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Chico: Chicago has outgrown residency rule

Gery Chico offers his reactiMonday January 24 2011 Illinois Appellate Court's decisiMonday remove Rahm Emanuel from ballot. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Gery Chico offers his reaction Monday, January 24, 2011, to the Illinois Appellate Court's decision Monday to remove Rahm Emanuel from the ballot. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 27, 2011 8:45PM

Mayoral hopeful Gery Chico said Tuesday he’s open to abolishing the residency requirement for city employees, arguing that Chicago’s middle-class tax base can survive without it.

Chico dropped the political bombshell as he accepted the endorsement of a Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 that has long advocated allowing firefighters and paramedics to live outside Chicago.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which has also chafed at the residency rule, has also endorsed Chico. Together, the two unions represent nearly 25,000 active members and retirees.

Earlier this month, Chico and rival candidate Rahm Emanuel responded to an FOP questionnaire by saying they were open to letting police officers live outside the city. Candidates Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle were determined to maintain the requirement.

On Tuesday, Chico went far beyond that. He declared that Chicago has outgrown the need for a residency requirement that former Mayor Richard J. Daley and his son rigidly enforced to prevent the city’s middle class property tax base from fleeing to the suburbs.

“We’re a different city than we were 30, 40, 50 years ago when this rule came on the books. ... We have people who live in the city and work in the suburbs. We have people who live in the suburbs and work in the city. We have to be cognizant of those trends,” he said.

“Now, we’re absolutely mature enough to put the issue on the table and at least discuss it. ... If I thought it was threatening to the middle class, I wouldn’t have put it on the table.”

Del Valle branded Chico’s residency stand “shocking.’’ The city clerk said he would not “pander to get an endorsement.

“The entire workforce of the city of Chicago — paid for by the taxpayers — will be allowed to move out of the city of Chicago, allowing the neighborhoods to fend for themselves,’’ he said.

Braun warned that lifting the city’s residency requirement would pose a “direct threat” to Chicago’s middle class.

“Giving the green-light for such a proposal means a mass exodus of city employees and the rich diversity they contribute to the city,” Braun said in a prepared statement.

“This proposal demonstrates a level of irresponsibility by Mr. Chico that we cannot afford in City Hall. ... Our neighborhoods are maintained through a strong and reliable tax base. Lifting the residency requirement endangers this important resource.”

Instead of supporting what she called “dangerous and capricious proposals,” Braun advised Chico to focus on ways to “strengthen Chicago’s middle-class” — not “sacrifice its future for political gain.”

Earlier this week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. took the opposite view. He warned that residency is a “core Chicago legal and political value” that must be obeyed — by city employees and candidates for public office.

“In Chicago, 50,000-plus teachers, policemen, firemen own homes here and they pay taxes here and that supports city services,” Jackson said, after the Illinois Appellate Court ruling that temporarily bumped Emanuel from the ballot as a result of a challenge to his residency.

“If that law is broken or compromised … if that door is cracked, police and teachers and firemen and city servants will live outside the city and take with them their homes and their tax base.”

Mayor Daley has steadfastly defended the residency ordinance, resisting periodic attempts by police officers and firefighters to either relax the rule or seek financial compensation for it.

After the state state Senate voted earlier this year to lift the residency requirement for teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, Daley lambasted the idea as the beginning of the end for Chicago’s middle class.

“Go to Detroit, St. Louis, the rest of ‘em. When they allow government employees to live outside the city, they lose all their middle class,” the mayor told reporters then.

“If you say government employees don’t have to live here, I guess maybe elected officials don’t have to live here, too. You could start a trend. I don’t have to live in the ward. I don’t have to live in the city. I can work on a contract. I firmly believe that is the essence of keeping neighborhoods strong.”

In the 1960s, Daley’s father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, cracked down on residency violators, buoyed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Philadelphia’s residency law.

cracked down on residency violators, buoyed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Philadelphia’s residency law. At the time, City Hall was rife with rumors that the Chicago Fire Department was winking at residency violators, under the direction of longtime Commissioner Robert Quinn, who may have been one himself. Quinn reportedly claimed to live with his mother in the city while maintaining another residence in Wisconsin.

Two years ago, the city’s $114,348-a-year manager for auditing resigned after then-Inspector General David Hoffman concluded that he has been living in Chicago Heights in violation of the city’s residency rule.

Jeffrey Mina was supposed to be an internal watchdog who monitored city spending to make certain taxpayers got their money’s worth.

Chico’s stand on the residency rule wasn’t the only thing that endeared him to firefighters. He’s also promising to maintain minimum staffing levels on fire apparatus — an issue that triggered a 1980 firefighters’ strike.

And Chico is promising to work with Local 2 to find a “rational, affordable solution” to a crisis that has left the firefighters with the least-funded of the city’s pension funds and the first that would run out of money.

“We feel confident that Gery will maintain current staffing levels, that Gery will maintain a direct dialogue with union representatives, that Gery will seek to resolve contracts in a timely manner and that he will review the Chicago Fire Department’s promotional testing process to make it more transparent and more fair,” said Local 2 president Tom Ryan.

Chicago firefighters have had a tumultuous relationship with Mayor Richard M. Daley and waited 3 1/2 years for their latest contract before getting $98 million in back pay bankrolled by a short-term borrowing.

“They’re giving us an interest-free loan,” Chico said. “These are the people who run into burning buildings. We can do better,” Chico said, promising “fair and fast collective bargaining agreements” and prompt posting of test results from promotional exams.

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