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Mayor on Parking Meters: 'We Are Stuck for 71 Years with this Rotten Deal'

By Ted Cox | May 8, 2013 6:14pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel says, "We are stuck for 71 years with this rotten deal."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says, "We are stuck for 71 years with this rotten deal."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The mayor promoted free Sunday parking in most of the city as a small improvement to what he called a "rotten deal" negotiated by the Daley administration on parking meters.

"This is a bad deal, and it's far worse than anybody knows," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday after presenting what even he acknowledged were only minor improvements and tradeoffs to the City Council.

"Now everybody would like this nightmare to just go away," Emanuel said. "But wishing or hoping this deal would go away won't work."

Although Richard M. Daley was never mentioned by name, it was a familiar refrain in Emanuel's news conference at the close of Wednesday's City Council meeting. He pointed to the compromise on having churches and other nonprofits pay on a four-tiered scale for city water after getting it for free for decades.

"The city had been debating for years the fact that the taxpayers, to the tune of about $20 million, were subsidizing the nonprofits for free water," Emanuel said. "After years of debate, and I'm talking about years," he added, "that policy has changed.

"We were taking money out of reserves, out of our rainy-day fund, and not making kind of the tough decisions," Emanuel said, leaving unspoken that is how Daley spent much of the upfront money on the parking-meter deal. Emanuel added that the water deal "ended the practice where the taxpayers were on the hook for everybody else."

Emanuel emphasized anew that there would be no public subsidies in the Wrigley rehab under his administration.

"Whether it’s Wrigley Field in Wrigleyville, whether it's dealing with the water rates for our nonprofits or the parking meters, at every level, every one of these things we are making changes to things we inherited from the past we’re going to prepare our city for the future," Emanuel said. "Each of those cases are examples where we inherited [policies] that were not working for the city and needed to make changes that would now begin … to work better for the taxpayers, work better for the city as a whole and make the necessary changes so we can move forward."

Yet he saved his strongest rhetoric for parking meters, saying, "I understand we're tapping an emotion, because everyone hates this deal, no one more than me.

"You cannot make a bad deal a good deal," he added. "It's not possible. This is a big lemon, and I'm just trying to squeeze a little bit of lemonade out of it."

The compromise the Emanuel administration hammered out with Chicago Parking Meters, beneficiaries of a 75-year contract negotiated by the Daley administration, cuts a $49 million bill for revenue lost on street closures and the like over the last two years to $8.9 million. Extended over the life of the contract, the Emanuel administration says that will save the city more than $1 billion.

That improved what he has called a "lemon" of a deal. Yet it didn't make it any easier to swallow, Emanuel made plain, saying, "We are stuck for 71 years with this rotten deal."

Emanuel's proposal, to be considered by the City Council over the next month, would also swap free Sunday parking at 81 percent of all city metered spots — all those outside the downtown area — for extended evening hours on other days and in River North.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has led early opposition to that swap, but Emanuel said it has the support of the majority of Chicagoans.

"To the city of neighborhoods, I think there's a value to free Sundays," he said.

Emanuel also trumpeted the upcoming ability to pay at meters by smartphone.

Emanuel said negotiations with CPM began with "true-ups," a "loosely drafted part of the contract" in which the firm billed the city for lost revenue on street closures for street fairs and paving and the like.

"They thought we were going to be played for suckers, and I said that's over," he said, adding, "We are no longer gonna treat the taxpayers as suckers and dumb money for you." He said he told them "your numbers aren't worth the paper they're printed on" and "you can take your numbers and you can keep sending your bills but you ain't getting paid."

The compromise calls for the city to submit its estimates on lost revenues to CPM rather than vice versa.

The mayor rejected the idea of fighting the pact in court, saying his administration had looked it up and down and "this is a contract we're stuck with." Stuck with by the Daley administration was implied.