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City workers not happy to get letter from Rahm Emanuel

Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel his 50 Wards 50 Hours  Wednesday February 16 2011.  | John H White~Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel on his 50 Wards in 50 Hours Wednesday, February 16, 2011. | John H White~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 18, 2011 12:24AM

Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel has sent a personal letter to the homes of city employees — and to other households, he says — in an attempt to clarify his position on the city’s pension crisis, but the tactic may have backfired.

City employees and union leaders are demanding to know how Emanuel got their names and home addresses.

They’re wondering aloud whether someone at City Hall might have leaked the sensitive information to Emanuel to benefit the mayoral candidate with the closest ties to Mayor Daley.

“It’s an invasion of privacy — kind of like getting your Social Security number stolen,” said Lou Phillips, business manager for Laborers Local 1001, which has endorsed Gery Chico for mayor.

“You’re talking about my pension. How do you know what pension I got? What business is it of yours? Why do they have my address? If you’re not a city employee, why would you even be interested in this?”

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Emanuel, said, “We don’t have a list of city workers.” LaBolt characterized the mailer — on Emanuel’s personal stationery sent in a blank white envelope with normal postage — as an “open letter to residents across the city” aimed at clarifying Emanuel’s position on a pension crisis that is a “conversation in every community.”

“It went to households across the city,” he said.

A city employee who received the letter did not buy the explanation from the Emanuel campaign.

“It has the appearance of a personal letter to me with a direct appeal in some kind of under-handed way. It was clearly aimed at and written for city employees. If people who weren’t city employees got it, they would be confused as to why,” the employee said.

“I don’t mind people sending me solicitations. I’m a registered voter. I expect it. But, when it appears to have a direct appeal to a city employee, that’s where you draw the line.”

Emanuel’s suggestion that he would cut the pension benefits of existing city employees has stirred controversy in the mayor’s race, prompting nine unions to endorse Chico.

In the letter, Emanuel refers to “political games” by his opponents that “distort” his position.

“My goal is to protect the retirement of our workers. If you’ve paid into the system, your contribution must be honored and I will fight to guarantee those benefits as promised. It would be wrong to take away benefits that hard-working city workers have earned,” he wrote.

“But, we must have a frank discussion about how we handle the system going forward. ... Other candidates ... are either saying what people want to hear or running away from the problem altogether and pretending it doesn’t exist. I’m telling the truth about the system’s problems no matter whom I’m talking to because the workers and the taxpayers of this great city deserve it.”

Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Chico, said the letter “proves once again that Rahm Emanuel is a serial evader of the truth.”

“From one side of his mouth, he tells editorial boards and business groups that he’s going to slash pensions. From the other side, he sends secret love notes making promises to city workers that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” she said.

A city official, who asked to remain anonymous, insisted that employee databases released in response to Freedom of Information requests never include home addresses.

“We don’t give that stuff out. It’s all exempt,” the source said.

Contributing: Abdon M. Pallasch

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