That’s the one where the mayor gave a company called Interstate JCDecaux the right to operate 34 digital billboards in Chicago for the next 20 years.
In exchange, we, the lucky public, get to look at those billboards as we drive around town. The city will also receive $155 million from Interstate JCDecaux, which Mayor Rahm is free to waste as he wants.
Ain't democracy grand?
I know about this deal because I've been reading the coverage by my colleague Mick Dumke, who deserves a raise for overcoming the usual FOIA roadblocks the mayor's flacks threw at him. Here a couple of Mick’s billboard stories.
On December 12, City Council passed the deal at a meeting in which the aldermen spent much of their time reading talking points, prepared by the mayor's aides, in which they swore up and down that this deal is different than the parking meter contract.
In that deal, the council leased a parking-meter system worth as much as $10 billion for about $1 billion. After which the aldermen—reading talking points prepared by Mayor Daley's aides—hailed it as a great deal for all of humanity.
Proving, if nothing else, that the aldermen can read any talking point no matter who the mayor is.
Apparently, the aldermen have changed their tune on the parking meter deal in large part because the public went berserk when the new parking meter owners jacked up parking rates.
It's perhaps the only time in the last 30 years that the happy people of Chicago got upset about anything. The lesson the aldermen learned from that deal is that they can do anything so long as it doesn't increase parking costs.
According to Alderman Patrick O’Connor, the mayor’s floor leader, the billboard deal's different than the parking meter deal because "thousands" of people responded to the mayor's request for a proposal.
As much as I hate to disagree with Alderman O’Connor, that's not exactly true.
Yes, many people responded to the city's request for general ideas about new ways to sell naming rights and sponsorships.
Of those many responses, five companies pitched ideas about operating digital billboards.
Those five companies were—well, we don't know who they were. In his FOIA requests, Mick asked the city for their names. But Emanuel's aides wouldn't reveal them on the grounds that they didn't want to release procurement documents about the deal until it had been consummated.
Thus, raising the obvious question: how do we know we want to consummate this deal if we know nearly nothing about it?
After reviewing the five proposals that he won't let the public see, the mayor eliminated three respondents. The competition came down to Interstate Outdoor Advertising and a company whose name we don't know. Because, as I told you, the mayor wouldn't tell us.
At some point, JCDecaux, one of the companies that had originally been turned down, teamed up with Interstate to form Interstate JCDecaux. That newly formed joint venture won the deal over its mystery competitor.
In short, the digital billboard deal boils down to this. We know we have something of value—in this case, digital billboard space. But we don't know how valuable it is. So we're going to have to take the mayor's word that we got a good price for selling it.
Just like with the parking meters.
Knowing next to nothing about the billboard deal did not, of course, stop our aldermen from approving it.
The final vote in favor was 43 to 6. Let's take a moment to thank the no voters: Aldermen John Arena, Pat Dowell, Robert Fioretti, Ameya Pawar, Nick Sposato, and Scott Waguespack.
As for the all-important issue as to which alderman was the biggest mayoral suck-up in the council debate, it came down to Walter Burnett versus Danny Solis.
Burnett scored major points by comparing the deal to the miracle of Hanukkah: "And just like the miracle that kept the oil burning, we have to keep the oil burning here in the city of Chicago."
But it was Solis who won the cake for saying,"Oh, Mr. Mayor, I love you more today than yesterday, but, not as much as tomorrow."
Or something like that.
In conclusion, I'd like to join Alderman Burnett in wishing everyone the happiest of Hanukkahs. As a present, Mayor Rahm and the council are giving you more of the same. Rest assured, you'll get it again next year.