Upon reflection, I think the most impressive thing about last week’s dog-and-pony unveiling of the O’Hare-to-Loop express service is that Mayor Rahm and Elon Musk got through their press conference with straight faces.
Especially the part where Rahm said they could build miles and miles of tunnels between O’Hare and the Loop without any public money. Or as the mayor put it in his press release:
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced selection of The Boring Company to build and operate an express service to O’Hare International Airport. The company plans to transport passengers between O’Hare and Block 37 in the Loop in approximately 12 minutes each way by utilizing electric vehicles that run through new twin underground tunnels. The project will be funded entirely by the company with no taxpayer subsidy.”
Wow! As lies go that’s a whopper.
For one thing, it overlooks the $250 million or so in public dollars that we have already spent to build the underground station at Block 37 that will service the bullet train.
Those hundreds of millions of public dollars may not count to Mayor Rahm or Musk, his new best pal, but they sure would have come in handy to the public school kids who’ve gone without art, music, theater, special education, and so forth down through the years.
For another: you know and I know and the mayor knows and everyone knows that there’s no way—no way in the world—this project will get completed without massive amounts of public dollars for everything from buying up land to, God help us all, paying for all the unforeseen catastrophes this project may bring.
And for what?
Outside of some business leaders who live or work in the Loop, nobody really wants a bullet train to O’Hare—not when we already have taxis and ride shares and the Blue Line.
The best line I heard about this fiasco came from Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, who wrote: “I’m tempted to say that, among all our pressing problems, from schools to cops to pensions to crime to infrastructure, “you just can’t get to O’Hare fast enough” qualifies for the list only if followed by “said no one ever.”
When all is said and done, that wisecrack may be the best thing to come out of this boondoggle.
It’s such a dumb idea that I can’t imagine why Rahm would bother to unveil it on the eve of an election unless he was searching for something to divert attention from the sex predator scandal that’s engulfed the Chicago Public Schools.
Or maybe it’s a thank-you for the $55,000 or so that Musk’s donated to Rahm’s campaign over the years. Sort of like the big sign Rahm let Trump put on his downtown building after the Donald donated $50,000 to his campaign.
In any event, Mayor Rahm really can’t expect the City Council to approve the bullet train deal in the next three to four months, as the mayor’s suggested.
On second thought, I realize Rahm could find a majority of aldermen to approve anything he sends their way. But it sure is a lousy way of rewarding his aldermanic rubber-stampers as they face their own reelection challenges next year.
The aldermen must choose between voting no and risking the wrath of Rahm—a terrible wrath to risk. Or voting yes and facing the wrath of voters, who will want to know why there’s money for such frivolities and not for special education or janitors to clean our filthy schools.
Speaking of CPS scandals the mayor doesn’t want to discuss.
Even if this deal goes nowhere, it’s already damaged the credibility of any Democrat who supports it.
Part of the reason the Democrats managed to lose the 2016 presidential election to a big fat liar is that so few people believe anything the Democrats have to say either. And how can you blame them when Democrats like Rahm go around proclaiming blatant falsehoods like “the project will be funded entirely by the company with no taxpayer subsidy”?
If no one in government ever tells the truth about anything, then why not vote for a presidential candidate who just makes it all up as he goes along?
In defense of Rahm—and this really is no defense at all—Mayor Daley played the same game. In many ways, this deal comes straight out of the Daley’s playbook: Underestimate a project’s cost while overestimating its benefits.
Remember when Mayor Daley said it would cost no public dollars to build a big housing complex on the site of the old Michael Reese hospital? We’ve now spent upwards of $100 million to buy that land and the site remains vacant.
Years ago, I had an off-the-record conversation with a Daley aide who told me that the mayor’s office always fudged the truth when it came to budgets. As he explained it, if the public knew the actual cost of doing all the things they want government to do they wouldn’t want to pay for it at all.
So mayors play this game where they pretend as though they’re not raising taxes, even though we, the public, know they are ’cause we see our property taxes go up year after year.
As a taxpayer, I guess I can go along with this scheme—if I think the mayor’s paying for things we need. As opposed to frivolous vanity projects, like the bullet train to O’Hare.
Mayors Rahm and Daley had a surefire way to kill legislation proposed by council independents. They’d send it to the City Council’s Rules Committee to die a quiet death.
So if the mayor actually comes up with express train legislation, how about pulling a switcheroo? Send it to Rules—let’s just pretend it never even existed.