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Emanuel phone poll asks about taxes, Tea Party, Daley and more

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday July 6 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over the Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday July 6, 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 3, 2011 10:51AM

A telephone survey of Chicago voters offers the most extensive clues yet about what Mayor Rahm Emanuel might do to close a $636 million budget gap.

Closing libraries; a 15 percent cut to police, fire and emergency management administration; a $2.5 million cut to programs for seniors, low-income housing and domestic violence are all proposals respondents are asked to give their opinions on.

The survey also opens a window into what issues weigh heavily on the mayor’s mind:

“Rahm Emanuel has been a disappointment as mayor so far and is no better than Mayor Daley,” is one of the statements voters are asked to say whether they agree with.

Another asks whether voters support Emanuel’s school board hiking property taxes $150 million or whether they view that as the mayor “going back on his word” not to raise taxes.

Surveying voter opinion of controversial options is a time-honored tradition at City Hall. Mayor Daley used the same firm, Washington, D.C.-based Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, that Emanuel’s political fund, The New Chicago Committee, has used.

Tom Bowen, who manages the mayor’s committee, would not comment on the survey, except to say, “We don’t comment on internal strategies.” No city tax dollars are used in the campaign fund’s polling.

The survey seems more extensive than the ones Greenberg used to do for Daley. It asks voters to give Emanuel a grade of 1-100 on how he has done. It tests some of the slogans he’ll use to sell his policies — even whether voters blame tough budget cuts on “Tea Party politicians in Washington.”

Then it asks voters to grade some of Emanuel’s political rivals; other elected officials and some of Emanuel’s appointees:

◆ Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), whose police security detail Emanuel has said he will trim.

◆ Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has criticized Emanuel for cutting the 4 percent raises for teachers.

◆ Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

◆ Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

◆ “City workers.”

◆ Former Mayor Richard M. Daley

◆ Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

◆ President Barack Obama

“I don’t think anyone should begrudge Rahm for doing a poll,” said Ken Snyder, principal of Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group, which conducts similar surveys for other elected officials. “He’s got a big agenda, a lot of big ideas. Surveying the attitude and opinions of citizens is respectful and helps him prioritize his agenda. The primary reason for polling is to find out if the things you’re communicating to voters are resonating.”

The survey asks voters to say whether they would have some concerns, serious concerns or no concerns if Emanuel announces any of these budget cuts when he presents his budget Oct. 15:

◆ “Outsources garbage collection to private firms.”

◆ “Cuts funding for economic development and housing by 10 percent.”

◆ “Cuts subsidies for libraries, reduces hours and potentially leads to some libraries closing.”

◆ “Cuts funding for [administration and management of the] Police Department, Fire Department, and Office of Emergency Management by 15 percent.”

◆ “Eliminates perks that allows police, fire and emergency management personnel to be paid when they’re not working.”

◆ “Cuts funding for seniors, low-income housing and domestic violence programs by $2.5 million.”

◆ “Cuts redundant agencies such as the Board of Local Improvement, which costs $350,000 a year.

◆ “Require 40 hours of work before city workers can earn overtime and cuts overtime from double-time to time-and-a -half.”

◆ “End the ability of aldermen to cut water fees and other fees for businesses and non-profits.”

The survey asks voters whether they would agree with some of these arguments:

◆ “The losers in this budget are seniors, children and people who live in high crime areas.”

◆ “Hard choices need to be made but this budget shares the pain as evenly as possible.”

◆ “This budget doesn’t use gimmicks. It’s not looking for quick fixes.”

◆ “This budget will strain our Police and Fire departments further.

◆ “Cuts are unfortunately needed because ‘Tea Party’ politicians in Washington are cutting state and federal funds.”

The survey asks voters whether they support the Emanuel School team’s “tax to the max” proposal to raise property taxes to support the schools. The survey asks voters whether they agree with these arguments about that tax hike:

◆ “Emanuel is asking too much. He promised to balance the budge without raising taxes and just three months after he said he wasn’t going to raise taxes, he has already gone back on his word.”

◆ “This budget gives big tax breaks to downtown businesses and doesn’t spend $800 million in Tax Increment Financing funds to help schools instead of raising property taxes.”

◆ “This school budget represents a balanced approach that includes $3 in cuts for every $1 in new revenue and would add only $84 in taxes every year for owners of a $250,000 home.”

The survey tests voters opinions on whether they think Gov. Quinn should sign a bill allowing casinos in Chicago and around the state.

The survey asks voters whether they agree with these arguments about Emanuel:

◆ “Emanuel has good judgment.”

◆ “Emanuel represents all the neighborhoods in Chicago”

◆ “Emanuel fights for what’s right”

◆ “Emanuel is an effective manager”

◆ “Emanuel keeps his promises.”

◆ “Emanuel allows corporations [too much say] in City Hall.”

◆ “Emanuel is too ready to raise taxes.”

◆ “Emanuel is out of touch with regular people.”

◆ “Emanuel cares more about downtown than the neighborhoods.”

Daley kept Greenberg on retainer up until the moment he announced his political retirement.

When the 75-year, $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago parking meters and the first-round flame-out in the Olympic sweepstakes caused a nosedive in Daley’s popularity, the former mayor knew it before media polls told the same story.

That may well have factored into his decision to call it quits.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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