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Emanuel via Facebook: Recycling should be expanded citywide

KevHauswirth director social medifor Mayor's office checks Facebook updates as Mayor Rahm Emanuel participates town hall meeting webcast Facebook from

Kevin Hauswirth, director of social media for the Mayor's office, checks Facebook updates as Mayor Rahm Emanuel participates in a town hall meeting, webcast on Facebook from the WYCC studios on the Kennedy-King College campus, 6301 S. Halsted, Thursday, June 30, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 1, 2011 2:10AM

Chicago should either offer suburban-style, curbside recycling citywide or not at all, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday, calling the current blue cart program confined to one-third of the city an environmental “oxymoron.”

During an hour-long “townhall meeting’’ broadcast via a live video feed posted on Facebook, the mayor also disclosed plans to make Chicago’s “second lakefront” — the Chicago River — the city’s “next recreational frontier.”

The mayor refused to reveal the details of the river initiative he will unveil in the coming weeks.

He would only say it involves “a major investment in making the riverfront, which runs through all our neighborhoods, [have] the recreational frontier capacity, rather than the afterthought it has been. … We have a beautiful lake. Parks, beaches running paths. We have not thought of … the river that way, except for in little bites.”

Earlier this week, Emanuel held a telephone townhall meeting that featured mostly softball questions. Thursday’s event — filmed at Kennedy-King College — was just the opposite.

While there wasn’t a live audience at the event, there were pointed questions submitted via Facebook about the mayor’s threat to lay off 625 employees if unions don’t agree to work-rule changes, the police bodyguards still assigned to Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and about the Civic Federation’s proposal to cut the City Council in half.

Emanuel, who once floated a similar idea about the council, said, “Before you get into fighting about the size of the City Council — it’s not the size of it. It’s what it’s doing that is important to me. That’s where I’m focused. I understand the desire to shrink it. I get the sentiment. But the first priority test is not about the size. It’s about the scope and the focus. As long as it’s focused on what makes the city better, then it’s doing it’s job.”

The recycling controversy was resurrected by a woman who demanded to know why the South Side still doesn’t have blue cart recycling.

Emanuel said he has wondered the same thing — and plans to correct that inequity.

“As a city that’s known for the most LEED-certified buildings, green roofs, it is an oxymoron, given our environmental standards that we do not have a comprehensive recycling plan,” he said.

“When you are as well-known as we are in the environmental, energy-saving space, we can’t have this kind of weird thing [where] half the city has recycling and the other half doesn’t. Either we do it or we don’t and, if we do it, we should do it right. We’ve been meeting on that and talking about ways to do it.”

Last summer, aldermen from across the city demanded to know why curbside recycling has come to only one-third of Chicago households.

A few weeks later, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that at least 22,000 blue recycling carts — with a pricetag of $1 million — were stashed away in a Far South Side warehouse because City Hall bought them to make the citywide switch, but ran out of money one-third of the way through.

That leaves still 359,000 households in the lurch. Their only recourse is to bring their recyclables to drop-off boxes, an inconvenience many homeowners are not prepared to endure.

Last month, an independent arbitrator ruled that Emanuel is free to privatize household recycling, but doing so would “stifle any realistic chance” to forge the partnership with organized labor needed to confront Chicago’s $1.2 billion-a-year structural deficit.

During Thursday’s Facebook townhall, billed as a first for a big-city mayor, Emanuel also fleshed out his plan to create an Uptown Music District akin to the downtown theater district and talked about doing the same thing on the South Side.

And the new mayor vowed to reform the process of awarding city contracts to create a more level playing field.

“If we streamline it and simplify it — rather than it being rigged for only the big companies — small and medium-sized businesses will have a chance to bid on the business,’’ he said.

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