by Mick Dumke
"Happy Hanukkah!" Burnett said during the City Council meeting. "And just like the miracle that kept the oil burning, we have to keep the oil burning here in the city of Chicago."
Aside from honoring the Festival of Lights, Burnett's point appeared to be that the city needs the money it will collect from turning over public space to a private billboard company for the next two to three decades. Most of the council agreed—the measure passed 43-6.
Struck by the spirit of generosity, budget committee chairman Carrie Austin offered thanks to those most responsible for bringing the $155 million agreement to fruition.
"I want to commend myself," she said. Among other things, the chairman believed the chairman deserved credit for letting aldermen ask lots of questions in a hearing last week before they had to sign off.
Mayor Emanuel was similarly moved by the goodwill generated by a 37-vote victory—so much so that he acknowledged that democratic debate has its place. "I think it was healthy," he said.
Latasha Thomas kept her celebration to herself. The 17th Ward alderman recused herself from voting because she's a lawyer with Reyes Kurson, a firm that does lobbying for JCDecaux, one of the billboard operations that teamed up to win the contract. Interstate JCDecaux, as the winning partnership is known, could make hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal.
Of course, there were opponents—grinches, some would say: aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th), John Arena (45th), and Ameya Pawar (47th). Several worried about the impact of billboards on their neighborhoods. Others groused about the lack of an independent financial review of the deal's financial details.
But Richard Mell, alderman of the 33rd Ward since sometime around the first Christmas, said billboard executives had privately assured him this was a boon for the city. He could only wish for more privatization and corporate sponsorship deals in the seasons to come.
"Hopefully there's going to be more coming down the line," he said. "This is just the beginning of the future of the city of Chicago."