Mayor’s vision of Olympic rings not exactly golden
July 3, 2009

July 2009

From parking meter fees to sales and property taxes, costs to the public in Chicago continually are on the rise and spiraling out of sight. Yet, when belt-tightening should be his first thought in the morning and his last at night, Mayor Richard M. Daley continues his single-minded quest to bring that most expensive of spectaculars, the 2016 Olympics, to Chicago.

Because people have questioned the sense of Daley’s pet project throughout the bid process, Daley has assured us that taxpayers would never, ever get stuck with the bill for it.

Except that he already got the City Council to make a “last resort” guarantee of $500 million of taxpayer money.

Except that over in Switzerland, after having known for several weeks that he would have to do so, Daley agreed to sign a contract without that bothersome, constitutional City Council advice or approval — that the City would take full financial responsibility for the games in a worst-case scenario.

But, we are told, that worst case scenario could never happen, no, never.

Except, part of the mayor’s projected safety-net of funding includes a $400 million fund to be raised from expected revenues from the Games.

Expected, not assured.

The New York Yankees expected to fill their $1,200 box seats this year, and instead are assured of seeing row after row of premium seating empty every game.

The taxpayers of Montreal were told the worst-case scenario could never happen. Instead, they did have to pony up money after all, and just recently retired their Olympic debt—after paying for the 1976 Olympics for a mind-boggling 30 years.

Vancouver faces huge cost overruns for the 2010 Olympics, and London faces huge cost overruns for the 2012 Olympics. They were told the worst-case scenario could never happen there, either.

The City Council and the public have yet to see solid numbers on what the costs will be — and the Council and the public will not be shown those figures for around 60 days, giving us all a short window of time to react before the International Olympic Committee decides which city will get the Olympics. We are expected to have faith in numbers we have not seen.

Once again, whether concerning costs or contracts, City decisions are being made in a hurry, in a vacuum with no transparency and no scrutiny.

What does Chicago’s government machinations usually come up with—the best-case scenario, or the worst? Think about that the next time you’re parking at a meter.

There are some positives to the Olympics, to be sure. Constructing and operating Olympic facilities will definitely create jobs. Development will come to Bronzeville, and improved facilities will be built in Washington Park.

But one person’s positive is another person’s negative. Does development of Bronzeville mean longtime residents will be moved out and gentrifying yuppies moved in? Will residents of the Washington Park neighborhood, who currently use the park, instead be shut out of new facilities built there, just as Chicagoans cannot exactly use Soldier Field, another “public” park, whenever they want?

A few months ago, we urged readers to increase pressure on their aldermen and other elected officials to do their jobs and not merely be a rubber stamp for the mayor. The parking meter increase has galvanized the public, and they are putting the pressure on aldermen to question and block the mayor’s budget-busting ideas.

This pressure must continue on the part of the public, and aldermen must show some nerve.

The whole purpose of multiple branches of government is for one branch to check and balance another. Both the public and the aldermen have shown some signs of life lately; the public must continue to question and complain, and aldermen must increase their scrutiny and develop the will to block bad ideas.

One of these bad ideas is the 2016 Olympics.

Mayor Daley may have gotten President Barack Obama to stump for the games, but he has not gotten him to guarantee one cent to pay for them. The City already is stuck with a 75-year parking deal that’s going to drastically reduce its revenue. Add a Montreal-like potential 30-year Olympic debt, and you have more than a recipe for disaster; you have a recipe for municipal bankruptcy.

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