- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
- What’s the fun of cleaning up the last guy’s messes if you can’t make some of your own?
On Wednesday the City Council overwhelming voted to borrow $1.1 billion to pay the debt on some of Mayor Daley’s really bad deals, including his decision to buy Michael Reese Hospital.
Afterward Mayor Rahm announced he was gearing up to waste even money on some of his own bad deals.
Because what’s the fun of being mayor if you can’t waste a few hundred million here or there?
Well, he didn’t quite put it that way.
That’s my take on Mayor E.’s plan to revive Mayor Daley’s dream of building an express train to O’Hare airport, even though there’s no tracks on which it can run and nobody around town really wants or needs it ’cause we already have a train that runs from the Loop to O’Hare.
Mayor Daley came up with the express-train idea after he saw something like it on a trip to Paris—or maybe it was China—and declared: I want that for Chicago and I want it now!
Apparently no aide, alderman, or commissioner had the guts to tell the mayor: Uh, boss, you might want to hold off on this baby till we build a track.
That’s how the City Council and the CTA wound up spending $250 million to build an underground station in the Loop that remains unused because—one more time—the express train has no tracks!
Ah, the Daley years.
I recall an interview with a Daley aide who assured me the tracks would eventually be built by a consortium of private investors—not unlike the ones who bought the parking meters—in exchange for getting the right to run the express service.
So it wouldn’t cost the public a dime.
By the way, that’s exactly what Mayor Daley and his aides said back in 2008, when they announced they were borrowing tens of millions to buy the Michael Reese Hospital site so it could be used for the Olympics.
They said it wouldn’t cost us a dime to buy Reese because tons of developers would be heatedly competing to buy it for top dollar, even if we didn’t get the Olympics.
Allow me just to replay just a few of the more enlightened quotes from the council debate on the Michael Reese acquisition . . .
Alderman Fioretti: It’s a good deal “even if we don’t get the Olympics.”
Alderman Dowell: “A great real estate deal.”
Alderman Shiller: “There are no scenarios that I can imagine where we can lose on it.”
Alderman Stone: We couldn’t have gotten a “better deal with a gun.”
This is a good time to remind you that among the reasons the city’s borrowing that $1.1 billion is to pay a $35 million installment on Michael Reese.
Which remains very much undeveloped—as the city can’t find anyone willing to buy it.
So we’re the proud owners of an unused underground station in the Loop and a huge swath of undeveloped land in the South Loop.
Just in case any of you are wondering why we’re too broke to clean our schools.
Speaking of wonderful deals . . .
Also part of that $1.1 billion package, the city’s borrowing $62 million “tied to Daley’s decison to authorize a parking garage at the Aqua building even though the deal that privatized downtown parking garages included a do-not-compete clause,” as Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times put it.
I realize that’s a mouthful, people.
I think that part of the reason our mayors feel free to waste your money on losing transactions is that they’re confident you’re too stupid to understand these deals.
But, just in case a few of you are still with me . . .
In 2006, Mayor Daley sold off four Michigan Avenue parking garages to raise money to pay off the money he borrowed to build Millennium Park.
At the time the mayor called it “an outstanding deal for the taxpayers of the city of Chicago.”
As part of the sales agreement, the mayor agreed not to allow any competing parking garages to operate in the area.
But in 2009 Daley’s administration allowed developers of Aqua—a Loop high-rise—to run their own parking garage just north of Millennium Park.
So it’s like Daley didn’t realize the no-compete stipulation existed. Or he didn’t care. Or both.
In any event, the parking garages owners sued, we lost, and now we’re borrowing money to pay the judgment. If you can stomach reading more about it, check out this story by Dan Mihalopoulos.
The official watchdogs on all these deals are the 50 aldermen of our City Council.
The good news is that three of them voted against the $1.1 billion loan on the grounds that without any commitment of new revenue we’re just guaranteeing we remain permanently indebted to the banks.
I know what you’re thinking—three out of 50 is pretty pathetic.
But think of it this way . . .
Back in 2005, the council unanimously voted to spend hundreds of millions to build an underground station for a trackless express train service.
So three dissenters is progress, folks.
For the record, the three no votes were cast by Aldermen Scott Waguespack, John Arena, and the kid, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, newly elected from the 35th Ward.
At the tender age of 26, Ramirez-Rosa’s showing more sense than most of his colleagues put together.