaders."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Typical of the appointments recorded in the in-house schedule was a meeting with a couple of millionaire bankers: Bill Downe, the CEO of the Bank of Montreal, and Mark Furlong, the CEO of Harris Bank. As Joravsky and Dumke report:

In fact, Downe and Furlong are the kind of guys Mayor Emanuel often makes time for: rich, influential and frequently at odds with organized labor and other progressive groups that historically made up the base of Emanuel's Democratic Party.

Downe earned more than $10 million last year, landing a 28 percent raise during a period of economic stagnation, and Furlong made $24 million when Harris Bank took over Marshall & Ilsley, the bank he led previously. While Downe has largely steered clear of party politics, Furlong has donated money to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who made headlines this year for ending the collective bargaining rights of state employees.

Meanwhile, as Joravsky and Dumke write in their conclusion:

amid his busy summer schedule, Emanuel continued to rip the teachers union for not immediately going along with his longer-school-day campaign. But it wasn't until August 2, nearly two months after he cancelled scheduled teacher raises, that the mayor finally got around to meeting with teachers union president Karen Lewis. That was the infamous get-together where he yelled at her, "Fuck you, Lewis."

It's unclear if he delivered the same message to any of the bankers, hedge fund operators, Hollywood producers, or generous donors that he met with this summer.

Emanuel wines and dines his friends and campaign donors among the 1 percent, and insults Karen Lewis, the African American president of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. That makes it clear what side he's on and how he views the millions of people who belong to the 99 percent in the city where he's mayor.

No wonder he's being cheered on by the National Review, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. Emanuel's strategy for anyone who challenges him is demonization and threats.

Emanuel's service to the 1 percent isn't limited to rhetoric, either. For example, according to NBC Chicago blog "Ward Room," "When the General Assembly's fall veto session begins...Mayor Rahm Emanuel's legislative priority will be securing a tax cut for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME)."

The Exchange had its taxes raised last year and is threatening to move unless it gets a tax cut. The new mayor is a former CME board member, and it just so happens that the CME donated $200,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign, making it his second-biggest contributor, after Hollywood mogul Haim Saban. Emanuel is seeking $120 million in tax breaks for the CME and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

Emanuel is also pressing for an ordinance that would cut taxes for 2,700 Chicago-based companies at a cost to the city of $23 million. Companies with more than 50 workers are taxed $4 per worker per month, and Emanuel is aiming to abolish the tax completely by 2014.

Tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful and pay cuts and derision for teachers--that sums up how Emanuel's new administration functions. Then again, when Rahm helps the 1 percent, he's looking out for number one, too--since he's a millionaire himself. Emanuel's assets are estimated to be between $6.2 million and $16.2 million, much of it "earned" in his two-and-a-half-year stint as an investment banker.

EMANUEL PROMISED a new era of "transparency" in City Hall after decades of the Daley administration's notorious corruption, secrecy and nepotism. However, the Chicago Tribune recently detailed concerns about the secret meetings of World Business Chicago (WBC), a city-funded group of business executives chaired by the mayor.

Members of WBC donated more than $1.2 million to his campaign and inaugural celebration fund. Chicago's inspector general criticized the body for awarding city-funded subsidies to its own members. But, of course, there are no plans to make WBC meetings and discussions public.

Meanwhile, Emanuel's administration has been refusing to allow a permanent encampment by the Occupy Chicago movement. Around 300 people have been arrested after two attempts to set up a camp in Grant Park on the lakefront. On the first night of arrests on October 15, Occupiers were released from custody in a matter of hours. But the following Saturday, on October 22, some 130 Occupiers who were arrested for curfew violations were harassed by police and held for at least 12 hours, and some until the early hours of Monday morning.

Among the arrested were nurses from National Nurses United (NNU), who had set up a medical tent at Grant Park. The union was so infuriated by the treatment of their members that they organized a 100-person protest at Emanuel's office the next morning to demand that all charges be dropped against Occupy, and that the mayor grant a permanent space for the occupation.

The NNU circulated a statement condemning the treatment of nurses and other occupiers:

Emanuel has been perhaps the most aggressive mayor in the nation in repression of the Occupy Wall Street movement with mass arrests on at least two occasions now. The Chicago Tribune on Saturday reported that city officials are trying to send a message to world leaders of being "tough" on demonstrators in advance of upcoming meetings of G-8 and NATO leaders in May.

And NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro added: "Instead of showing off for world leaders and paying allegiance to protecting the economic interests of the top 1 percent, Mayor Emanuel should stop, and start representing the 99 percent, the people for whom the Occupy movement has become a clear voice."

But the Emanuel administration certainly hasn't stopped its attack on those who aren't part of the 1 percent. The mayor's budget proposal, announced on October 12, claims the city will run a $635.7 million deficit--over 10 percent of the city's $6.3 billion budget for next year.

His solution to the deficit: more cuts, totaling $400 million, in desperately needed social services, more layoffs of city workers, union-busting and privatization of city services.

THE LIST of individual programs that will be hit is long. For example, Emanuel's budget would close six of the 12 Chicago Department of Public Health mental health clinics and privatize all seven of the city's neighborhood health clinics.

