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« Aldermen Flip Their Support to Daley's Olympic Bid Call Me Monomaniacal »

Olympics Thu Sep 03 2009

No Cap on Public Money + No Oversight = Unmitigated Disaster

Good ol' Gentle Ben Joravsky over at the Reader reports on what a bunch of us got in our inboxes this morning: an oversight ordinance introduced by Ald. Manny Flores, and a "substitute" ordinance backed by Mayor Daley. Alderman Flores' staff sent out a side-by-side comparison a few hours later. Guess what? The Mayor's version sucks.

Manny Flores is a professional politician. It's not his, or any Alderman's job to be right all the time. It's our job to argue forcefully--or yell at the top of our lungs--to get them to do the right thing. Keep in mind that every sentient moment (evaporation of sentience is common in Zoning Committee meetings) of an Alderman's professional life he is hearing from lobbyists, deal-cutting colleagues, and a high-pitched voice from the Fifth Floor. So when Ald. Flores withdrew his Olympic spending cap--a bill that wouldn't have forestalled disaster had we been granted the Olympics, but which would likely have killed the possibility that we'd get it in the first place--we were justified in our booing and hissing.

Good on Alderman Flores for at least making a peep. Unfortunately, the only reasonable option, based on all the available evidence, is that we should not seek or accept the 2016 Olympic Games. Any other position on this issue is not nuanced, or pragmatic, or anything but wrong.

Want more evidence? How about the very fact that the Mayor is watering down the ordinance that would allow us to detect corruption, waste, and abuse?

I mean, what could make it more plainly obvious? It's like with the spending cap: if they are so, 100% certain that "no public money" will be spent on the Olympics, why won't they pass the cap? Why wouldn't they rush to pass it, doing cartwheels? In that one act they could pull the rug out from every single critic who is warning of cost overruns and waste. So why fight it?

Here is the side by side comparison of the two ordinances:

Olympics Side by Side

See that? Nothing. Flores' bill is much stronger, and even Flores' bill creates no independent authority that can act in real time. Review and recommendation still leaves ultimate authority in the hands of a City Council that is essentially directed by the Mayor. Alderman Flores has written a good ordinance that will allow Chicagoans to know, with a little lag time, how they're being cheated. But ultimately, we still end up on the hook, and we still end up cheated.

So, here's what's going to happen:

We're going to get the watered down ordinance, because our Aldermen are afraid of their own shadows. We're going to get the Olympics. Mayor Daley will get re-elected. There will be massive cost-overruns; historic displacement of working class black families from the South and West side*; abuse of the homeless and indigent**; brutal police crackdowns; privatized security armies on the streets of Chicago; an unceasing stream of conflict-of-interest and contracting scandals; there will be gigantic budget shortfalls that will force more layoffs, more shutting down of social services like the mental health centers, more labor disputes.

We know why the Mayor and his people are pursuing this: it's a distraction from the problems in the city, it wipes clean what is now approaching a decade of scandals and bad news for the Mayor, and pumps enormous sums of money into the pinstripe and identity politics patronage that has protected the status quo for a generation. Or, have we become so credulous, and ungenerous, that we believe that the Mayor honestly believes the Olympics are the only way to invest in our neighborhoods, and that he sincerely understands "being a world class city" as "getting on television"?

Where are the progressives? The liberal activists? The progressive elected officials so beloved of the DFA types? I honestly can't understand why anybody who calls themselves a leader on matters of social justice and human rights can put on the button and cheer along with the chorus. If any city government was going to break the Olympics' impressive streak of bank-busting debt and human rights abuses, do they think it'll be Chicago's?

What about the good government groups? The think tanks? Why aren't they out on the front lines opposing any Olympics not given proper oversight? Given the constant stream of contracting scandals that have come out of this administration, including those surrounding major projects like Millennium Park, why aren't they screaming foul?

I honestly don't understand. Maybe I'm naive.

*Fact Sheet - Mega-Events

**Atlanta Background Paper

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Doc / September 3, 2009 3:43 PM

The deafening silence, IMHO, is the result of several forces.

First, there's the general (albeit nonsensical and borderline psychotic) feeling of insecurity that Chicago is an echelon below the "global cities", and that doesn't sit well. For a couple of weeks in August a mere seven years from now, it's all about us. I've yet to hear any reasonable and tangible argument why the spotlight is so important, either economically, socially, or culturally, but it seems ingrained in Chicagoans.

Second, there's the illusion that there will be a huge economic benefit as a result of the games, and not just for clouted contractors and developers. Upgraded and expanded transit systems, better roads and park facilities, and other pie in the sky quality of life projects will immediately sprout up in the years leading up to 2016, all paid for with magic fairy dust or whatever. Funny thing is, not even Chicago 2016 (aka the Olympics arm of the Daley oligarchy), despite their ever-present disingenuousness, claims this to be the case. Unless, of course, you consider the destruction of already scant park space and shuttering of lakefront marinas and the like to be improvements.

Third, the Olympics are an event that everyone is familiar with, and can appreciate. It's long been a source of pride and cultural imperialism. This, despite the hard truth that the IOC is an entity embroiled in corruption, highly politicized, and primarily motivated by financial greed; and, as you mentioned, crushing debt and erosion of civil liberties.

My last point is tied to Daley's legacy, which is likely the driving force behind his obsession. His history as mayor of marginalizing or destroying, through various means, anyone that was not completely loyal to his myopic vision, continues to strike fear into the likes of the handful or independent and civic-minded public servants. And without getting too "Joravsky" on you, his single biggest source of power is control of TIFs, especially at a time when every local government body is scrounging for pennies in Buckingham Fountain. It's the usual "go along to get along" philosophy that has allowed city council lemmings, in particular, to keep their cushy six-figure salaries while not performing any meaningful legislative function.

Ald. Flores' ordinance is our city's only reasonable chance to hold Daley and his sycophants to any sort of meaningful standard, even if it is a retroactive one.

Or Rio can just win the whole darn thing, and save us from ourselves.

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