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24 aldermen back mayor on parking meters — 2 short of passing plan

Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:37AM

Two dozen Chicago aldermen on Thursday declared their support for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to trade a longer paid parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays, two votes shy of the “silent majority” needed for City Council passage.

The announcement — described as a “team effort” between the mayor’s office and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) — was aimed at building momentum for a revised parking meter deal that forces aldermen to relive a political nightmare.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is leading the charge to drop the swap and simply pay Chicago Parking Meters LLC $63.8 million in disputed claims. He’s concerned that extending the parking day by one hour for 25,818 meters and three hours for 3,217 other meters would create a hardship for his River North constituents and give the company yet another windfall.

But, Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s fairly convinced the mayor’s financial team is correct that Chicago taxpayers will come out $1 million ahead.

“We have a significant number of mega-churches in my ward. I see a significant benefit to those folks who can now go to have breakfast on the North Side or even in Beverly and not have to feed the meters on Sunday,” Brookins said.

“I don’t know what the usage is downtown during those particular periods [of extended hours]. Until I learn something else, I’m willing to give Rahm’s team the benefit of the doubt that the benefits outweigh those three hours. I’m not as skeptical as maybe some of the other aldermen. Maybe I should be. But, I’ve had a different relationship with Rahm and [Corporation Counsel] Steve Patton.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he agreed to sign on to the mayor’s trade-off because churches in his West Side ward and retailers in the Madison-Pulaski corridor are “looking forward to the relief” provided by free parking on Sundays.

Aviation Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski (23rd) said he’s all for free Sunday parking. But he won’t sign on to the “rest of the package” until exhaustive City Council hearings on the controversy.

“We have to make sure there are no more smoking guns. We were definitely rushed the last time. We can’t let that happen again. We can’t take a second bad vote,” Zalewski said.

Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th) allowed his name to be included among the 24 supporting the mayor’s plan, even though he’s giving himself some wiggle room.

“It doesn’t look like [a windfall for the company], but we’ll see. I’m gonna definitely look at it before we take a vote. If it turns out that it’s hurting the citizens, then I won’t support it. I’m not gonna do anything that exacerbates the problem we’ve had with the parking meters,” Solis said.

“With free Sundays, I have maybe two dozen churches in my ward right alongside business strips like 18th Street, Ashland and Cermak. These are all opportunities for people to park and go to church. It’ll help out. I also have some areas in my new ward — South Loop fringes — that are gonna have to pay longer. But, I think it’s a good trade-off.”

Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) said Sunday is a day to “go to church, have a family meal, go shopping and get stuff done. . . .It helps to be able to do that without worrying about feeding the meter.”

He added, “I’m confident the work has been done to make sure the company is not gonna get another windfall. The mayor has a good financial team. They’ve proven themselves. You’re never 100 percent sure. But, I trust them.”

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