Bring Chicago Home: Homeless advocates denounce Ald. O’Connor’s misrepresentations; say he was instrumental in delaying bid for ballot referendum

After motion to stall public hearing on the measure appeared to fail, O’Connor permitted repeated votes until it passed. 

A coalition backing a proposal to alleviate Chicago’s pervasive homelessness problem vehemently disputed Alderman Patrick’s O’Connor’s self-aggrandizing announcement today that he honored his “commitment” to the group, and instead said that he mounted a strenuous – and possibly improper – effort to derail their bid.

On Monday, March 11, in what appeared to be an act of parliamentary mischief aimed at stalling the proposal to expand funding for homelessness relief, the City Council’s Finance Committee, which O’Connor chairs, repeatedly strayed from proper procedures – and even misrepresented the results of a key vote – in order to delay a public hearing on the measure, according to representatives of the Bring Chicago Home campaign.

Nonetheless, O’Connor claimed in a link posted on Twitter that he “fulfilled my commitment to the Bring Chicago Home Coalition and the coalition of groups seeking to end homelessness in Chicago.”

In fact, the coalition said he played an instrumental role in thwarting a bid to conduct a public hearing on Monday regarding a resolution that would have authorized a March 2020 ballot referendum on whether the city should raise a one-time tax on the sale of properties worth more than $1 million to fund programs that combat homelessness.  Instead, Alderman Brendan Reilly disputed whether the Finance Committee was the proper jurisdiction, arguing that the ballot measure should be considered in the Rules Committee. However, unlike most ballot measures, the Bring Chicago Home proposal would have a legal effect and an impact on the city’s finances and should arguably be considered by the Finance Committee.

Due to the dispute about committee jurisdiction, Ald. Reilly made a motion to table the proposal which was improperly approved following a series of procedurally invalid tactics. The vote on the referral to table the proposal produced a 10-10 tie, which, under council rules was tantamount to a defeat.  But O’Connor announced the tally as 11-10 in favor of tabling the measure. When his errant count was contested, O’Connor permitted multiple recounts of the vote, flouting Rule 20 of the Rules of Order and Procedure of the City Council. Compounding the malfeasance, O’Connor permitted a final recount that recognized the vote of Ald. Matt O’Shea, who had just joined the meeting and was not represented in the original tally. His vote became the decisive vote.

The ten aldermen that supported the measure were John Arena, Walter Burnett Jr., George A. Cardenas, Pat Dowell, Toni L. Foulkes, Leslie A. Hairston, Roberto Maldonado, Harry Osterman, Ariel Reboyras and Scott Waguespack.

The aldermen that voted no were Carrie M. Austin, Anthony Beale, Howard B. Brookins Jr., Derrick G. Curtis, Michelle A. Harris, Margaret Laurino, Matthew O’Shea, Brendan Reilly, Nicholas Sposato, Patrick Daley Thompson and Tom Tunney

Those aldermen that were not present or did not vote on Monday include: Edward M. Burke, Willie B. Cochran, Jason C. Ervin, Greg Mitchell, Emma Mitts, Joe Moore, Joe Moreno, Ricardo Muñoz, Patrick J. O’Connor, Marty Quinn, Roderick T. Sawyer, Michael Scott, Jr., Debra Silverstein and Danny Solis

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“It’s truly staggering that some aldermen are going to such extreme and dishonorable lengths simply to deny their own constituents an opportunity to vote on this crucial matter of public policy,” said Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “More than 80,000 Chicago residents are plagued with homelessness, and we saw this winter just how drastic – even lethal – their plight is every day.  Meanwhile, all we’re asking for at this point is a chance to let the voters express their sentiments on a potential solution.  If Aldermen who continue to stall this proposal are not on the side of their own constituents – and, for that matter, of basic principals of participatory democracy – then whose side are they on?  We’re looking forward to working with a new City Council, and we take heart in knowing that next Mayor, no matter which of the two candidates win the upcoming election, has voiced support for this proposal.”

At issue is whether city residents will be afforded an opportunity to vote on the proposal. To do that, the City Council must first pass a resolution authorizing the addition of the referendum question to the ballot next March. If voters approve the referendum, City Council then has the authority to pass an ordinance to codify the proposal as law.

More than three-fourths of likely voters believe the city needs to redouble efforts to combat homelessness – and more than 66 percent favor the specific funding mechanism championed by Bring Chicago Home, according to a poll conducted for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

Under the Bring Chicago Home proposal, Chicago’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) would increase by 1.2 percentage points on properties sold for $1 million or more – a threshold that would leave 95 percent of all property owners unscathed, based on the average volume of transactions recorded annually.

Chicago’s existing $15.5 million allocation to homelessness-relief represents a small fraction of what other major cities commit to the same effort.  But the Bring Chicago Home proposal is forecasted to help nearly 36,000 people escape the hardships of homelessness over its first decade, fueled by $150 million in legally dedicated new revenue.