[Photo by Spirit of America/Shutterstock]

In 2013, privatization of city services, mandatory prison time for gun possession and a lot of other issues stirred public debate in Chicago and Illinois. As we move into 2014, these issues are far from settled.

Will Chicago officials finally cut off the banks that own thousands of unregistered vacant properties?

It’s been five years since the foreclosure crisis ripped through Chicago neighborhoods and city officials are still trying to get a handle on the glut of two-flats, single family and courtyard buildings that sit vacant. Englewood community activist Michael Tidmore gave us a tour of empty structures that line the route neighborhood children walk to school each day:

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Lenders were quick to evict people but slow to secure the structures. The vacant buildings have dragged down property values and attracted crime.

Yet, the city continues to do business with the banks that own them. Will the city cut them off? Or at least pose the threat?


Will action beat rhetoric on immigration reform?

Some politicians and immigration activists said 2013 was the year for immigration reform–until a bill that passed the U.S. Senate ended up stalling in the House.

Activists have rallied, prayed, gone on hunger strikes and even chained themselves to buses to get their message across: undocumented people need a path to citizenship. Undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, caught a break on that front in 2013.

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But when it comes to the parents, grandparents and extended family of undocumented youth, nothing has worked. Deportations in 2013 topped 400,000. Many deportees were dumped in dangerous cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Will the Senate bill, which passed in June, come back to life in 2014? Or will it be kicked down the road–again?


Will the Illinois General Assembly adopt mandatory prison time for gun possession?

A proposal to require hard time for illegal gun possession created quite a stir in the Illinois statehouse in 2013. Anti-violence activists and the National Rifle Association formed an unusual alliance as they successfully lobbied together in opposition to the bill, which generated a spirited conversation on the Barbershop Show:

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What initially killed the measure–which was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his police superintendent and the Cook County prosecutor’s office–during the last go-round was the $1 billion price tag. That’s how much it would cost to house thousands more inmates over the next decade. But the proposal may not be dead yet.

Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from 21st District and the chief sponsor of the proposal, introduced fives bill in December, which could free up cell space for gun-toters. We’ll be following closely when lawmakers return to Springfield in January to see whether he succeeds in resurrecting the bill.


Will low-wage workers get a raise?

President Obama supports it. So does Gov. Pat Quinn. But will voters get behind a referendum that calls for raising the minimum wage?

On March 15, a question will be on the ballot asking whether city voters support hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It would only apply to employees who work at a company that clears at least $50 million a year in profits.

Public opinion appears to be swinging in the favor of low-wage workers. But will the Chicago City Council or General Assembly champion raising minimum pay beyond $8.25 an hour? We’ll have to see whether public pressure makes a difference


Will aldermen, Mayor Emanuel continue to hawk public assets in secrecy?

Ventra, charter schools, parking meters, the Skyway … The public is still smarting from each of these privatization schemes that were rushed through the city council with little scrutiny. Yet, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and some alderman are showing little remorse.

The public’s assets are still on the block, and a proposal that would require some simple due diligence (a cost-effectiveness study, mandatory public hearings, proof of a competitive bidding process, to name a few) before selling them is buried in the Committee on Rules and Ethics, called by some as the place “where good legislation goes to die.”

Will the Privatization, Transparency and Accountability Ordinance at least get a vote this year? Or will the mayor and alderman continue to hawk the city’s assets behind closed doors?

is a staff reporter at The Chicago Reporter.