Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel gives a thumbs up to riders at the official opening of the new CTA Morgan Station. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune / May 24, 2012)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel stuck with the tough talk on Chicago’s parking meter deal today, pledging to fight a new bill for $22 million the meter leasing company recently sent the city for lost revenue.

Emanuel has positioned himself as a staunch opponent of the wildly unpopular 75-year, $1.15 billion lease of Chicago street parking spaces that his predecessor engineered in late 2008.

The tab from Chicago Parking Meters is now nearly $50 million.

While an arbitrator is being asked to decide some of that amount, the periodic invoices submitted offer Emanuel an opportunity to remind Chicagoans he opposes the payments.

The latest is a $22 million tab the company says the city owes for free parking last year for vehicles that displayed disabled placards or license plates.

On Thursday, Emanuel told reporters that the city has taken steps to stop drivers from illegally displaying the placards.

The Chicago Police Department’s traffic unit has conducted stings this year.

“We have cracked down on people that are abusing the disabled placards. We have been aggressive on that,” he said.

“We have real questions as it relates to the documentation that substantiates the claims that they think we owe them,” he added.

As Emanuel did when Chicago Parking Meters presented earlier bills, the mayor pointed out he has publicly criticized the parking deal since he campaigned for mayor. And without naming then-Mayor Richard Daley, Emanuel repeated his mantra that “there’s a new day” at City Hall relating to the lease.

“Just because you sent the bill, and just because in the past it was paid with no questions asked, doesn’t mean going forward that’s how we’re going to operate,” he said during a news conference at the recently opened Morgan Street CTA train station.

Emanuel also praised outgoing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald Thursday for “setting a bar,” noting that a lot of attention has been paid to Fitzgerald’s successful public corruption prosecutions.

But the mayor said he hopes the person who next fills the seat will fight against Chicago’s problems with guns and gangs.

“A U.S. attorney that’s a partner with the state’s attorney and the Chicago Police Department, helping us fight gangs, helping us fight guns and gun trafficking, is also an essential thing on a going forward basis as we look,” he said. “Not that Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney and his office haven’t, but we need a U.S. attorney and an office that’s a full partner in fighting the gangs and guns that are on our streets.”

And Emanuel took note of Wednesday’s Illinois House vote in favor of a major gambling expansion that includes a Chicago casino the mayor supports.

The mayor said he hopes state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn can work out their remaining conflicts so the bill can become law. Quinn blocked a similar plan that passed the House and the Senate last year.

“I think we should work that out so we can move forward as a city, like other cities are around the country, using the revenue from a casino to create jobs,” he said.

jebyrne@tribune.com
Twitter @_johnbyrne