The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Rahm Runs From Budget Hearing As Hunger Strike Protesters Chant

By aaroncynic in News on Sep 3, 2015 2:44PM

2015_rahm_emanuel.jpg via Getty Images
Nearly 500 people crowded into the South Shore Cultural Center last night for the second of three public budget meetings hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. Once again, the biggest thing on attendees minds was the Dyett High School hunger strike.

The crowd exploded into chants before the hearing even began, and Emanuel walked on stage to a chorus of boos. Once again, Chicagoans were able to air their grievances about issues connected to the city budget and its gaping $750 million plus shortfall.

The biggest issue on attendees minds though, was getting the City and CPS to listen to activists pushing to turn the now shuttered Dyett High School in Bronzeville into a global leadership and green technology school for the community. The hunger strike is now in its 19th day.

“You’re selling our schools like they’re your property,” said one demonstrator.

“We are firm in our resolve that we want to be absolutely clear the plan for Dyett comes from Bronzeville. Bronzeville has spoken,” said Rev. Robert Jones, one of the strikers, the Sun-Times reports. Many of the speakers who took the microphone demanded Emanuel meet with the group again, after his meeting with them after Monday’s budget hearing yielded no concrete results. About 20 minutes before the hearing’s scheduled 8:00 p.m. conclusion, members of the crowd stormed the stage, and Emanuel was ushered off by Chicago Police. He did not return.

The Chicago Tribune reports Emanuel spokesperson Kelley Quinn said in a statement:

“It is unfortunate that everyone's voice could not be heard tonight after some attendees disrupted the forum causing it to end early. The moderator and the mayor made a number of attempts to restart the forum and offered to meet with demonstrators tonight, however those attempts were unsuccessful.”

But if these public hearings are in fact, really about City Hall “listening” to the concerns of Chicagoans and a “collaborative process that reflects input from residents,” we should ask ourselves why they’re being held in such short time before the budget is to be released, when plenty of Emanuel’s cards are already on the table.

Just as Monday's hearing concluded, the Sun-Times reported that Emanuel is ready to raise property taxes by $500 million to cover the pension shortfall, and impose a direct trash collection fee which will reportedly bring in another $100 million. Apparently, no one working on the budget had the time to consider the suggestion made by some at last night’s hearing of a moratorium and audit on TIFs to account for where property tax money has gone before increasing them. In addition, Emanuel’s budget plan includes taxes on sugary beverages, smokeless tobacco, and a surcharge for ride-sharing, all things he was planning on floating when the hearings were announced.

It’s almost as if public input on the budget was an afterthought because it was already written.

Of course this is the case, as these hearings come just a handful of weeks before the budget is to be presented to City Council on Sept. 22. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that they’ve turned into “bitch sessions,” as Alderman Danny Solis said they would, because it’s easy to see that an attempt at transparency just means City Hall is putting on its PR face.

So while moderators, representatives and fans of city government might bemoan the continued interruptions of the Dyett strikers and their tactics, that issue is really one of the only ones where citizens can move the needle. Not included in the budget preview, but suggested by plenty at the hearings are revenue raising ideas like a LaSalle Street tax, pushing the state for a graduated income tax, a TIF moratorium, or renegotiating contracts that benefit banks to the expense of Chicagoans.

The Dyett strikers and their supporters have a chance, as the other plans proposed do less for the community that’s been crying out for a school that serves them for years. Sadly, a win for the hunger strike could take on the larger meaning that it could take literally starving oneself to get the attention of City Hall.