Chicago City Council to issue blank check for Olympics losses
September 9, 2009
BY FRAN SPIELMAN, Sun-Times News Group
The single biggest impediment to Chicago's 2016 Olympics bid will be swept away today - and it's likely to be by a unanimous vote that sends the strongest possible message to the International Olympic Committee.
Reassured by $1 billion in private insurance and public hearings in all 50 wards, the city council is expected to authorize Mayor Richard Daley to sign a host-city contract that amounts to a blank check from Chicago taxpayers in the event of Olympic losses. That's far beyond the $500 million the council already pledged.
"I hope ... the council will ... send representatives of the 2016 Committee off to Copenhagen with a complete, total unanimous vote of support," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the council's finance committee, after his committee signed off.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) added, "We have to put our best foot forward that Chicago wants this Olympics and wants it bad. ... The IOC is watching what Chicago is doing. ... It's important that one of the last things (is) that we're unanimous."
Chicago's reluctance to match the full financial guarantees made by Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro was the major criticism cited by the International Olympic Committee in an evaulation report issued last week. Wednesday's vote will remove that roadblock before the IOC's Oct. 2 vote.
The ordinance advanced by the finance committee guarantees that aldermen will have what Corporation Counsel Mara Georges called "tremendous oversight" over Olympics spending and operations.
Burke and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the council's budget committee, will be on the board of directors of the Olympic Organizing Committee that's set to replace Chicago 2016.
The city council also will get quarterly reports on all matters Olympics, including construction contracts; schedules and overruns; Olympic revenue, forecasts and expenditures; staff diversity; minority contracting and insurance and copies of financial reports submitted to the IOC.
Although virtually all of their demands were met, Ald. Manny Flores (1st) and Joe Moore (49th) were unhappy about one word - "may." They wanted the ordinance to read, "The city council shall direct the city's inspector general" to review quarterly reports on the Chicago Olympics. Instead, the final language said "may."
Without the resources and expertise to yze a mountain of reports, the city council will be reduced to "the role of a clerk," Moore said.
"There's a lot of public cynicism out there because this body has not always been as aggressive as it should have been in exercising its oversight authority," Moore said, apparently referring to the controversial $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago parking meters.
After trying repeatedly to avoid putting Chicago taxpayers on the hook for unlimited losses, Daley told IOC members during a June meeting in Switzerland that he would sign the standard host-city contract. That touched off a political firestorm at home that took the rest of the summer to put out.
The roughly $1 billion in private insurance, the public hearings and a Civic Federation report that concluded there is "adequate protection" for taxpayers have combined to sway once-skeptical aldermen.