In the summer of 2009, at the height of Mayor Daley’s push to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, I had a conversation with an alderman that resonates with me to this day.
Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, Daley had just strong-armed the City Council into unanimously voting to write what amounted to a blank check to cover all cost overruns for hosting the games.
Yes, the alderman said, he knew it would probably bankrupt the city. But he supported the bid in public and voted for the blank check anyway because he didn’t want to upset the mayor or look like the local version of unpatriotic.
“Besides,” he predicted, “Rio’s getting the games.”
“And if you’re wrong?” I asked.
He paused and said, “We’re screwed.”
Well, it turns out the alderman was correct on two fronts: Rio did get the games—the opening ceremony is Friday. (Oh, where did those seven years go?)
And we would have been screwed had the IOC awarded the games to us.
If you recall, Daley insisted it would cost no more than $3.8 billion to host the games. Last I saw, the estimate for the Rio games was $14.4 billion. Hey, Chicago: imagine paying for that baby with your property tax bills.
My aldermanic buddy was by no means the only silently skeptical Olympic flag-waver back then. And the perverse thing is, they all knew Daley’s Olympic dreams were folly. They knew they would saddle us with unspeakable debt. And yet, like that alderman, our corporate, civic, and media elite signed on anyway.
Let’s face it, folks: When it came to Daley, everybody in Chicago was a rubber stamp.
Well, not everybody. At this point, I’d like to distribute some symbolic gold medals to the few intrepid souls who had the courage to tell the mayor the Olympics were a terrible idea—to tell the emperor he had no clothes.
Maybe by doing so I can encourage a few other brave dissenters to break from the ranks the next time another mayor proposes a really bad idea.
No Games Chicago: A coalition of activists, led by Tom Tresser and Bob Quellos, that questioned the city’s estimates and showed up at hearings to debate Daley’s boosters. The group even sent a delegation to Europe to petition the IOC to vote against Chicago’s bid.
I’m pretty sure no one in a position of power around here will ever credit the No Games crowd for turning the tide against the games—you wouldn’t want to encourage other citizens to think they could actually beat City Hall from time to time.
But Daley took them seriously—at least, he had undercover cops spy on the group. In 2015, after Mick Dumke and I reported on the spying, Quellos filed a Freedom of Information Act request, asking the police department to release its files on No Games.
More than a year has passed and Quellos is still in court, fighting city lawyers to force the police to turn over those files. In some ways, you might say the city’s Olympic bid is still wasting your tax dollars.
Retired police officer Pat Hill and other members of Black People Against Police Torture: This ad hoc group opposed the games largely on the grounds that Chicago didn’t deserve them for having looked the other way while former police commander Jon Burge and his minions tortured suspects in the basement of the Area Two police headquarters at 91st and Cottage Grove throughout the 80s and into the 90s.
I remember walking through Washington Park with one member of the group, a retired city worker named Bodhi (he went by just one name, like Prince). As he gathered signatures on petitions opposing the games, Bodhi said we lived in a kleptocracy—a government of thieves. “ ’Cause that’s what this is,” he said, “a land grab,” alluding to the city’s proposal to put a stadium in the park.
When I called to tell Bodhi I was giving him a gold medal, he said he’d come up with a new term: “distractracy”—in which rulers subdue the ruled by distracting them.
In this presidential election year, I think Bodhi’s on to something.
Chicago’s cops: On April 2, 2009, when an IOC delegation came to Chicago to review the city’s bid proposal, hundreds of police officers and their families marched around City Hall, bearing signs that said: “No contract, no Olympics!”
At the time, the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, was negotiating a contract with Daley, and it irritated rank-and-file cops that the city would effectively tell them We have money for the Olympics, but not for raises.
Was their protest self-serving? Who cares? Those protesting policemen and women showed more backbone than all the other unions in town. They all went along to get along with this sorry escapade.
Maybe the cops should file their own FOIA request to see if Daley was spying on them.
The Reader: I know you’re thinking—the fix is in! But consider this: As far as I can tell, the Reader was the only media outlet in town that did not contribute to Chicago 2016, the not-for-profit committee Mayor Daley created to oversee the bid.
You can look it up on Chicago 2016’s stewardship report.
It looks like every media outlet kicked in a little something to the Olympic cause—upwards of $100,000 in some cases. That included the Sun-Times, the Tribune, and the major TV stations.
In 2009, Ben Eason, who then owned the Reader, told me it wasn’t principled opposition that kept him from contributing to the cause.
It’s just that no one asked him.
For all I know, he might have thrown in with all the other media lemmings as they led us off the cliff if only Daley’s fund-raisers had called.
To this day, I wonder why they didn’t solicit us. Was it something I wrote? If so, I’m not sorry!
Anyway, enjoy your gold medals, fellow dissidents. As No Games activist Francesca Rodriguez put it: You “medaled without doping.” As always, I wish there were more of you out there. v