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Dear Mayor Daley, please SHUT YOUR HOLE.

So Mayor Daley and (a presumably more pliable than his predecessor) Governor Pat Quinn traveled to Washington, DC to talk up the stimulus bill and make sure Congress knows that big cities all across America are in desperate need of those funds to take care of long-overdue infrastructure projects.

How is this all a sham? Let me count the ways.

Daley has a list of "shovel-ready" projects in Chicago that can begin as soon as the money starts flowing--things like repairing 15 miles of El tracks, repaving 150 miles of main streets, and replacing street lights. I have no doubt about the veracity of this statement; Chicago needs help after the winters tear up its streets, and the El is one of the most out-of-date light rail systems in the country.

Of course, once Ray LaHood was put in place as President Obama's Transportation Secretary, I'm sure Mayor Daley's phone rang off the hook with calls from connected businessmen (read: mobsters), all looking to get fat on federal contracts--just as they have been with state contracts, for ages.

For some strange reason, dragging the details of these projects out of Mayor Daley has been like pulling teeth. "Yes, we do, we have our list, we’ve been talking to people," he said. "We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart."

You're goddamned right they'll be ripping it apart. The media--and we, the taxpayers--know how this all works, and we know that Mayor Daley can be trusted with stimulus money the way a 17-year-old's weekend party can be trusted with the liquor cabinet. After the cloutmongers bilked taxpayers for millions with the Hired Truck Program, after the City of Chicago pulled an end-run around rules intended to make sure women- and minority-run businesses get a fair shot at municipal bids, after George Ryan made a fortune off the Licenses-for-Bribes scam, after Daley and Blago's nonsense with the Teacher's Pension System and the Health Facilities Planning Board, and now after Blago's new shenanigans with the Tribune and that children's hospital and Barack Obama's open Senate seat, we want to know exactly how much is coming, what every nickel is for, and who's getting it.

Daley argued for sticking with established vendors who are already in place for those shovel-ready projects, but he assured us all that anyone is free to bid for projects in Illinois. "I want to be clear that the city of Chicago and our sister agencies will also bid new contracts so everyone has a chance to apply for these projects and programs, including those who are not currently city vendors," he said.

Sure. In related news, when that 17-year-old's parents get home, he might volunteer, apropos of nothing, that he and his friends most certainly did not get into the liquor cabinet.

Further, while Daley of course speaks for the City of Chicago, he realizes that there is a limited amount of money going around, and there are other cities that need it, too. He realizes that we'd have to compete, so he's making his presence known. Which would be completely above-board if the President and Transportation Secretary weren't friends of his. Let's not kid ourselves. Chicago does need this money, and other cities do too, but I suspect the Second City will get more than their share.

Of course, they'll need it. Almost certainly listed on Daley's secret list of projects are two massive expenditures. The first is the O'Hare Modernization Plan, which is an effort to expand and update one of America's biggest, busiest, and most-often delayed air hubs. Part of the plan involves constructing something called the "Western Terminal," which presumably would facilitate a larger O'Hare flight pattern, accommodating more people and more planes in a more efficient manner. Never mind that FAA studies contradict this idea--they don't think the OMP would optimize anything. And never mind that the Western Terminal would only be reachable by bus from existing surface streets--the Tribune estimates the travel time at 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. And never mind that it would take planes 45 minutes just to taxi out to that terminal. And never mind that the OMP shoves aside thousands of residents and dozens of small businesses in suburban Bensenville during a time when people desperately need jobs and can't afford to buy new homes. The irony of using stimulus money to bulldoze homes and businesses is surely not lost on the locals, you can be certain.

The price tag for the OMP is between fifteen and twenty billion dollars, depending on what source you like best. But imagine the work involved in building and operating something like that! Imagine the jobs created! Yeah. Imagine guys like Springfield developer Bill Cellini (I've talked about him before) and his Chicagoan counterpart Michael Marchese building themselves a huge vault full of money and swimming around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

There is an alternate plan on the table to relieve congestion and delays at O'Hare: build Chicago a third airport in south suburban Peotone. This idea seems to fare better in the FAA studies (though the FAA favors a smaller airport than the one envisioned by its proponents), and of course it has strong support from the representatives whose districts benefit directly from it, guys like Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Unfortunately, Jackson and Daley have openly badmouthed each other's legendary fathers in the past, and Daley knows that Jackson's constituency worships the late Harold Washington as a local folk hero. (Washington was Chicago's only black mayor, and the only man to defeat Daley in a Democratic primary.) As you might imagine, that doesn't sit well with him.

