by Ben Joravsky
OK, so the dirty deed didn't really happen in the dead of the night. It was sometime in the afternoon of the July 24 City Council meeting.
I got dead of the night on my mind 'cause you have to harken back to Mayor Daley's predawn raid on Meigs Field to find a more brazen assault on the concept of democracy. No discussion. No debate. No analysis. Just do what the mayor says.
Actually, in some ways Daley's Meigs Field raid was less troublesome than last week's looting. At least Mayor Daley was planning to turn private land into public space.
In this case, Mayor Emanuel's throwing away millions of public-school dollars—might as well just burn the loot.
The vote went down a little like this . . .
Alderman Ray Suarez—chairman of the council's housing committee—announced that he had a committee report ready to be approved.
One of the items in the report was authorization to buy land for the DePaul basketball arena/hotel—though Suarez didn't mention that.
Mayor Emanuel said, any objections?
And before any alderman could think—much less talk—down went the mayoral gavel and out the window flew at least $55 million of your property tax dollars taken from the good old TIF slush fund.
The one the mayor doesn't want you to talk about.
"It was outrageous," said Alderman Robert Fioretti, who wants everyone to know that he was very much against the expenditure, even if he's counted as a yes vote. "We didn't get a chance to vote on it—or even debate it."
Specifically, the council authorized the mayor to use the city's power of eminent domain to force property owners in the South Loop—around the area of Michigan and 22nd—to sell their property. Whether they want to or not.
Thanks to the legislation, the city now has "quick take" powers. That means if the property owners reject the city's offer, the city can go to court before a judge, who can immediately award the title of the property to the city. At which point the city will turn the land over to the state, which will start building the hotel and the basketball arena. In addition to the acquisition costs, the project will cost taxpayers well over $100 million—to come out of hotel taxes—by the time the cost overruns are over.
That's more public money that might otherwise help the schools.
And all the time the current owners of the land will be in court haggling with the city over a sales price. I'm telling you, the mayors in the People's Republic of China could learn a thing or two from our own Mr. Emanuel.
I'm telling you—where are those Tea Party people when you really need them?
At the moment, the mayor says he's planning to spend no more than $55 million in TIF cash to buy the land. Just in case you forgot—roughly 53 percent of every TIF dollar is diverted from our dead-broke public schools.
So essentially, Mayor Emanuel and the council have said they'd rather spend at least $29 million buying land in the South Loop than spend it on the schoolchildren of Chicago.
Meanwhile, the mayor claims he had no choice but to fire more than 1,500 teachers, and can't afford to pay for toilet paper, much less art, drama, and music.
By the way, I very much doubt the price tag for the land will "only" be $55 million. This is not some deal like the one city's cooking up in Englewood, where they intimidate poor people into selling their land cheap.
No, in this case, the city's dealing with wealthy and well-connected landowners with a battery of razor-sharp lawyers.
I'll bet you lunch at Popeye's that buying this land's going to cost upwards of $100 million. And all the while the mayor will be blaming the teacher's pension fund as he makes more public-school cuts and doles out more contracts to the charters.
No wonder the aldermen wanted to sneak this one through when no one was paying attention, as though they had nothing to do with it. Apparently, it was enough to shame even them.