Watching the U.S. Olympic Committee pass through town last week, it struck me as a shame its members don't have a say in all of Chicago's fiduciary affairs.
As has been widely reported, on March 7 the committee's vice president, Bob Ctvrtlik, brought a much needed dose of reality to Mayor Daley's proposed 2016 Olympic adventure when he made it clear that a bid on a project of this magnitude (an estimated $5 billion) could not proceed without guarantees of public money.
Within a few hours of Ctvrtlik's pronouncement, city officials were forced to back away from the mayor's no-tax-money pledge, conceding that taxpayers might be stuck with some of the bill after all.
Well, I hate to say I told you so, but like I told you, there's no way the Olympics will be built and run without public money, no matter what Mayor Daley claimed prior to his February 17 reelection. The only real issue is how much the city will have to put up in the end to pay off the loans for the thousands of units of housing, a $360 million temporary stadium in Washington Park, and the infrastructure projects needed to host the games.
For the moment, Daley and the backers guiding Chicago's bid contend that they'll raise all the money from private investors--though none have been named--and by selling air rights, luxury skyboxes, and tickets and merchandise. To illustrate the fever of support supposedly building for the games, they breathlessly announced last week that they'd already sold 2,016 "Stir the Soul" Olympic T-shirts (only 300 left on the shelves). Sales had been so brisk that they were ready to start selling Olympic hats. "The merchandising program is really an opportunity for the average Chicagoan to make a contribution," a spokesman for the booster group Chicago 2016 told Lorene Yue of Crain's Chicago Business.
How dumb do they think taxpayers are? Before these games are over, the average Chicagoan will be making a sizable contribution, and I'm not talking about merch.
Since the Olympic Committee's visit, Daley and city officials have been on the defensive, but they haven't released details on financing. They promise to do so soon, though you'd think they'd have addressed this detail months ago. The City Council's supposed to act as our fiscal watchdog on this matter, and after seeing it play its usual rubber-stamp role this week, I'm not very reassured.
As I've reported till I'm blue in the face, this administration has been notoriously sneaky when it comes to municipal finances. City officials say they've held the line on property taxes for the last three years, when in fact taxes have gone up. They say that tax increment financing districts don't increase taxes, when of course they do. They underestimate the cost and inconvenience of projects (think Brown Line reconstruction) to minimize public opposition. If the past is a model for the future, the Olympics will cost much more than the current $5 billion price tag and they'll need public financing to pay off those bills.
Ctvrtlik saw through the razzmatazz, which is why he told reporters, "We definitely want the government to have some skin in the game," adding that "we have been assured by the mayor that this is the case with the city of Chicago."
Where's the mayor going to get those funds? My bet is the city will finance a large chunk of the Olympics with property taxes taken from several TIF districts. An astute student of TIFs over at the county points out that there's a portion of rapidly developing property--along Vincennes and King between 41st and 35th--that's not currently in a TIF. The city could create one there to bring in money for the games.
Even without that parcel, there's already a long line of TIF districts running uninterrupted from Foster and Central on the northwest side to the Oak Park border on the west side, through River North and the Loop, and all the way down to 67th Street. Under the rules the city is free to move TIF money from one district to another, giving it the power to shuttle billions into the games.
Personally, I think the city should pay for the Olympics by slapping a special tax on the 324,189 voters who reelected Mayor Daley. They're the ones who allowed this madness to continue.
Berny's Boy Knows How to Pick 'Em
The first round of aldermanic elections hadn't been over for 24 hours when Jay Stone was on the phone, bragging about his predictions.
I don't blame him for gloating. He went eight for eight, correctly calling the outcomes in every seriously contested race north of the Loop: the 50th, 49th, 46th, 45th, 43rd, 32nd, 35th, and 42nd.
Jay Stone learned the tricks of the political trade from his father, 50th Ward alderman Berny Stone--who was himself forced into a runoff this time around. But politically the two Stones are far apart: the father's a machine stalwart who reveres Mayor Daley and sneers at reformers; the son's a reformer who supported Circuit Court clerk Dorothy Brown for mayor.
Now Stone's ready to make predictions for the 12 races in the April 17 aldermanic runoffs. "This is not about who I want to win but who I predict will win," he explains. "I have a theory--the Jay Stone theory of aldermanic runoffs. If the incumbent goes into the runoff with fewer votes than the challenger, the incumbent will lose. If the incumbent enters the runoff having won by only between 100 and 500 votes, it's likely the incumbent will lose. If the incumbent has more than a 1,000-vote lead in the first round, that's just too much for the challenger to overcome and it's very likely the incumbent will win. Got it?"
So if you want to make book in Vegas, here are Jay Stone's predictions for the aldermanic runoffs.
2nd Ward: Alderman Madeline Haithcock v. Bob Fioretti. "Fioretti got more votes in the first round--he's going to win."
3rd Ward: Alderman Dorothy Tillman v. Pat Dowell. "Tillman only beat Dowell by about 400 votes in the first round. Dowell's going to win."
15th Ward: Toni Foulkes v. Felicia Simmons-Stovall. "OK, this is different. There's no incumbent. So go with whoever got the most votes in the first round. Foulkes got 2,037, Simmons-Stovall 1,603--it's Foulkes."
16th Ward: Alderman Shirley Coleman v. Joann Thompson. "Thompson got more votes, Thompson will win."
18th Ward: Alderman Lona Lane v. Paul Stewart. "Lane won by almost 3,000 votes. No way Stewart's going to win."
21st Ward: Alderman Howard Brookins v. Leroy Jones. "Brookins had a 1,600-vote margin. I go with Brookins."
24th Ward: Alderman Michael Chandler v. Sharon Denise Dixon. "It was a 1,345 margin for Chandler--I go with Chandler."
32nd Ward: Alderman Ted Matlak v. Scott Waguespack. "Ted beat Scott by 608 votes. That's close to being in the challenger-can-win category. I take Scott."
35th Ward: Alderman Rey Colon v. Vilma Colom. "Rey had 3,041 votes, Vilma 2,220. That's 820 different--I think Rey's going to hold on."
43nd Ward: Alderman Vi Daley v. Michele Smith. "I gotta go with Vi Daley; she won the first round by over 1,300 votes."
49th Ward: Alderman Joe Moore v. Don Gordon. "Joe will win, since he won the first round by 1,500 or so."
50th Ward: Alderman Berny Stone v. Naisy Dolar. "My dad won by over 2,000 votes. They're not going to beat my dad. You can book it."
For more on politics, see our blog Clout City at chicagoreader.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Paul Dolan.