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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Aldermen examine new protest rules before doing what they're told

Posted By on 01.17.12 at 07:46 PM

Carrie Austin
  • Carrie Austin

Aldermen didn’t get much time to study Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s newest proposals for tightening protest regulations before they came before two City Council committees Tuesday. In the latest episode of an ongoing story, most of the new rules were handed out to aldermen a few minutes after the start of the meeting called to approve them.

Nor could our council representatives have possibly gotten the message that their constituents are in favor of the plans to deputize police from outside Chicago, restrict access to public parks and beaches, raise fees for parades and marches, and require preapproval from the city for the use of large signs, banners, or sound equipment. Scores of opponents ripped the proposals in a demonstration before the committee hearings and in testimony to aldermen.

Plus, a number of the aldermen expressed their own concerns about the intent and impact of the proposals, pushed by Emanuel in advance of the NATO and G8 summits Chicago will host in May. “I think we all agree on the need to prepare,” said 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney. “But my question is with the First Amendment part of this.”

On the other hand, the mayor wanted the proposals passed.

In short, they were passed. The full City Council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

Administration allies did their part to stress that the mayor had given ground. Originally the proposals would have also raised the fines for resisting arrest to as high as $2,000. They also would have required prior consent for not just large signs and sound systems but medium and small ones too. The administration backed down on those plans after being criticized by everyone from career protesters to the not-quite-so-left-wing editorial board at Crain’s Chicago Business.

And so the first question of the first hearing Tuesday was literally read off the page by James Balcer, Vietnam veteran, alderman of the 11th Ward, and reliable friend of Chicago mayors. “Do you share the public’s concern about the increased fine for resisting police officers and First Amendment issues?”

Somehow, police superintendent Garry McCarthy was ready for that one. “I didn’t really have that concern,” he said. “But after hearing the voices, and in collaboration with the administration, the police department, and the public, we decided to pull that off the table.”

Thirty-first Ward alderman Ray Suarez, hardly a frequent dissenter himself, wanted clarity about another point—who’s going to be on the hook for the estimated $40 million to $65 million expense of hosting the summits this spring?

“That has not been determined,” McCarthy said.

Suarez looked confused. “In our briefings we were led to believe that the federal government will cover the cost of this thing. Now you’re telling me something different.”

A number of administration officials and fellow aldermen jumped in to tell Suarez he shouldn’t worry, since the city had appealed to federal officials and was planning to apply for grants to cover the expenses. “I’ve been assured it will not cost the city,” said Carrie Austin, the council’s budget committee chair.

Making another familiar argument, Austin also convinced her colleagues that there was no need to delay passage of the ordinances, since they could always be tweaked later. “We have three more City Council meetings before May,” she said.

The other aldermen did the math, and it turned out Austin was right.

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