The first time the City Council had a chance to vote on funding the Marriott/DePaul boondoggle, Mayor Emanuel gaveled the deal so fast that most aldermen didn’t even know what happened.
Not that many of them would have defied the mayor then if they had.
This was back in summer 2013, when the mayor was feeling so mighty he thought he was free to take $55 million from our broke schools and parks and use it to buy land in the South Loop for an arena and hotel that no one asked for or needed.
Obviously, things have changed in the wake of outrage over the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting.
At last Monday’s finance committee hearing, the mayor had to pull a request to appropriate about $5 million for the project in the face of heated opposition from even some of his most loyal rubber-stampers.
The money would have gone to pay for a small park near the Marriott and to offset some of the city’s building fees.
Apparently, the aldermen are worried about the ballot-box repercussions for behaving like rubber-stampers on unpopular projects, like the Marriott/DePaul deal.
Let me point out the painful irony.
The initial appropriation of $55 passes almost without discussion. But when it comes to saving us a relatively measly $4.6 million, the aldermen are born-again reformers.
Thanks a lot for nothing, aldermen.
Contrast this to what happened on July 24, 2013, when the mayor sought approval for the $55 million he needed to buy the land.
He didn’t even tell the aldermen what was what coming—perhaps wanting to offset any kind of public debate.
Instead, Alderman Ray Suarez—chairman of the council’s housing committee—announced he had a committee report ready for approval.
One of the items was authority to buy the land, though Suarez didn’t mention that.
Mayor Emanuel said, “Any objections?”
Before any alderman could respond, the mayor slammed his gavel. And just like that, $55 million was appropriated without debate.
After they realized what had happened, a few council independents—like Aldermen John Arena and Scott Waguespack—protested. But the other aldermen pretended they still didn’t know what was going on.
Suarez was upset in last year’s election by Milly Santiago, who’s shown an independent streak. She voted against the mayor’s budget.
Maybe Suarez paid a price for being the mayor’s tool.
But don’t feel too bad for Suarez. In November the mayor appointed him to a $20,000-a-year position on the board of the International Port Authority, which oversees the city’s port on the southeast side.
I’m not sure what qualified Suarez to sit on the authority board, since it became clear in his council hearing that the only thing he knew about a port is that involves water.
The council—ever dependable—approved him anyway.
The mayor was up to the same tricks in 2014, when he had the council pass the zoning changes needed for the project on a voice vote, engineered by Alderman Danny Solis, chairman of the zoning committee.
Once he realized what the mayor and Solis had been up to, Arena asked that the rules be suspended so he could change his yes to a no vote on the grounds that he didn’t know the Marriott/DePaul plan had been part of the larger zoning package.
Alderman Margaret Laurino—who was running the meeting while Mayor Emanuel was out of the room—denied his request. So Arena wound up having to write a letter to the city clerk to officially change his vote.
Oh, those were the good old days—eh, Alderman Arena?
This time around Arena is insisting that the Marriott or the McPier Authority—the city’s partner in this deal—pay for the park or permit fees.
If the mayor comes back to the council with a request to pay for the park or fees, Arena says he’ll demand that the administration answer questions about the contract with Marriott to see how much, if any, of the hotel’s revenues the city is guaranteed.
“We’re picking up about 13 percent of the project’s cost with the TIF money,” says Arena. “So I want at least 13 percent of the investment. If not, we shouldn’t have to pay for any more expenses.”
Great idea. We’ll be watching to see how many of the council’s born-again reformers stand with him.