CN Sept.17, 2015

Are you getting comfortable with the the notion that your taxes are about to go up as they never have in your lifetime? Well, that’s probably a good thing, because Aldertrack’s Mike Fourcher says it’s just the beginning.

“Every analyst I’ve spoken to from Muni bonds and who looks at the budget for the city says that this property tax increase and the money that is raised this year really only gets us to our minimum credit card payment for everything that we owe on debt and pensions,” he tells us. “So we’re going to have another property tax increase or we’re going to have something else that’s going to come next year because we’re really not looking at it very hard. And when you talk to people who are in City Council and staff they say, “Yeah, we know, we’re just not able to deliver everything at once because it’s too hard to take one big bite.”

As we know, Mayor Emanuel wants a tax exemption for certain lower or fixed-income homeowners, but he’d need Governor Rauner’s approval for that. And there’s the rub.

“Rauner, who is on a very devoted mission to eliminate collective bargaining for government employees says, “I’m not going to talk about anything until we eliminate collective bargaining,” which is a no-go issue for anybody that’s in the Democratic party,” he tells us.

And from a purely public relations standpoint, the Mayor would seem to have the advantage. He’s going to bat for the proverbial little old lady in her bungalow, while the Governor seems heartless. But Fourcher says he thinks it doesn’t matter. Rauner wants those anti-union changes.

“I think he doesn’t care. I mean if you take a look at his playbook the way that he has been successful is by buying companies and then basically saying to every other constituent that’s connected to the company, “I’m going to burn this place down unless you give me everything that I want.  And so he’s basically been successful by convincing everybody that he’s crazier than anybody else.”

Transit-oriented development is a big deal these days in Chicago, though it may seem like little more than a geeky policy debate. As Fourcher says, it has been driving  quite a few proposals for apartment developments around the city lately, because it envisions big buildings with few to no parking spaces due to to their proximity to public transit nodes. Largely speaking, the neighbors don’t like them and are fighting them vigorously.

But Fourcher says it cuts to the heart of whether a city chooses to grow or stagnate.

“If you look at Paris,” he says, “Paris has taken great pains in order to make sure that there’s no development above a certain height. That everything stays never-changing and it all looks like it was in 1870, which is very beautiful and wonderful, but it means that the potential for growth is very low and the density stays steady, and the result is that as the City of Paris itself becomes more desirable to live in, because it all looks like 1870, that it becomes increasingly expensive and out of reach for people except for the most wealthy. And so then you have this ring that goes around the City of Paris outside of which is where all the poor people live and where all the crime is and all the problems and they’re not addressed because they’re not connected to the main City of Paris.”

And there’s a lesson in this for Chicago, he asserts.

“If you look at neighborhoods like Lakeview or Lincoln Park what has happened is that since the 1980s those neighborhoods have gotten considerably less dense. I grew up in Lincoln Park in the 70s and most of the houses around me were three flats and those have all been turned into single families. That means basically a third of the number of people that once lived there live there, so it’s less dense, it’s more expensive. You really turned it into a very different kind of community than it was before. And this is what I think TOD is about, which is trying to find ways to increase density in limited areas, but people that have those communities don’t want to change that.”

We talk about the seemingly insoluble situation at Dyett High School, where the Mayor may have thought he found  solution to the weeks-long hunger strike by giving the protesters most of their key demands, but cutting them  out of any continuing association with the school. The hunger strike continues with no resolution in sight.  We ask what will happen if, tragically, a protester is seriously injured or possibly dies.

“I think this is really a product of some of the larger problems that Emanuel has had with community organizations and with the community overall,” he explains. “There has been almost from the beginning of his first term a lack of trust between him and community organizations. And he rarely has tried to reach out to community organizations and build personal relationships with them, and this is a case where the community organization has very little trust, very little belief that the Mayor is going to act in their interest. And conversely the city organizations who are basically an extension of the Mayor don’t really trust that they can work with the community organizations. So I think the solution the Mayor has come up with is we’re going to create something that is going to be okay, we’ll satisfy your problem but you’re not going to be a part of it. And so the city can avoid having to deal with these protesters”.

Aldertrack, a mostly subscription daily report on City government, has added a new service. It’s a wiki-style database encompassing all 68 boards and commissions associated with Chicago’s governance. There are policy  and operations boards associated with the Police Department, Library and Planning. There are commissions  that oversee standards for crane operators, electricians and masons. And there are advisory Boards such as World Business Chicago, which has no governmental role but gives Mayoral status to dozens of business and civic leaders upon whom the mayor can call for advice or assistance.

“We took pains to find out who the members are, to confirm who they are, then we looked up their backgrounds. We cross-referenced it with past press releases and journal proceedings from City Council,” he explains. “And we found in a number of cases for instance the City Library Board which is really the governing body for the library. All of the members are currently on expired commissions, so they need to be reappointed. Legally they are not really supposed to be making decisions about how the library is operated. We’re told well no big deal; the state has never had a problem with that before. Still you know, let’s clean it up guys.”

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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