Just Say No

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There was an Olympic rally on the south side this morning, but it wasn't like the rallies staged by Mayor Daley.

Instead of bringing in out-of-town celebrities to join the mayor's chorus -- Olympics good, Olympics good -- the newly formed coalition Communities for an Equitable Olympics raised the possibility that maybe, just maybe, staging the games in 2016 wouldn't be such a hot idea for Chicagoans.

It was a glorious sunshiny morning, and many of the leading south-side community organizations were there: the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Centers for New Horizons, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Facing a horde of reporters and camera crews, they stood on the steps of Michael Reese Hospital, at 2929 S. Ellis, which the city -- as busted as it is -- is preparing to replace with a 37-acre development that could serve as the Olympic Village.

Think about this for a moment. The city's $400 million in the red, we're in the midst of a crisis in low-income health care, and the condo market's soft. But the mayor's gearing up to sink $85 million into a 7,500-unit condominium complex that will take the place of a hospital.

For the moment the activists are playing things diplomatically. "We're not here to hurt the Olympic bid," said Denise Dixon, a member of Action Now. "We're here to enhance it."

The coalition wants to force the city to sign a "legally enforceable benefits agreement" that would, among other things, guarantee that as much as 20 percent of the units in the Olympic Village development would be affordable for working-class and poor people who currently live in the area.

At the risk of sounding like the jaded old coot that I am, I don't know why they would trust any promise that the city makes when it comes to affordable housing. As best I can tell the whole point of the Olympics -- other than putting an international spotlight on the mayor -- is to move the poor people out of the south side.

I can only hope that if the city turns down the residents' demands they'll move to plan B: opposition. I say the sooner they get there the better. Until Mayor Daley can show how he would pay for the games -- other than with property tax dollars -- we shouldn't be spending millions to try to have them, 'cause we can't afford them.

When I think about it, there should have been people from the north, northwest, southwest and west sides at today's rally as well. After all, tax dollars are coming out of their pockets too.  

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