Emanuel says little on City Council push to let audience say nothing
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com February 16, 2012 2:50PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel. File photo. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: March 18, 2012 8:16AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried Thursday to walk a political tightrope on rules changes proposed by four powerful aldermen aimed at silencing the audience at City Council meetings — rule changes the American Civil Liberties Union dubbed “very troubling.”
Aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th), Ray Suarez (31st), Richard Mell (33rd) and Carrie Austin (34th) want to forbid “cheering, yelling, foot stomping, whistling, booing or jeering” and threatened to clear the chamber if such public displays persist.
They also want to prohibit “signs, placards, banners or posters” in the Council chambers “except those with prior authorization from the president officer or chair.” That means Emanuel or president pro tem Michelle Harris (8th).
Protesters have already accused Emanuel of trying to force them to “sit down and shut up” with the watered down security measures he has put in place for the May 19-21 NATO and G-8 summits at McCormick Place.
Is the mayor willing to risk alienating them again — by muzzling the audience at City Council meetings?
“My first premise is people have a First Amendment right, as we’ve shown all the time,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference.
“There’s a way to do First Amendment and protect that. People have a right to have their voices heard. Also, we have business to conduct, and we’ll balance those two so people have the First Amendment right.”
American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Ed Yohnka accused the four aldermen of “overreacting” — by threatening to clear the entire chamber because of the “disruptive behavior” of one person or a few.
“People go to those meetings to monitor the activity of their elected officials. The notion that they would lose that ability through no fault of their own is very troubling,” Yohnka said.
As for requiring signs to pass muster with the mayor, he said, “It would be tough to defend the right to have a sign that blocks the view of everybody else. But, someone sitting with a small sign in their lap? How is that tangibly different from wearing a T-shirt?”
Mell is the alderman who notoriously stood on his desk and shouted during the marathon City Council meeting that culminated in the election of Ald. Eugene Sawyer (6th) as acting mayor after the death of Harold Washington.
That prompted Yohnka to say, “We’ve seen lots of times that the Chicago City Council did not behave with the greatest amount of decorum. Why the focus on the audience?”
Burke, chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, issued a prepared statement about the controversy on Thursday.
“The proposed changes in the Rules of Order and Procedure of the City Council were introduced as a courtesy in response to a suggestion by the sergeant-at-arms and should make for a lively discussion,” Burke said.
“After a full and open vetting of the issue, it is up to the City Council to decide if this body wishes to adopt the proposal.”