Race, poverty and politics: first meeting of the infrastructure trust; city council mulling eminent domain to help troubled homeowners

Rahm Emanuel's infrastructure trust had its first meeting Thursday. According to Crain's Chicago Business, the board chairman, a retired Boeing executive, put forward rules to organize the operation of the trust. The group's activities are expected to be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Eventually, the trust will need about $200 million to take on its projects in Chicago, according to the city's chief financial officer. The controversial trust was sold as a "public-private" partnership, but questions remain as to what it will look like in practice.

City Council is mulling whether it should exercise eminent domain power to save troubled borrowers from losing their homes, Crain's Chicago Real Estate Daily reported this week. The plan--introduced at last week's council meeting by 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke and 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin--would have the city purchase "underwater" mortgages. The city would then reduce the principal owed on the homes and sell them to private investors. Finance groups opposed the measure, arguing it will scare off investors from communities where it is practiced. Burke wants a hearing on the matter this month.

Ald. Joe Moore, long billed as the 'progressive' or 'hipster' alderman, is coming under fire for again supporting a bill against the wishes of progressive groups. This time, it was a push for an elected school board, which would allow greater community control over the schools. Communities Organized for Democracy in Education were gathering citywide signatures to get an elected school board on the ballot, and found 10 alderman to put the question on the November ballot in their wards. But to make the deadline to get on the ballot, they needed City Council approval, and to get it they needed to move the issue through a council committee. The group and its sympathetic aldermen went to Moore, who chairs the human relations committee. He agreed but after hearing Mayor Rahm Emanuel's team were not in favor of the measure, the Reader's Ben Joravsky says Moore found a bureaucratic hurdle to keep the measure from making its way into his committee. Chicago is the only school district in Illinois without an elected school board.

Emanuel's administration released preliminary figures for the fiscal year 2013 budget this week. The mayor touted the fact that the city is projecting a deficit that is half of what it was last year: $369 million, as opposed to $741 million in FY'12. Layoffs, aggressive debt collection, a program to reduce health care costs, police station closings and the city's new grid garbage system contributed to the current projection, the administration said.

Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan wants a peek at emails sent by aldermen. Khan made the request public this week, but it's not clear whether he'll be granted access. Aldermen long resisted such scrutiny under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to ban assault weapons in Illinois, he announced Tuesday. He used an amendatory veto to essentially wipe clean and re-write legislation related to in-state ammunition sales to return state lawmakers a bill with language banning the weapons. The bill is not likely to pass because it needs a super majority, and there is some question as to whether Quinn's actions are constitutional. The proposition follows last month's Colorado movie massacre, and a fiery speech by Ald. Burke, at last week's city council meeting, calling on Congress to pass comprehensive gun reform--something not likely to happen, congressional sources say.

Chicago cab drivers appeared before a committee at City Hall on Tuesday to plead for a fare hike. Their central argument is that earning a living wage is nearly impossible, especially with new lease rates that went into effect last month. The city is not likely to grant them an increase any time soon, though.

--Nick Moroni contributed to this post.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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