Mayor Emanuel makes presence felt on tax subsidy

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel rips aldermen who voted against a subsidy for Presence Health because of the Catholic health organization’s stand on reproductive rights. He said other religious-affiliated hospitals never got “a litmus test” on their projects. (Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media

Contention over a city tax subsidy for a Catholic health organization brought a scathing response from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Aldermen approved $5.55 million in tax-increment financing assistance for Presence Health, reimbursing the company for $28.8 million in citywide office improvements, including neighborhood medical facilities in underserved communities.

However, the fact that the health organization does not provide abortion or birth-control services because of its religious beliefs was among the issues that led 18 aldermen to vote against the subsidy.

After the 31-18 vote at last week’s council meeting was far closer than to his liking, Emanuel lashed out at the aldermen casting votes against the expenditure.

“This City Council and prior ones has been very clear when it comes to hospitals and helping them economically, helping them provide jobs and most importantly, helping them provide health care without a litmus test,” Emanuel said. “This chamber and chambers prior to this chamber have been really consistent when it comes to Catholic Charities delivering services to the homeless and indigent without a litmus test and the last time I checked, Catholic Charities … is associated with the Catholic Church, but nobody raised a question, ever.”

Emanuel said a redevelopment plan for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago will be coming before the council shortly and guaranteed no one will raise a question about the church’s stand on reproduction services then.

“We never raised a question on St. Anthony, Norwegian, Mercy, Swedish Covenant (hospitals),” Emanuel said of other religious-affiliated health care facilities that came before the council for approval of redevelopment projects.

He noted the first thing Presence did when it established a presence in Chicago was to create a nurse’s training facility in Humboldt Park.

When that training facility was approved, there was “not a peep, not a sound about a litmus test,” Emanuel said.

He said because of the deal the city struck with Presence, residents on the South and West sides of the city will have access to health care they do not have currently.

Presence neighborhood projects include:

  • Avondale — An 8,000-square-foot build-out of formerly vacant property at 2933 N. California Ave. to provide health services for 4,000 patients.
  • Belmont-Cragin — A 6,000-square-foot building expansion project at 2257-59 N. Cicero Ave. to provide health services to 4,000 patients.
  • Calumet Heights — A 6,200-square-foot renovation project at 9000 S. Stony Island Ave. to provide health care for 4,200 patients.
  • West Town — A 13,200-square-foot project at 2216 W. Thomas Ave. providing cancer care to 13,500 patients.


Voting against the Presence subsidy were Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), George Cardinas (12th), Toni Folkes (16th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Deborah Mell (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Michele Smith (43rd), John Arena (45th), James Cappleman (46th), Ameya Pawar (47th), Harry Osterman (48th), Joseph Moore (49th) and Deborah Silverstein (50th).

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) recused himself from the vote.

“This hospital is saying ‘We will treat you, but not the whole of you, not all of you, just certain select ones unless it follows a religious doctrine,’” Waguespack said in speaking against the city subsidy.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), a Catholic who supports a woman’s right to choose, said the issue was about more than reproductive rights.

In speaking in favor of the subsidy, he said he does not support the church’s view to restrict reproductive services “but I do support bringing cancer treatment to an underserved community. I do support relocating corporate headquarter jobs from the suburbs to Chicago. I do support an enhanced presence for clinical health care in traditionally under-served communities.”



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