Last night, the Daley administration held the first of three public hearings about Chicago's 2011 budget in a graceful ballroom at the South Shore Cultural Center. Flanked by his department heads and execs of the housing authority and CTA, Mayor Richard Daley cast the brutal $655 million budget hole the city is facing as a consequence of factors outside of his administration's control. "Had the recession -- which happened because of national and international decision making -- not happened, we'd be within reach of balancing our budget today," Daley said.
The mayor and his cabinet then heard from Chicagoans, who stepped up to a microphone near the front of the room to speak for (mostly) three minutes. The concerns brought up included everything from requests for basic neighborhood infrastructure (new street lights in the 400 block of E. 90th St., for example) to broadsides against Daley's crime-fighting priorities. "For 11 years, we begged you to do something about crime in Park Manor. We didn't get anything out of it!" one resident of that South Side neighborhood yelled into the mic, as the mayor listened impassively. Others praised Daley's performance in office. Relatively few offered specific remarks about the '11 budget. One was a request to bring back the July 4 fireworks display in Grant Park.
With Daley leaving office after more than 21 years, more than a few petitioners last night spoke about the mayor's legacy, though Daley pushed such talk aside. "This is just a budget hearing," he said at one point. "That's all this is." The state of Chicago, and how it has changed during Daley's rule, is clearly on residents' minds. Many, of course, are happy to see him go. Fred Friedman, an organizer with the mental health advocacy group Next Steps, asked the mayor to restore funding for mental health workers. He also told the mayor he'll be judged thusly:
The next budget hearing is scheduled for tonight, at 7 p.m. at Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin. For more background on the 2011 budget, check out this story published by the Chicago News Cooperative this morning.