WICKER PARK — Steaming over the closure of a mental health clinic in Logan Square three years ago, an irate mental health activist confronted Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday night at a packed community event in Wicker Park.
"Why did you close my clinic?" asked Debbie Delgado, a 55-year-old woman who was receiving treatment at the city-run Northwest Mental Health Clinic, 2354 N. Milwaukee Ave. for 22 years before it was shuttered as part of 2012 budget cuts.
Delgado asked Emanuel, "Do you or any of your family deal with mental health?"
After Delgado addressed the mayor, another activist joined in questioning him. Emanuel then calmly addressed the woman.
"Sit down, let me address everyone in the room," the mayor said at the meeting at the Wicker Park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave.
"First of all, thank you for the invitation," the mayor told organizers. ""I never felt so at home."
That drew a laugh from the crowd witnessing the confrontation. The mayor, saying he wanted to put the issue in context, began talking about investments in the neighborhood in general.
At one point, he said, “On privacy matters as it relates to health, you don’t talk about anyone’s health care information as it relates to health care coverage," the mayor said, but was cut off. "Can I finish?" he responded.
"One of first bills I worked on was with Congress and it was about coverage of privacy," he said.
The meeting, which was intended for Emanuel to discuss community issues, then continued.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE CONFRONTATION:
After he spoke to residents, Emanuel headed into a private session with Delgado and Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a mental health activist.
Delgado later told DNAinfo Chicago she was "close enough to kiss" Emanuel in the private meeting, while Ginsberg-Jaeckle said, "There was an inch between our faces, he was that close."
At one point, Delgado said, the mayor told the activists "you're going to respect me."
Steve Mayberry, an Emanuel campaign spokesman, addressed that claim Thursday by saying: "The mayor was eager to get to the substance of the residents' concerns. After respectfully listening to the residents, he asked that they respectfully listen to his point of view. As a result, the meeting ended cordially, and the mayor is working with health officials to address the residents' needs.”
Delgado's oldest son died of a gunshot wound to the neck on Nov. 26, 2006, when the father of three was 21.
"My son died on a Saturday, and on Monday morning I was in line at the clinic, as soon as they seen my face, each person came and gave me a hug. They would not let me go home until I was ready to go home; they followed up with me, it was a blessing," Delgado said of the clinic.
Delgado, who said she suffers from depression and anxiety, is not seeing a therapist now because the clinic she was referred to, near Peterson and Pulaski avenues, takes her 90 minutes to get to in traffic on two buses, she said.
Mayberry said the closed-door meeting with the activists lasted 15 minutes.
"Dozens of other residents attending the meeting also wanted Rahm, who was speaking as an invited guest, to focus on their community discussion," Mayberry said.
Previously, Emanuel's administration has said that 85 percent of the clients of the old clinics had obtained help at the remaining city centers or at private providers. The administration also said the Affordable Care Act has greatly expanded mental health services for low-income residents.
Addressing about 60 residents at the Wicker Park Committee's packed, standing-room-only meeting, Emanuel touted the fact that underground "L" stations would soon have 4G Internet access, a perk funded through the private Infrastructure Trust bank, a multibillion dollar fund that aids capital improvements.
"You can't say to your boss that you can't do that email because you are on your way home," Emanuel said, which drew some laughter from the crowd.
When asked about why there is no elevator at the recently renovated CTA Damen Blue Line "L" stop, where "you cannot even haul strollers," a frustrated Wicker Park resident and mother was told by Emanuel that he needed to consult with the CTA.
Emanuel said he would like to have Forrest Claypool, the CTA's president, come to a meeting to talk with residents.
Moving into familiar terrain, Emanuel called The 606 and Bloomingdale Trail, "a tremendous investment that brings us all together in a unique way" and touted six rehabbed playgrounds in the community.
After the meeting, reactions to Emanuel's visit were mixed.
"I don't think he did a good job or talked about any major issues facing the city. He talked about parks and the 606, not the financial crisis," said Ed Mullen, a Wicker Park resident who was wearing a button for Emanuel challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
Ken Tyler, another local resident, said he thought Emanuel did "an excellent job" handling Delgado's concerns.
"He was very positive and forthright. I would not want anyone else running our city," Tyler said.
Leah Root, president of the Wicker Park Committee, who invited Emanuel to the meeting, said, "I think the mayor handled the situation very well. He listened to her concerns , but was also being mindful of the rest of the audience."
Gerri Baginski, a Wicker Park resident for 46 years and a retired CPS teacher, said, "I think Rahm has a big challenge on his plate in [mayoral run-off opponent] Chuy Garcia. Rahm is being made to work a lot harder than he probably expected."
Baginski added, "I did see a bit of a change in him, at least from what I see in media reports. I felt that he was a bit mellow and not his usual arrogant self cutting off questions, or not answering questions."
In the Feb. 24 election, 1st Ward voters overwhelmingly chose Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, with 49 percent for Chuy and 39.4 percent to Emanuel. Emanuel now takes on Garcia in a April 7 runoff for mayor.
The ward, shaped like a seahorse, runs through parts of Wicker Park, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village, East Village and Humboldt Park, which has 40 percent Hispanic residents. First Ward voters re-elected incumbent 1st Ward Joe Moreno, but by a slim margin.
Garcia is scheduled to speak at the group's April 1 meeting, Root confirmed.
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