Here's the thing: aside from the potential for installing his friends in positions of power and raking in the kickbacks, the desire for schoolyard oneupmanship might be Mayor Daley's strongest motivator. I'll give you an example:

Once upon a time, Chicago had a little airfield called Meigs Field. Meigs didn't suffer from O'Hare's long delays, and it was located on the lakefront right across Lake Shore Drive from downtown Chicago. As a result, it was popular with important people who had frequent business downtown, guys like former Governors Jim Thompson and George Ryan. So naturally, when Mayor Daley started talking about tearing it up and replacing it with a park, the Governors fought to defend it.

Thompson is Ryan's mentor and legal counsel, and they represent one of Illinois' two powerful political machines. The rival machine is Daley's, so naturally he had to show them who was boss. Shortly after Rod Blagojevich (Daley's guy, at least at first) took office as governor, Daley sent earthmoving equipment to tear up Meigs Field's single landing strip in the middle of the night. He failed to mention this to the FAA, who fined the City of Chicago because federal regulations require that he give them 30 days' notice--but whatever, it's not like it came out of his pocket. He also failed to notify the owners of the aircraft still parked at Meigs, who then had to pay to disassemble their planes and ship them by truck to someplace with a landing strip--but whatever, it's not Daley had a plane parked there.

This is Chicago politics, man.

In any event, the motivation to get started on the OMP is high, both because his friends are clamoring for federal tax money and because it would really piss off Jesse Jackson Jr. But there's a third reason to get this thing built in a hurry: Mayor Daley is anticipating a need to shuttle millions of people to the 2016 Olympic Games, so of course he's going to need all the air capacity he can get his hands on (to say nothing of the road and rail projects on his list, of course).

But where will all these people go? That brings us to the other enormous item that is surely on his secret list: it's a common practice to build new stadiums and arenas to impress the international community, and Daley wouldn't be able to pass up that feather in his cap. Needless to say, his connected friends wouldn't want him to pass it up, either. That's a lot of construction. A lot of jobs. And a lot of kickbacks, of course.

Of course, the Beijing National Stadium, constructed for the 2008 Olympics at a cost of $423 million US, is empty and in disrepair because China can't afford to maintain it. There are plans to attach a shopping center, but no one really has the money to get moving on that right now. In the meantime tourists pay $7 to wander around the empty stadium. I see no reason to think Chicago will do anything different, because Chicago policy makers (and let's face it, the federal government) seldom look so far into the future. It'll get built, and Daley will look good in front of the cameras--assuming Chicago wins the Olympic bid, of course--and after that, who cares? Daley got his, fuck Chicago.

I should note that a recent Tribune poll found that a good majority of Chicagoans surveyed want their fair city to host the Olympics, but a slightly larger majority are against paying for it. Only a very narrow majority of people think it will do anything good for the city, anyway. But Chicago's Olympic bid fares better than the OMP: large majorities think it's a bad idea, and virtually nobody wants to pay for it--including the city, the county, the state, the airlines, the taxpayers, or, until now, the federal government. Fortunate for Mayor Daley, then, that now he has friends in Washington, and might be persuaded to shell out the cost of the whole thing.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
obfuscate is right. Your brain is so hot.

Brilliant as usual, love.

(usual question...unlock plz?)
Feb. 10th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Thank you, and done.
Feb. 10th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
Fuck Daley, seriously why is this shmuck still Mayor? I know I didn't vote for him in the last Mayoral Election. Fucking incumbents.
Feb. 10th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
And y'know, he said some things that are completely legit. Chicago needs roads, and lights, and El upgrades. Part of the list he revealed also had spending for building schools and hiring more police.

But on, Daley. It's like you're not even trying.
Feb. 10th, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
building themselves a huge vault full of money and swimming around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Bwahahaha! You're a damn good political commentator.

BTW, how long has there been a Mayor Daley in Chicago? It seems like forever. Is "Mayor Daley" something like the "Dread Pirate Roberts"?
Feb. 10th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

The answer to your question is: Richard J. Daley, His Honor, was mayor from 1955 until he died in office in 1976--21 years total. The current mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, is the old man's son. He was elected in 1989 and has been mayor ever since--that's 20 years so far.

His Honor was the longest-serving mayor in Chicago history, but Junior will overtake him this term, assuming he doesn't die in office.

Feb. 13th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
I was afraid of this.

In fact, all along I have been thinking about the stim and lack of uh . . . .oversight in urban areas.
Feb. 13th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, oversight is a funny thing. There are a couple of things in the Tampa Bay area, hotels and things, that look sketchy even to my untrained eye. In a how did that thing ever get built? kind of way.

I don't mean to pick on Tampa, though. Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Boston, Detroit, and Miami have long been mob towns, and money talks. But now we have a Chicagoan President, so the spotlight gets to be on us for a while. We'll see what happens.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )