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Activists Bring Golden Toilet To City Hall, Protest Grant To CME

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Golden Toilet

Protesters brought a golden toilet to City Hall Wednesday, calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to redirect funds that had been given to the CME Group to renovate restrooms. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Protesters gathered outside the Mayor’s Office with a golden toilet Wednesday, demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel create jobs with $33 million in taxpayer funds that had gone in part to the CME Group so the company could renovate its restrooms.

Members of the group Action Now brought the golden toilet to the CME Headquarters last month, after the company accepted the Tax Increment Financing funds. The CME Group deciding not to accept the $15 million it had received.

Two other corporations – the CNA Group and Bank of America — also returned TIF money in the amounts of $13 million and $5.4 million, respectively, Crain’s Chicago Business reported last month.

“We petitioned them, and we went there to them, and we had a (bake sale) right beside there and we went to their places, and we begged them, and we sent them letters to refund our money, and up above all things – something that they’ve never done – they refunded it, and that was a good thing. This has never been done before and we appreciate it,” said Action Now board member Charles Brown.

But now, Action Now is calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to spend the money on job creation – particularly in the public libraries and schools.

Brown also called for an end to the use of TIF money to benefit large and successful corporations.

In a TIF district, property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts are frozen for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward to go into a fund to neighborhood improvements. But critics such as the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky have complained that while TIF funds are supposed to be used to improve blighted neighborhoods, they are actually used as slush funds.

“We’re also ready to draw a line in the sand,” Brown said. “Our taxpayer dollars should never have gone to these corporate giants.”

Protesters added that the TIF funds could have created many jobs and rescued people in need.

“Let’s put a moratorium in that TIF money going to extras for whomever, and put that money into jobs. Put that money into the mental institutions. Where are those people going? They’re going on the streets, and we don’t need them on the streets,” said retired Chicago Public Schools teacher Lois Nelson.

The group asked Mayor Emanuel to come out of his office and meet with them personally. Mayor’s assistant press secretary Caroline Weisser came out and offered to hand the group’s documents to the mayor, but Emanuel himself did not speak to the group.

The CME Group had been threatening to leave Illinois after state lawmakers approved a 45 percent hike in the corporate income tax at the beginning of last year. But in December, lawmakers approved a substantial tax break for CME, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and Sears Holdings Corp., which also had been threatening to leave.

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