Fifteenth Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes was one of seven council members to vote "nay" on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial $1.7 billion infrastructure trust last week, in large part because of, well, trust.
Foulkes spoke with The Chicago Reporter and elaborated on her statement.
Foulkes said she and her Englewood constituents, in particular, like other skeptics, are leery in large part because no one--besides, maybe, Emanuel and a few insiders--seems to have a firm grasp on how the trust will work.
Basically, the infrastructure trust would see private investors bankrolling city projects. The trust is part of Emanuel's longterm plans to rebuild Chicago, which carries a $7 billion price tag.
The current lineup of investors interested in the trust includes the financial heavyweights Citibank, Citi Infrastructure Investors, Macquarie Infrastructure, JP Morgan Asset Management Infrastructure Investment Group and Ullico.
The investors are going to want big returns, Foulkes said, and it's not entirely clear what they're going to invest in--besides a $225 million energy retrofitting project--how they're going to be paid back, who's going to get jobs as part of the projects, and the list goes on.
"They [Englewood residents] don't trust people," Foulkes said. "They have been abused too long."
Foulkes mentioned the housing crisis in Englewood when talking about her constituents' cynicism.
In 2010, Englewood had 973 vacant properties, one of the largest such collections in the city, according to the Woodstock Institute. Of those vacancies, 712 were foreclosure-related.
In Foulkes' eyes, the investors currently lining up to inject money into city projects are the same predatory lenders that duped many constituents into signing sub-prime mortgages they couldn't afford.
"Subprime loans had higher interest rates and investors got higher returns," Foulkes said, dropping a pseudo hint about the expectations of the investors involved in the infrastructure trust.
What's more, impoverished communities like Englewood are not exactly equipped to be forking over huge sums of tax dollars to repay investors that expect big paydays down the road.
"We don't know how this is going to work out. People in our community don't understand the ins and outs of this," Foulkes said, adding that, actually, "people in general" don't really understand what Emanuel's up to with the trust.
Foulkes also wants to know who's going to get the construction gigs when these projects actually begin.
Emanuel promised that his plan to rebuild Chicago, which the trust is an integral part of, will create 30,000 jobs over three years.
"All the new jobs that are going to be created, are they new jobs or are they all people who have been laid off?" said Foulkes.
That is, will new jobs be created for people in her community, especially if or when there's a project there? Or will these and other positions be filled by laid-off construction workers?
Those workers, if they're in a union, get first dibs when construction gigs open up, according to Foulkes, who is an ally of organized labor.
Foulkes did say that she is working to set up a meeting with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Chicago Federation of Labor, the umbrella organization of over 300 Chicagoland unions.
"I have talked with CBTU ... we're going to set up a meeting with the Federation of Labor for all of us to be at the table and try to address those issues and concerns of residents in our ward," Foulkes said. "We are working towards a happy medium."
But the questions still abound, which is why Foulkes dissented at last week's council meeting, and before that, worked to create an alternative to Emanuel's ordinance.
For several days prior to the meeting, she and her aldermanic colleagues Bob Fioretti, Scott Waguespack, John Arena, Leslie Hairston and John Arena worked on crafting a substitute ordinance.
"We wanted the [Inspector General] to have more insight. We wanted another alderman to be a part of it. We asked for about five different things," Foulkes said.
The proposed provisions were aimed at increased transparency, reigning in Emanuel's control over the board of directors while giving alderman more control, and appointing a financial adviser to report to the council.
In the end 41 alderman decided they trust Emanuel's Trust.
As for Foulkes' constituents, especially those in Englewood: "'We don't trust the mayor', they say," according to Foulkes.