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Boisterous crowd greets Mayor Rahm Emanuel at town hall meeting

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will lead first two public town hall discussions Chicago's 2012 budget. August 29 2011 I  Scott

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will lead the first of two public town hall discussions on Chicago's 2012 budget. August 29, 2011 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2011 6:00PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel faced a boisterous and sometimes angry crowd Monday night during the first of two “Town Hall” meetings to discuss ways to plug the city’s $635 million 2012 budget shortfall.

“The moment of reckoning is here,” Emanuel said, as he encouraged an “honest” conversation before a packed house at Kennedy-King College on the South Side.

And he got honesty — as he tried to defend cutting 71 city traffic aides earlier this year to save money. Emanuel used an oft-repeated theme that his primary responsibility is to taxpayers, not the city payroll.

Some in the audience booed the mayor’s response to questions about the fired aides. One woman yelled: “I don’t think you understand how much this is hurting.”

A group of city health workers said they feared Emanuel would privatize city-run clinics.

One woman who said she is a resident of the 20th Ward on the South Side, asked city officials why police don’t always come to the scene when she has called 911 to report shots being fired.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the city receives “too many” 911 calls to respond to each one, and said officials are trying to improve the system, which “is kind of broken.”

Emanuel was asked if there are any plans to cut the number of city aldermen — a question that received loud applause. The mayor noted that the City Council has already taken a 10 percent pay cut, but to reduce its size, “you’ve gotta go to Springfield to make that change.”

The mayor also referred to his move, announced late Monday, to cut the salaries of members of five city panels, including the Chicago Police Board. Salaries will also be tied to meeting attendance. The move, he said, will save $314,000.

The second town hall hearing is planned for Wednesday at Malcolm X College. Emanuel will introduce his final budget in October.

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