James Foster/ For Sun-Times Media
Alderman Raymond Lopez, right, with West Englewood resident Yolanda Scott and her seven-year-old daughter in front of Henderson Elementary School, where 12-year-old Kanari Gentry-Bowers was shot February 12
With shootings on the rise—seven people were shot on Wednesday alone—the City Council convened this week to spend about $16 million to do something something
They had a choice: They could bow
to Mayor Rahm's command and spend the money on a plethora of programs that, though well meaning
, have no direct impact on the shootings. Or they could stand up to Rahm and spend at least part of the money on a program that did.
Guess what happened?
Before I tell you, let's back up.
As you may recall
, the mayor recently discovered the city had about $16 million to spend because fewer people than expected applied for property tax rebates.
The mayor proposed to spend the money planting trees, equipping police with body cameras, rehabbing vacant homes, and fixing up parks. Again, all worthwhile endeavors—as opposed to some of the dumber things
the mayor wastes our money on.
But nothing that directly impacts the shootings.
It looked like the mayor would get his way without dissent when, from out of nowhere, rookie 15th Ward alderman Raymond Lopez shocked everyone with a counterproposal.
Lopez, whose southwest-side
ward is besieged by gun violence, basically said it was obscene to spend money on things like trees, as much as he likes trees,
when so many people were dying.
Instead, he came up with his own wish list of expenditures, including funds for violence-intervention
efforts in which people are sent directly to hot corners of the city after a shooting to try and calm matters before they escalate.
the best known of these programs, has seen its operations severely curtailed by state and city budget cuts.
The mayor was livid when he heard about Lopez's proposal—Lopez says Rahm cornered him in the back room of the City Council chamber and let him have it with an F-bomb or two.
Obviously, the mayor didn't appreciate a rookie alderman telling him how to spend his property tax rebate money. Even, though, of course, it's not really the mayor's money at all.
Perhaps Rahm's worried that if he concedes to one alderman it will only encourage other aldermen to make demands. Or as Hopper, the evil grasshopper in A Bug's Life,
puts it: "You let one ant stand up, then they all might stand up!"
To his credit, Lopez didn't blink.
Pretty soon, other aldermen signed on to his proposal, especially after it became obvious that they'd look pretty ridiculous spending the money on trees in the face of so much violence.
For a moment, it seemed Lopez might force the mayor to spend some money on violence intervention.
On Tuesday the mayor pulled his property tax rebate proposal from the council's budget committee because he didn't know if he had enough votes to pass it.
Throughout that day, Emanuel and his aides negotiated with Lopez. By Wednesday's full council meeting, they had a deal. Lopez dropped his proposal and joined 34 other aldermen in voting for Emanuel's proposal.
And what did the mayor give Lopez in return?
Well, he agreed not to spend any of the property tax money on trees, leading to the following headline
in the Sun-Times
: "Rahm yanks trees to salvage property-tax rebate plan".
So at least we got a clever headline out of the deal.
The mayor also promised to try and help raise up to $45 million in donations to fund job training and violence intervention.
Lopez says it's a win-win for everyone: "We're looking at a lot more money than we would have had under the rebate ordinance," he says.
But here's the rub: that $45 million's not actually in hand.
"I understand that," he says. "But we hope to have a definitive date by the end of March when we announce that the funding is in place."
Other aldermen are a little more skeptical. Ten aldermen voted against the deal. In particular, Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston spoke passionately on the need to do something proactive to curb the violence.
It's good to know that there at least a handful of ants in the City Council who aren't afraid of big, bad Mayor Grasshopper.
"There was a critical mass developing in the council to pass an amendment that would have funded violence prevention, and the sponsor withdrew his amendment unilaterally without consulting us," says 22nd Ward alderman Rick Munoz. "Basically, he choked."
To which Lopez says: "I think it's unfortunate that people think compromising is choking."
I guess there are two ways of looking at this. If Rahm makes good on his promise to raise the money and spend it on violence-intervention
programs—two huge ifs—we'll owe it all to Lopez for forcing the mayor to do the right thing. Finally.
But if Rahm doesn't raise the money, then Lopez will have fallen for what Mayor Harold Washington used to call the "okey
." In this case, an empty promise that's forgotten almost as soon as it's made.
We shall see.