Another example: Homeless people looking for shelter will be on their own when it comes to transportation--funding for overnight outreach crews will be cut back. Homeless programs are run by the Family and Support Services department, which would take a 15 percent hit under Emanuel's budget--a total reduction of about $63 million. This year, the department eliminated 63 full-time jobs. Emanuel's budget proposes to cut 36 more full-time jobs next year, along with 97 part-timers hired who help with senior citizen programs.

Emanuel's latest budget proposal also takes aim at advisory councils and liaisons to the city's Asian, Latino and LGBT communities. Funding cuts will force layoffs and reduce the number of advisory councils through mergers.

Emanuel's budget also includes funding cuts that would slash full-time public library staff by 32 percent--and that comes on top of a 10 percent staff cut in 2010. The mayor's proposal would also cut eight hours a week from the branches' hours of operation. Such cuts would have far-reaching effects: Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey pointed out, for example, that library branches had over 8.3 million visitors--and that 60 percent of people using library computers were using them to search for jobs.

The union representing library workers, AFSCME District Council 31, is organizing to oppose the budget plan. But Emanuel's proposal might well come as a shock to librarians who followed AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee's endorsement of Rahm Emanuel in the Chicago mayoral election. Back then, McEntee encouraged union members to vote for Rahm and said his record was "for progressive forces and ideas."

Other city unions are facing an attack from Emanuel. The Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) is demanding $80 million in concessions from bus and train drivers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308, whose contract with the city expires on December 31. The mayor and the CTA want to pit union workers against those who depend on public transportation by claiming that without concessions, transit fares will go up, and service will be cut further.

The firefighters' union contract expires next June, and Emanuel is threatening to close firehouses and reduce the number of firefighters per truck from five to four. Emanuel's administration has already forced through the privatization of city sanitation services.

The outrage over budget plans has forced 28 of the city's normally compliant aldermen to send a letter to Emanuel asking for a meeting with Budget Director Alexandra Holt to reexamine the proposed cuts.

In response, Emanuel said he could "ease" the budget cuts and reduce the number of librarians to be laid off from 300 to 200. But this would come with a condition--a hike in the cost of city vehicle stickers. According to the Chicago Tribune:

Instead of hitting 184,000 SUV and minivan owners with a $60 vehicle sticker fee increase, Emanuel now is seeking to increase the standard $75 city sticker fee by $10. Those who pay $120 for stickers would see the fee go up by $15, as Emanuel originally proposed. The fine for not buying a vehicle sticker would increase to $200 from $120, and late fees on sticker purchases would rise to $60 from $40.

This is a straightforward tax increase--but one that would hit Chicago's working class harder then the rich.

Meanwhile, the city could do more than "ease" the cuts--if Emanuel tapped the hundreds of millions of dollars accrued through Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) districts. Set up under Richard Daley, TIFs are basically slush funds controlled by the mayor. They're supposed to fund development products in different parts of the city, but Joravsky and other journalists have shown that they are used to favor real estate developers and other business interests with connections to the mayor's office.

For us, though, the questions are obvious: Why not use TIF money to keep librarians at work and libraries open? Why not institute new taxes on Chicago's highly profitable corporations and the super wealthy in order to make sure services for the city's most vulnerable aren't interrupted?

CITY WORKERS are organizing a resistance to Emanuel's cuts. For example, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on a "read-in" organized by the librarians during recent budget hearings:

Chanting "No More Cuts," librarians delivered petitions bearing 4,000 signatures to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's protest the mayor's plan to reduce library hours and impose draconian job cuts that would impact library services at all hours. Stay-at-home moms and their toddlers, who were dressed in Halloween costumes, sat on the floor outside the mayor's fifth-floor office as librarians, also in costume, read stories out loud.

Story time for kids is a popular feature at branch libraries across the city, but librarians say they won't have time to do it if Emanuel proceeds with his plan to cut 363 "full-time equivalent" positions, triggering 284 layoffs and the elimination of 268 vacancies. That includes 24 librarians, four of them branch managers, 11 of them children's librarians; 112 clerks and all 146 of the remaining pages charged with shelving books.

This is only one example of the willingness to fight against the cuts. Anti-working class budget proposals and policies can be stopped, but only if nurses, firefighters, transit workers, librarians, teachers, students and their parents, postal workers and all those in the city who are not part of the 1 percent can unite and use their collective power to make Rahm's Chicago ungovernable.

Unions across Chicago have joined demonstrations organized by Occupy Chicago to promote its message of opposition to the greed and power of the 1 percent--and they have acted in solidarity with Occupy against the attacks of the city and the Chicago Police Department.

This solidarity can become a launching ground for building a fight against concessions, budget cuts and layoffs--and demanding taxes on corporations and the rich and the redistribution of hundreds of millions of dollars stolen through the TIF scheme to desperately needed social needs and programs.

Rahm is learning from Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-labor friends; our side must learn from the Wisconsin teachers, students, firefighters and public-sector workers who turned their state upside down last winter in opposition to union-busting and anti-working class budgets.

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