Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday backed off a plan to increase fines for resisting arrest, his latest retreat in the face of complaints from aldermen and protesters that he is trying to muzzle free speech during the May summits of world leaders.
Satisfied with those changes, aldermen prepared for a full City Council vote Wednesday on Emanuel's plans to tighten other protest rules. They also gave committee approval to his request for unfettered spending authority for the overlapping G-8and NATO summits.
But Emanuel, who lobbied to bring the meetings to Chicago, sought to distance himself from questions about the cost of the event, which his lead organizer has estimated at $40 million to $65 million. He declined to endorse the figure and would only repeat his assertion that Chicago residents won't have to pick up the tab.
"The U.S. government is hosting world leaders in the city of Chicago. … There will be a contribution by the federal government, a contribution by private sources to do it," Emanuel said.
"We haven't had a convention like this and that's a great opportunity for city taxpayers. We'll make sure the taxpayers don't take on the bill."
The mayor's administration has referred most questions about the summits to the planners at World Business Chicago, the economic development organization that Emanuel chairs. The group, which is coordinating with the federal government and raising private donations to defray the summit costs, has disclosed little about the plans.
The result has been a slow trickle of details about the approaching gatherings.
On Tuesday, for instance, the Chicago Police Department provided the first glimpse at the anticipated size of the crowds it will face in May — anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 protesters. But hours after Deb Kirby, the Police Department's chief of international relations, offered the estimate to aldermen, the department sought to play down the numbers, saying it was too early to be sure.
While Emanuel also is seeking authority to use police officers from outside Illinois to deal with the summits, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told aldermen Tuesday that he wants the summits "to be policed solely by the Chicago Police Department."
Emanuel's plans to deal with the protesters has faced a wave of criticism from aldermen concerned that the new rules would only antagonize protesters.
The mayor had proposed doubling the maximum fine for resisting arrest to $1,000. McCarthy offered a substitute ordinance at a City Council hearing Tuesday that keeps the fine for resisting or obstructing a police officer at a range of $25 to $500.
"You listen to people and you hear them, that doesn't mean you don't make alterations," Emanuel said. "I haven't changed the objective."
The goal, Emanuel said, is to host world leaders, give people the ability to express their views and enforce the law.
Emanuel is seeking aldermanic approval on Wednesday for other proposed restrictions that include opening public parks and beaches at 6 a.m., two hours later than currently allowed. Loud noise, amplified sound and music at parades would be allowed only between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Emanuel had already agreed to reduce fines or otherwise revise proposed changes to the city's rules on public demonstrations. Protest and civil liberties groups expressed concern that the changes — which would cover all future public demonstrations — were too severe.
The revisions make the measures more palatable to aldermen, said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th.
"It would have been a lot tougher, a lot uglier, and not really necessary," Moore said. "Why create the argument that you are trying to chill First Amendment protection? If you engage in a cost benefit, the political cost wasn't worth the benefit."
Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, said he still finds some aspects of the ordinances troubling, particularly a vague provision that requires organizers to describe any sound amplification equipment, banners and signs used during a parade.
"Our ordinance doesn't deal with the content of signs, but they have to show how many people are going to be carrying signs, what types of signs," Fioretti said. "Secondly, it gives unfettered discretion to the commissioner to promulgate rules and regulations governing public assembly and parades here."
While some aldermen and city staffers tried to reassure objectors that the language in the ordinance was benign, several people said they saw darker possibilities.
Pat Hunt, a member of a group opposing Chicago's hosting of the summits, said the request opens the door to police harassment if officers find discrepancies between descriptions in a permit application and the signs actually brought to the demonstration.
Some activists pointed to a recent appellate court ruling in lawsuits over mass arrests at a 2003 Iraq War demonstration. Justice Richard Posner's ruling criticized Chicago police for making bad decisions about arresting people during the protests, partly because of confusing city ordinances governing such events.
"It's not a question of what the intention is, but what the enforcement is going to be," Hunt said.
Tribune reporters Jeff Coen and Hal Dardick contributed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun