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In the aftermath of today's City Council vote, it's pretty obvious that Chicago's bid for the Olympic games isn't going over very big in black wards on the south side.
Five black south-side aldermen, including three in election runoffs, voted against the Olympics financing package, which backs the games with at least $500 million in public dollars and allows the city to sell off assets to finance construction costs. That may not sound like much, given that 45 other aldermen, including 14 other African-Americans, voted for the deal. But you have to understand the context to see what it really means.
Getting the Olympic Committee to give the U.S. bid to Chicago requires the appearance of rock-solid local support for having the games here. If there's a whiff of opposition, much less doubt about the city's ability to finance the event, the committee will almost certainly award the games to LA, which already has the advantage of having the required infrastructure and facilities in place.
For months Mayor Daley defused potential opposition by steadfastly insisting that the games would cost not a dime in public money. Of course, on March 7, U.S. Olympic Committee vice president Bob Ctvrtlik blew the lid off of that whopper when he told reporters the city had assured him it would "have some skin in the game."
Within hours of Ctvrtlik's comments city officials were scrambling to win City Council approval of a financing plan. They began gathering aldermen in small groups to brief them on the bare basics of the proposal, talk up the jobs the games would supposedly generate, and, perhaps most important, let them know how much Daley expected their support.
In short, the city gave aldermen a choice: endorse public funding for an uncertain venture or face the wrath of the city's most powerful politician.
For white and Hispanic aldermen it was a no-brainer. They obediently fell in line. It was a different situation for black south-side aldermen, who represent areas near where much of the games would be staged. By then most of them had apparently figured that the proposed Olympic Village--a 5,000-unit complex near 24th and Lake Shore Drive--might force many longtime residents out of their homes by raising land values and property taxes in surrounding areas. Over the last few weeks several south-side aldermanic candidates--most particularly challenger Pat Dowell in the Third Ward and incumbent Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle--have been demanding that the city do a better job of including black south-siders in the planning process.
Under pressure from Dowell, incumbent Third Ward alderman Dorothy Tillman, generally a Daley loyalist, voted against today's package, as did 16th Ward alderman Shirley Coleman, who's in a tough fight against activist Joann Thompson. Twenty-first Ward alderman Howard Brookins, who's in a runoff against Leroy Jones, also voted against the plan, as did Preckwinkle and lame-duck 20th Ward alderman Arenda Troutman, who was ousted in the February 17 election. And in doing so, they destroyed the carefully cultivated illusion that the whole city--not just the north but the south side--wholeheartedly supports it.