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Unused Tax Rebate Money Should Be Used To Fight Crime, Aldermen Say

By Heather Cherone | February 16, 2017 2:01pm | Updated on February 16, 2017 3:30pm
 An organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council displays a sheaf of letters urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to use leftover money from the property tax rebate to fund violence prevention programs.
An organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council displays a sheaf of letters urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to use leftover money from the property tax rebate to fund violence prevention programs.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — Several aldermen and community groups renewed their call Thursday morning for money left unclaimed by the city's property tax rebate effort to be used to fight violent crime in Chicago neighborhoods.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed spending the money on trees, parks and after-school programs, 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez wants the $16.2 million left over used to keep teens and young adults off the street and for violence prevention programs.

With a vote looming next week, Lopez and other representatives of community groups said they were spurred to redouble their effort by the shooting deaths of three children this week.

"How many more children have to die?" Lopez asked. "At what point do we say enough is enough?"

Lopez said there was nothing wrong with Emanuel's plans for the money, but that Chicago is facing an emergency and its elected officials need to take action.

"Trees and parks are great, but it is not the time when my kids can't walk to the end of the block," Lopez said.

Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Emanuel favored a "holistic approach" that tackled violence by "investing in communities."

The City Council already has approved using $1.3 million of the leftover money to create a legal defense fund for immigrants threatened with deportation by the Trump administration.

The mayor's proposal came off like a "cruel joke" to the people suffering in his ward, Lopez said.

Lopez said Emanuel — whose predilection for salty language is well known — confronted him in a back room before last month's Council meeting about his plan for the unused money.

"Why are you f------ with me?" Lopez said the mayor asked him.

Matt McGrath, a spokesman for the mayor, said Emanuel doesn't remember using profanity in his conversation with Lopez, who was elected in 2015, but said the mayor "doesn’t deny a flair for colorful language, either."

Lopez said he told Emanuel that he "wasn't f------ with him" but that he had to do something to stop the violence that had "people dying in the streets" of his ward.

The exchange was first reported by the Reader.

"Everyone agrees that investing in improving public safety is a top priority. That's why our proposal for the unused rebate dollars includes funding to build and operate strategic nerve center in police districts – including one in Ald. Lopez's police districts," McGrath said. "That's why the proposal includes funding for anti-violence efforts like after school programs for our youth. And that's why we added tens of millions of new dollars for public safety, youth summer jobs, and mentoring in the most recent city budget. We will continue working with anyone to advance these priorities."

Lopez's plan, supported by a dozen aldermen, would use $7 million to expand the city's summer jobs program to year-round; earmark $5 million for counseling for teens and young adults; and use $5 million to expand the city's mentoring programs to fifth- and sixth-graders.

Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), David Moore (17th) Greg Mitchell (7th) and Michael Scott (24th) said $5 million should be used to fund CeaseFire, a violence suppression program that saw its funding cut by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.