Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sun-Times | Daley Always Knew City Had to Pony Up

March 14, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

City Hall Reporter

Mayor Daley said Tuesday he knew "at the beginning" that city tax dollars would have to guarantee Chicago's Olympic operating budget, but he didn't fess up about it because "we're not putting any actual money up."

The mayor's cover was blown last week when Bob Ctvrtlik, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's evaluation commission, demanded during a visit here that Daley "put some skin in the game."

On the eve of a City Council vote that's make or break for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Games, Daley denied that the $500 million city guarantee breaks his promise to bankroll his Olympic dream with "not a dime" of local tax dollars.

'Like an earthquake'

"No we're not [breaking the promise] because we're not putting any actual money up," the mayor said. "This is in case . . . everything breaks down completely. . . . This would be like an earthquake. If an earthquake takes place, and I doubt if it's going to take place."

In a stuttering response to a reporter's question, Daley said he knew "at the beginning" of the bidding process that city money would have to be put on the table. Daley said he kept it quiet -- not because he wanted to get past the mayoral election -- but because "we're not putting any direct money into it."

A few hours later, mayoral press secretary Jacquelyn Heard clarified Daley's remarks. Heard said Daley knew about the demand for an Olympic guarantee "at the beginning." But until last week, he did not know that private market guarantees would be insufficient.

Racing to beat the USOC's March 31 deadline, the City Council is scheduled to vote today on the city's share of a $1.47 billion financial guarantee.

The layered guarantee assumes a Chicago Olympics would turn a profit of $525 million and that, even if it lost money, a $200 million cushion provided by Olympic Village equity and the sale of sky boxes at a temporary stadium in Washington Park would be enough to shield Chicago taxpayers.

Chief Financial Officer Dana Levenson has said the chances of actually tapping Chicago tax dollars are "practically nonexistent." If the USOC chooses Chicago over Los Angeles on April 14 and Chicago is the International Olympic Committee's choice in 2009, City Hall could start building up cash reserves to cover any Olympic shortfall, Levenson said.

Despite overruns that nearly tripled the cost of $475 million Millennium Park and $400 million in overruns at O'Hare Airport, Daley said he is confident Chicago taxpayers will not be left holding the bag.

Diverse panel planned: mayor

"It's a whole process going through the U.S. Olympic Committee. It's a whole process going through the International Olympic Committee. By the time you get there, you know every cost and figure you want out. It's completely different than any other project you've done," the mayor said.

Pressed on whether the U.S. government should step up to the plate, Daley said, "Well, you want them. But I can't try to persuade them. . . . You would never submit a U.S. city for consideration because you'd be waiting for a century to get it done."

This week, Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) used a Finance Committee meeting on the $500 million guarantee as a forum to lambaste what she called the "elite white man's rich millionaire's kind of party club" that's spearheading Chicago's bid.

On Tuesday, Daley acknowledged that Chicago 2016 needs to broaden its umbrella.

"The committee is not really set up. This is a temporary committee just to get . . . some people with money involved. It has to reflect racially, ethnically all over the city, and that's what we're going to do," he said.,CST-NWS-oly14.article

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