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Emanuel Faces Critics At First Public Budget Hearing

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears at a public budget hearing Monday night at Kennedy King College. (CBS)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears at a public budget hearing Monday night at Kennedy King College. (CBS)

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UPDATED 08/30/11 5:20 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS)– The first of several town hall meetings on Chicago’s city budget became heated Monday as Mayor Rahm Emanuel went nose to nose with some critics who challenge areas he has cut.

It was billed as an opportunity for people to offer their ideas on how to close the city’s $635 million budget gap, and many participants passed along suggestions, from cutting more management positions to downsizing the City Council.

But at least two groups at odds with the mayor over the firing of traffic aides and the closing of clinics were waiting for him, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

“I don’t have insurance,” one woman in the audience complained. “I don’t have money to pay my bills.”

“I’m responsible to the city taxpayers and the city residents,” Emanuel replied at the hearing, held at Kennedy-King College, 6301 S. Halsted St., over the shouts of objectors.

The mayor acknowledged that the cuts hurt.

“I know these are hard choices, and they’re not comfortable choices,” he said. “I don’t relish them.”

But the confrontations were not over. One man demanded to know “why you chose seven clinics that are all in minority communities of color, and underserved, and why you chose to privatize those.”

Emanuel countered: “I spent a good portion of my life making sure we have universal health care. That’s what I believe.”

The groups made the most of their opportunity, but on the whole, the give-and-take between the mayor and members of Englewood and other South Side communities was calm, even complimentary to Emanuel.

One man in the audience was glad the mayor chose to hold the meeting in Englewood.

“We really want to thank you for coming to Englewood, because we very seldom get the attention of people of your stature, and and that’s why you hear such a vibrance,” he said. “You know we’re ready, and we need a mayor like you.”

Mayor Emanuel already has several hundred ideas to contemplate, on a Web site he set up. Already, more than 40,000 people have logged on.

Among them are charging an annual fee for people who board the CTA with bikes, charging homeowners a fee for the right to park the car in front of their homes in a reserved face, and letting city workers live in the suburbs, but charging them a non-resident tax and deducting part of their pay.

Residents also suggest bottling Chicago water and selling it, and creating an online Chicago store selling the Chicago flag, the city seal or anything Chicago-related. The Chicago Transit Authority already operates a similar store.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports

Selling coffee at CTA stations, and finally, fining people for eating on the CTA – as signs mounted in buses and trains already warn – are also among the ideas.

“Rare is the CTA trip when at least one passenger isn’t eating aboard the train or bus, which leads to infestation and discarded containers,” someone writes. “One officer could easily issue $1,000 in citations while walking through each car, with the added benefit of increasing most passengers’ comfort and safety level.”

Emanuel will also host a budget hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.

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