Monday, May 14, 2007

"A 'win' situation"

Posted By on 05.14.07 at 06:35 PM

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Mayor Daley has now made it clear that he's going to deal with potential City Council dissenters, compromisers, and anybody else who pauses before bowing to his rule by defeating, isolating, and browbeating them until they give up.

To no one's surprise, the council passed the mayor's affordable-housing ordinance 44-2 this morning after his allies smacked down two attempts to refocus it on families with lower incomes. Most of the aldermen pushing for a tougher, more encompassing measure--including Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Manny Flores (1st), Walter Burnett (27th), Ed Smith (28th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Joe Moore (49th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Fredrenna Lyle (6th), Anthony Beale (9th), and Ted Thomas (15th)--ended up voting for the mayor's plan when it was clear they weren't going to get an alternative through. Only 26th Ward alderman Billy Ocasio, who wanted the measure to target more moderate- and low-income families, and the 41st Ward's Brian Doherty, who thinks the measure will slow development, voted against it.

"As debate ensues, I'd like everyone to keep in mind the fact that we're all in favor of affordable housing in the city of Chicago," said 36th Ward alderman William J.P. Banks, the zoning committee chairman, at the beginning of the meeting. "But we also should be mindful of the fact that we have [a development] industry to protect, and we have an economy to protect."

Preckwinkle immediately countered by offering an amendment to the mayor's ordinance that would aim it at families making up to 80 percent rather than 100 percent of the region's median household income, currently about $75,000 for a family of four. Her proposal was defeated 28-11. 

Debate resumed along the same lines it had at a committee meeting on the matter a couple of weeks ago, though the rhetoric was heightened.

"For those people who have supported me over the years, for those people who have given me an opportunity to serve in this body, for those people who need affordable housing, for those children who will come tomorrow, for posterity, I say to you today: Defeat this ordinance," Smith, of the 28th Ward, asked his colleagues.

"You have just heard a speech that destroys affordable housing in Chicago," said outgoing 42nd Ward alderman Burton Natarus, arguing that Smith and other opponents would undermine the council's best chance to create more housing stock.

But Daley told Natarus it wasn't his turn to speak. Natarus was offended: "You have no right to tell me to sit down!"

"Alderman Burnett," Daley said.

Burnett launched into his own plea for a more aggressive ordinance. "This isn't about us--it's not about me, it's not about Toni, it's not about Billy, it's not about Mayor Daley--it's about the people of the city," said Burnett. "You know, I work for the people, and I try to satisfy God. My ultimate goal in life is to satisfy God. My ultimate goal is not to satisfy any man--"

"Or woman," Daley interjected.

"What?" said Burnett, confused.

"Or woman."

"Well," Burnett said, "if I die right now, I will feel good knowing I stood up for people and I did something for my lord Jesus Christ."

When Ocasio introduced another amendment that would set the income target at Chicago's median household income of about $50,000, another vote was quickly called, and his amendment also failed, this time by a 31-12 count. 

The debate continued, though the outcome wasn't in doubt. Hairston said she was worried that the ordinance would segregate affordable housing in depressed black neighborhoods, since developers in affluent neighborhoods would likely exercise the option of donating money to a housing fund rather than building affordable units. "This ordinance is an illusion," she said,  but added that she would support it because it was better than nothing.

Several others who'd spoken strongly against the mayor's plan followed suit, saying they were going to back it even if it didn't go far enough. 

But as housing committee chairman Ray Suarez tried to bring the mayor's legislation up for a vote, Daley, sitting at the front of the room, began waving around a piece of paper. "I've got a letter from you, alderman," he said. "He wants to resign from the committee."

Suarez looked confused. No one appeared to know who the mayor was talking to or about. 

"I'll accept it," the mayor snapped. He was turning red.

Smith asked for the floor. The mayor looked at him derisively. "You're resigning, apparently," Daley sneered. "Is that the news?"

"No, I'm giving a speech," Smith replied. The west-side alderman explained that he was going to vote for the mayor's ordinance and keep working for improvements to it. There was still no explanation of what the resignation letter was about.

The housing measure passed, and in a press conference a few minutes later Daley boasted that it was the most progressive affordable-housing effort in the country. "It's a win situation," he said, apparently meaning it was a win-win situation.

The mayor then continued his incredible claim that he hadn't scheduled the special meeting so he could pass the ordinance before new, union-backed aldermen joined the council next week.

"Why did this meeting need to be held today?" asked a reporter. "The head count suggested that you could have done this next month and get the same result."

"Why not?" Daley said. "Just get it done."

"Were you afraid of having more voices--"

"No, no."

"--on the City Council against it?"

"No, no"

Daley went on to say that, in a seemingly unrelated matter, Smith had threatened to resign his health committee chairmanship because several mayoral allies were going to introduce a resolution repealing the ban on foie gras, which Smith shepherded through the council last year. "It's the silliest ordinance," Daley said. "You can't have every chairman threatening everybody if you're overturning an ordinance." 

In the hallway outside Smith stood next to Preckwinkle, Ocasio, Flores, Burnett, Munoz, Moore, and dozens of housing advocates and activists as they vowed to resume the housing fight after the new council is sworn in next week. "How in the world could I go back to my community and tell people I did not work for affordable housing?" Smith said. "We can never walk away from the people who sent us here."

After the demonstration was over, Smith told reporters that Daley and aldermen who want to repeal the foie gras ban were trying to undermine the legislative process and strong-arm him, and he wasn't going to be manipulated like that. "We passed the foie gras issue last year," he said. "Now why should you come to me and treat me as if I'm a kid, I'm a nobody, and take the committee and do what you want to do with it? If you don't like what I'm doing with the committee, take it and give it to somebody who will do what you want him to do."

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