Chicago now has a new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Right now, this is all I can really say. Just sharing some thoughts.
Police officers, firefighters voice concerns about pensions
Martin Ramirez cleans the streets and sidewalks in downtown Chicago Wednesday. Ramirez, a Streets and Sanitation worker for 23 years, says he is uneasy about his job security. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / February 23, 2011)
Leaders of several unions representing city workers weren't ready to take on Rahm Emanuel a day after he was elected mayor, despite his campaign promise to press for benefit reductions because of the city's looming budget crisis.
"I don't think anybody really knows what to expect right now," said Chicago firefighters union president Tom Ryan, who left his congratulations to Emanuel in a voice mail Wednesday. "It's definitely going to be an adjustment period."
Both the firefighters and police unions backed the candidacy of second-place finisher Gery Chico. Ryan said he plans to "proceed with caution" as Emanuel prepares to take office in May, while police union president Mark Donahue promised to work with the new mayor "as diligently as possible."
Donahue said officers are worried they might have to pay more into the pension fund.
"The most important aspect is the integrity of the fund," he said. "We'll do all we can to maintain the integrity of the fund and benefits the officers have earned."
Ryan and other union leaders said Chicago's pension shortfall is the biggest issue facing city employees. Growing pension obligations account for about half of the $1 billion-plus budget hole expected next year.
Emanuel was the only major mayoral candidate who did not rule out cutting pension benefits for existing employees.
Michael Shields, a police pension board member who is also running for union president, said retired officers are concerned their pensions could be "diminished or impaired."
"What I don't like is that retirees are calling and saying, 'Mike, what's going to happen to my fixed income here?'" Shields said.
"We knew when we took this job we weren't going to be rich," one police officer said. "But don't make us poor."