The current group of Chicago aldermen has seemed pretty comfortable bucking the Daley administration on some important mayoral priorities over the last month or so. In March, members of the council's Committee on Aviation declined to take a vote on a proposed 25-year concessions lease at O'Hare's international terminal, worrying about its terms and thinking back to the rushed parking meter deal in 2008. They postponed voting on the deal last week as well. And earlier today, finance committee members declined to take a vote on an ordinance introduced by the mayor that would allow some home buyers to access tax increment financing (TIF) grants to purchase and rehabilitate vacant homes in city neighborhoods.
Despite disavowals from Daley administration staffers, aldermen present at the finance hearing earlier today saw the mayor's TIF rehab proposal as a direct response to the stalled-out Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance, which in its original form would have reserved 20 percent of the city's annual TIF take for affordable housing and rehab projects, a measure Daley opposes. Several aldermen weren't happy to be given a bill to vote on with no briefing beforehand and without including council members who backed the Sweet Home language in discussions about its shape. There was a sense of highhandedness from the administration. "I think it's just insulting the way that you are doing things," said 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett, Sweet Home's chief sponsor. "It's very disturbing how you guys disregard folks, all these folks coming down here and marching for a couple of years," he went on, referring to Sweet Home backers. "I feel like I'm playing with some kids -- I'm playing with some rotten kids dealing with this stuff." When finance chair Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) finally asked for a motion on the bill today, no one responded, and Burke held it in committee.
The ordinance, in some form, will probably pass the council; even Burnett said it was "moving in the right direction." But there could be more substantive changes before the finance committee takes it up again. Lame duck 50th Ward Ald. Bernard Stone, for example, blasted language in the bill limiting the TIF grant to 25 percent of the purchase and rehab costs. "A favored developer can come in here and get 100 percent in TIF funds to redevelop a property," he told Daley staffers, "but you take a poor slob and you say you can only get 25 percent to redevelop a property." There were also questions about who would be eligible to access the TIF grants.
Since the completion of Chicago's 2011 municipal election cycle last week, there's been a lot of reading of the tea leaves about how the new council will (or won't) line up with incoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel's priorities. Given that we're still more than a month away from the start of the new mayoral and council term, it's probably too soon to make a determination on that front with any real certainty. But the current bunch of aldermen are sounding a different tune these days on some big-ticket issues the mayor would like to see passed. Granted, Mayor Daley is firmly ensconced in lame duck status these days. Whether the new level of scrutiny aldermen are bringing to bear on mayoral priorities will continue after May 16 is one of the big questions looming for the next City Council.