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Chico calls Emanuel calls to businesses ‘intimidation’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Is it “intimidation” or “education” when mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel’s campaign calls owners of gyms preparing to host Gery Chico events to warn them that Chico has his facts wrong about Emanuel’s tax policy?

In the ongoing argument over what “luxury” services would be taxed under Emanuel’s sales tax proposal, Chico held a news conference Monday to complain the tax would put neighborhood gyms out of business.

But the first neighborhood gym that Chico tried to hold his news conference at cancelled at the last minute after getting a call from the Emanuel campaign, Chico said.

“It was a supporter and not the campaign itself,” Emanuel spokesman Ben Labolt later clarified.

Chico’s campaign scrambled to line up the second gym, in West Town. Then the Emanuel campaign called that gym. But owner Sharone Aharon told the caller he planned to let Chico do his news conference there anyway.

Chico says that Emanuel’s new sales tax would include neighborhood gyms such as Well Fit in West Town.

LaBolt said it would not — it would only cover “luxury” gyms such as the Saddle and Cycle Club or the East Bank Club, where Emanuel works out.

The Emanuel campaign called Aharon just before the news conference to tell him that, Labolt said.

“We will communicate with business owners — Gery Chico is misleading them and telling them it would apply to them,” Labolt said.

Chico and Aharon saw that as intimidation.

Did they warn Aharon not to host the news conference?

“Not in so many words,” Aharon said, adding, “I understand intimidation.”

Chico said as he stood amid the weight-lifting machines, “This gym owner was called, told by the Emanual campaign. ‘I don’t know about what you’re doing here.’ This is not the city we want to live in. That’s wrong. This is America. This is about democracy. There better be no intimidation. That’s wrong.”

Emanuel’s campaign has stepped up its offense in the last few days, sending a limousine to park outside Chico’s Friday news conference at a Hyde Park barber shop, then sending a truck with a boom box and a giant video mocking Chico to a Chico weekend event. Eight protestors supporting Emanuel materialized with signs outside the second gym Monday.

Chico smiled as he dismissed the protestors.

“I don’t care about a car or protestors,” Chico said. “I am more concerned about the tactics used against these store owners, gym owners, to try to make them fearful about taking a position. Don’t try to go through the back door and intimidate them.”

Labolt said it was “obviously a gross mischaracterization” to call the Emanuel campaign’s attempt to educate the business owners “intimidation.”

Chico was asked why he is holding events at businesses Emanuel has specifically said will not be covered by his sales tax proposal.

Chico said he does not believe Emanuel’s math.

Emanuel said he can make up the $45 million lost to the city by dropping the city sales tax from 1.25 percent to 1 percent by expanding the sales tax to strictly “luxury” items such as charter jet flights, limousine rides, pet grooming and elective surgery such as Botox injections.

Emanuel’s plan would save the average working-class family $200 a year, Labolt said.

But Chico said Emanuel would have to include some non-luxury items to make it all add up.

“When you make up tax policy on the back of an envelope, on the fly, this is what happens,” Chico said. “Remember when this happened: This happened the day I received the FOP endorsement, and it was designed to obfuscate the endorsement. This is a rush job.”

Chico said Emanuel has been adjusting what items will and will not be covered since he made the tax swap proposal. Emanuel has admitted he will have to negotiate with state legislators what services will and will not be covered.

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