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Emanuel: Ally Not Guaranteed Piece Of Speed Camera Deal

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A city of Chicago red light camera (Credit: CBS)

A city of Chicago red light camera (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 03/13/12 – 6:58 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted Tuesday that one of his big supporters is not a shoo-in to make money from the speed camera enforcement program he’s planning, and will have to bid for the contract like any other company that wants it.

WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports a longtime Emanuel ally, Greg Goldner — who’s been supporting Emanuel since he first ran for Congress — is a consultant for Redflex Traffic Systems, the company that already supplies the cameras for Chicago’s red light camera program and seems to have the inside track for the speed cameras contract.

Emanuel said Goldner’s position with Redflex doesn’t automatically mean the company will easily win a contract for speed cameras that would be set up near schools and parks.

“We have red light cameras before. It passed the City Council 48-0,” Emanuel said. “There’s clear that we’re going to run this in a very open, very transparent, very competitive way.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Goldner reportedly has helped provide campaign cash to Emanuel’s preferred aldermanic candidates and has worked with ministers who backed Emanuel’s school reform agenda.

But, as CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, Emanuel noted Goldner’s work with Redflex — as well as Redflex’s contract for red light cameras — began under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, long before Emanuel was mayor.

“They had that prior to me. There will be a competitive process that’s open transparent and competitive. And you’ll evaluate it and people will have the insurance to know that it’ll be totally open, totally competitive, and totally transparent.”

Emanuel spoke at an unrelated news conference with Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he’s not concerned about the issue.

“Safety is our paramount concern; and the City Council, with the mayor, have to implement the law in a proper way,” he said. “I have confidence they’ll work together to do that properly.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The mayor is expected to introduce his speed camera plan to the City Council on Wednesday.

The current red light camera contract expires next January, and that five or six other companies have expressed interest in bidding for new speed cameras that will be installed gradually.

But some aldermen are still skeptical about the plan to use cameras to catch speeders near schools and parks.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) said he and his colleagues want to know about which company would get the contract for speed cameras, as well as the comparative cost of using cameras versus using police officers.

Brookins also said he has concerns about the true motivation behind the push for speed cameras.

“I’m worried – the public is right now – and that is the skepticism as to is this a money grab, or is this really public safety?”

State legislation passed earlier this year allows the city to place the camera systems within 1/8 mile of schools and parks, which could potentially blanket nearly half the city with speed cameras, but Emanuel insists that won’t happen.

“That’s not the intention, nor what we’re going to do. There will be some efforts on both where we do it, and what hours we do it,” he said.

The mayor’s aides have been briefing the aldermen on his plans. Brookins said the administration has said it plans to start with cameras in only 2 percent of the potential locations.

But Brookins said he and his colleagues still want more details.

“How this thing is going to work, who are the vendors going to be, what’s the cost benefit versus having a live cop specifically hired to do traffic enforcement, as opposed to these cameras,” Brookins said.

The original plan called for the 79 existing red-light cameras near schools and parks to be retrofitted to clock speeds, too. But according to the website The Expired Meter, when aldermen asked how many speed cameras there might be in the future, the answer raised red flags.

“If we’re talking about safety of every school and every park, you’re talking close to 1,800 locations,” Ald. Scott Waguespack said Monday.

But the mayor’s office has said Emanuel administration is considering a cap of 360 speed cameras citywide. That would still be double the current number of Red light cameras.

The Mayor says they’ll be part of a consistent policy for the protection of children.

“We have a mission to protect our children; ensuring that we have after-school programs, which is also one of the reasons we added 20,000 kids to our summer program,” the mayor said, listing off other programs to ensure child safety. “A tough new curfew policy. A ‘Safe Passage,’ (program for kids going to and from school) where we made sure there was no cuts in the funding for it. Crossing guards, where there was no cuts. This is a complement to every one of the … investments we’ve made in the protection of our children both at schools and at parks.”

Waguespack said aldermen want details on the number of cameras before they vote.

The difference between what the ordinance says the mayor could do and what he will do is something alderman want to know more about. They’ve been this way before.

“We asked in the briefing for more details, for the data,” Waguespak says. “We want to see it ahead of time, and the mayor and his staff have said they will get that out to us. They don’t want to have a repeat of the parking meter lease under Mayor Daley.”

Aldermen have been leery of the speed camera plans, after the harsh backlash from the public when they approved Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deal to lease the city’s parking meters to a private company. The switchover resulted in a number of glitches with parking meters and parking rates have gone up each year since the lease, infuriating Chicago motorists who rely on parking meters, as well as business owners who saw a noticeable dropoff in business because people didn’t want to pay for parking near their shops.

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