- Mark Lawton/Sun-Times Media
- As a county commissioner, Mike Quigley did his part to shed light on the tax increment financing program. He now represents much of the north side in Congress.
I took a trip down memory lane the other morning , biking over to Logan Square to have breakfast with the great Jeremy Thompson.
What’s that? Don’t know the name? I can understand. Guys like Jeremy don’t usually get a whole lot of attention.
But if there were a TIF hall of fame—as opposed to the ongoing hall of shame—he’d have a plaque alongside Congressman Mike Quigley.
To appreciate Jeremy’s role, let’s go back to the spring of 2006. Mayor Daley—remember him?—was on the ropes, thanks to an assortment of scandals. Rumor had it that the feds might actually be working their way up the City Hall food chain, so to speak, with some sort of mayoral indictment.
As if President Bush would ever let prosecutors indict his favorite Democrat.
As a result of the rumors, politicians all over town were contemplating a mayoral run, including Quigley, then a relatively little-known commissioner on the Cook County board.
In part to help himself break out of the pack, Quigley decided to fight the good fight against that dastardly devil known as tax increment financing.
Remember: it doesn’t matter why politicians do the right thing, as long as they do it.
To prepare for the fight, he assigned Jason Liechty and Thompson—two 20-something brainiacs Quigley had on staff—to write a report that called the TIF program a giant game of Three-card Monte.
Well, that’s sort of my paraphrase.
To his credit, Quigley banged the anti-TIF drum loudly and incessantly even after he’d given up on his mayoral aspirations.
As a result, it became almost impossible for mainstream Chicago to ignore TIFs. And so we’ve entered that weird phase of existence where even Mayor Rahm feels compelled to pretend he’s a TIF reformer.
To prepare his report, Jeremy regularly attended meetings of the Community Development Commission—one of the greatest mayoral rubber stamps of all time.
Generally, we sat together and watched as that august board of mayoral appointees managed to approve each and every one of the mayor’s harebrained TIF plans.
To entertain ourselves, Jeremy and I invented a little game: let’s pretend we’re CDC Members!
After every CDC meeting, we’d go over each TIF proposal—debating its pros and cons—before casting our pretend vote. Generally, no.
We couldn’t have been geekier if we’d been playing Stratomatic baseball.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Jeremy moved on. And, having lost one of my favorite TIF-talking companions, I moped about like that kid in Puff the Magic Dragon.
As for Quigley, he used the TIF report to help bolster his reputation as a reformer and got elected to Congress, where he never, ever has to talk about TIFs again. Lucky man.
Ironically, though, Emanuel turned to Quigley a few years ago, when he needed a quick primer on how the TIF program works. Oh, to have eavesdropped on that conversation.
Jeremy has also moved on to bigger and better things as a labor researcher. He was one of the authors of “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry.”
That report, published last year by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, showed that 52 percent of fast food workers were on some government assistance—like food stamps—because they couldn’t afford to eke out a living on the subsistence wages corporate America paid them.
Thus, taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of McDonald’s, Walmart, and other companies by enabling them to pay their employees substandard wages.
So much for free markets.
Anyway, Jeremy, who moved out of Chicago, was in town for a visit. Over breakfast, he updated me on what he was up to. I’d have liked to report that the TIF scam he helped reveal has been eradicated.
But, alas, Mayor Rahm’s South Loop deal—you know, the one with Marriott and DePaul—is as egregious as anything Mayor Daley concocted.
And so the struggle continues.