News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

Emanuel’s violence-prevention speech proved talk is cheap

The money the mayor pledged to combat violence is nothing compared to the dollars he’s set aside for the DePaul/Marriott deal.



By chance, word broke of the latest development in the DePaul basketball arena project at about the same time Mayor Rahm Emanuel was promoting his big speech on crime and policing in Chicago.

In that speech, delivered September 22, the mayor declared that "gun violence is unacceptable" and ending this "string of tragedies is our top priority."

Two statements that should be irrefutable.

He vowed to muster all the resources he could in the effort, including hiring up to 1,000 police officers, even if he still hasn't figured out how he'll pay for them. "Adopting change is hard," the mayor said. "It is especially hard when the change is significant."

In contrast, the DePaul deal is the one where the mayor's building a B-ball arena and a Marriott hotel in a gentrifying corner of the South Loop, using hundreds of millions of public dollars that might otherwise be waged in his all-important war against crime and poverty.

So in short, there are hundreds of millions of dollars available to pay for the hotel and basketball arena. But only an IOU for his self-proclaimed top priority.

It once again proves that when it comes to our mayor, it's always better to watch what he does as opposed to what he says.

This speech was one of those mayoral public-relations extravaganzas, breathlessly promoted as though Emanuel had earthshaking news that would alter our view of humanity.

In his speech, the mayor promised "to be frank" as he discussed the long-standing tensions between police and residents.

"Fighting crime requires a partnership between the police and the community, and we all know that partnership has been tested in Chicago," the mayor declared. "The shooting of Laquan McDonald brought it to the breaking point."

Technically, that's not exactly true, Mr. Mayor. McDonald was shot on October 20, 2014. The breaking point occurred more than a year later, when Cook County judge Franklin Valderrama ordered you to release a video of the shooting. That's when the public saw that the official version of the shooting didn't match what they saw with their own eyes.

So much for being frank.

Also in his speech, the mayor promised to "build more opportunity in the neighborhoods where people live" because "the best anticrime program is a job."

In particular, he cited his Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a program in which the city charges developers a shekel or two for their lucrative downtown development deals. The city then uses the proceeds to fund projects in low-income neighborhoods like Englewood, Roseland, and Austin.

"By the beginning of next year, we will have nearly $8 million in that fund," the mayor said.

Now let's talk about the DePaul/Marriott project.

You may not know much about it, because the mayor didn't make a point of blasting out those details in a televised speech.

Instead, he gaveled home TIF funding for the project in a City Council voice vote that most aldermen—let alone the taxpaying public—didn't even know had occurred.

In terms of public dollars, the DePaul/Marriott deal has received—well, it's going to take a little time to tally up all the millions it will get.

There's the $513 million in hotel/motel taxes. And there's the $55 million in property taxes from the tax increment financing program. (That money might otherwise help pay school bills and avoid a teachers' strike.)

So this one little corner in the gentrifying South Loop gets about $568 million in public money. And the city's poor, high-crime communities like Englewood and Roseland get to share $8 million.

The mayor wasn't kidding when he said change is hard. But apparently, some things—like our reverse-Robin Hood economic development programs—are too hard to change. Right, Mr. Mayor?

Actually, the public's total contribution for the DePaul/Marriott deal will be even higher than $568 million when all's said and done.

As part of the project, McPier, the city-state entity that runs McCormick Place, now owns the land on which the arena and hotel will be built. That means that land won't yield property taxes. Instead, taxpayers throughout the city will pay more to compensate for the tax dollars we won't be getting from this prime South Loop property.

If the mayor had just left that land to the free market, it probably would've been developed without a handout. And whoever owned it would be paying property taxes.

So we're spending public money to lose public money. And you wonder why the mayor gaveled home that deal without debate, as opposed to talking about it in a televised speech.

That brings me to the latest development in the DePaul deal.

DePaul University announced that it expects to receive up to $34 million for selling off the naming rights to the arena.

"One of the main focuses for us is for it to be a Chicago name, an iconic Chicago name," said Jean Lenti Ponsetto, DePaul's athletic director, in the September 18 issue of DePaul's student paper, the DePaulia.

Emanuel agreed to give DePaul the naming rights because the university contributed about $82 million to build the arena (which will also be used as an event center for McCormick Place).

So let's think about this: DePaul's putting $82 million into this project. And the public's putting in $568 million—and counting.

You don't have to be a DePaul University math professor to know that $568 million—and counting—is more than $82 million.

If anyone should get to make money off of the naming rights, it's the taxpayers.

The $34 million the school hopes to get for those naming rights would certainly help pay for the police Emanuel's finally getting around to hiring.  v

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