Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget address for 2015 played it safe, highlighting his influence in the fight for a minimum wage raise, education reform and heightened police measures without mentioning many new tax increases for the years ahead.
With the upcoming election likely in mind, Emanuel’s speech Wednesday morning was more of a tightrope act, entertaining the packed council chambers and balcony with many mentions of his accomplishments during his first term as mayor.
“Our true measure of success is not whether downtown is growing, but whether each neighborhood is growing,” Emanuel said. “We can and we must do better.”
He reminded the aldermen and others in attendance of his hand in various projects including cutting city deficits, giving micro loans to small businesses and narrowing food deserts by gentrifying neighborhoods.
Emanuel’s implicit electoral laundry list highlighting citywide investments was intertwined throughout the $8.9 billion budget request.
Funds for the next fiscal year were promised to advance continued efforts towards furthering collegiate-level education, creating jobs not just downtown but in neighboring communities as well as reducing crime by allowing officers to police neighborhood streets by bike.
Annisa Wanat, an aldermanic candidate in the 33rd Ward and a community organizer, said she would wait to see a more detailed explanation of how new programs would be funded before passing judgement on Emanuel’s budget.
“Our aldermen just say yes to the mayor without asking questions,” Wanat said.
Although short, sweet and to the point, many aldermen were relieved that no significant increases in taxes were brought up in the address.
“Next year may be a different story going further,” said Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. (21st) and chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus. “The prosperity felt by the central business district needs to be felt by all neighborhoods. We need to make sure everybody feels that economic recovery.”
As far as the ensuing election is considered, Emanuel’s budget address set out to accomplish much more than strictly relaying the numbers.
“It was a very balanced speech,” said Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th). “He’s on the right track in thinking about the future. Right now, I don’t see a better choice for mayor. He’s a real dude…You don’t have to agree with what he does, but you respect it.”
Possibly in light of pressure from Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and until recently, a possible 2015 mayoral candidate, Emanuel spent considerable time on new school-based initiatives.
Emanuel proposed universal preschool for 25,000 economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds who qualify for the federal free or reduced student lunch program and the Chicago Star Scholarship, which would allow CPS students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher a free community college education.
School programs aside, other topics addressed ranged from expanding recycling without tax increases to decreasing the amount of illegal weapons on the streets.