Reporting Jay Levine
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Updated 08/31/11 – 9:55 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel got another earful from concerned Chicagoans at the second town hall meeting this week to discuss the city budget.
The second town hall meeting – held at Malcolm X College on the Near West Side – was a bit more controlled than the first, when Emanuel was shouted down by union members upset over job cuts and by community activists angry about a change in mental health clinics.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the mayor was ready for tough questions Wednesday night from special interests angry with moves he’s made and positions he’s taken. Emanuel staked out his territory right from the start.
“Look, I want ideas, not insults. I want people to be constructive and not just complain. Insults don’t close $637 million deficits,” Emanuel said early in the meeting before taking questions from the public.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the second budget session of the week. Many of them, wearing purple shirts, were recently fired traffic aides and their supporters.
There were also teachers, feeling they’d been made scapegoats for the city schools’ problems.
They all made their points and Emanuel made his.
“I was at school till 5:30 tonight. I didn’t get paid to be there till 5:30, but I was there for the children because children, in my world, come first,” said one teacher at Wednesday’s meeting.
Earlier in the day, teachers had rallied on the Southeast Side to protest Emanuel’s decision to cancel 4 percent raises that were in the teachers’ contract and his continued push for a longer school day with, so far, offering only a 2 percent raise that the union turned down.
But Emanuel noted that teachers are still getting other pay hikes, while some big cities are cutting teacher pay.
“In Detroit, they’re getting a 10 percent cut and that’s wrong. Our teachers are getting a step and lane pay raise,” Emanuel said.
“I talked about the new choices for parents; 2,500 new slots for kids going to magnet schools … four new charter schools, three new schools of excellence,” Emanuel added, drawing boos from several teachers at the mention of charter schools. “That’s okay, but when those parents have that choice, they’re not booing.”
The reaction to the questions and answers was mixed. The Mayor expected that too.
“I didn’t get elected to be liked, I got elected to solve problems,” Emanuel said.
“I think he did somewhat well, but he didn’t answer the questions completely,” said teacher Amy Arter.
“I thought it was fine. You know, he answered a lot of questions that was put to him and he did a good job,” said another woman who attended the meeting.
“If everybody gives a little, nobody gives too much,” said city custodian David Jurich. “We’re giving too much by giving up our job, nobody else gives anything.”
Time and again, the mayor stressed education and training being the key to jobs and economic development and his commitment to the entire city, not just city workers worried about their jobs.
But it was a 90 year-old woman, celebrating her birthday this week, who seemed to put things in perspective at the meeting, telling Emanuel to remember one thing: “You are our employee; keep that in mind and we’ll be alright.”