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Mayoral hopefuls second-guess Daley on Lake Shore Dr. fiasco

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Chicago’s mayoral hopefuls on Wednesday braced for a blizzard of bills tied to the city’s third-largest snowstorm and second-guessed Mayor Daley’s administration for the fiasco on Lake Shore Drive.

The last time the city implemented Phase 4 of its snow plan — by calling out private contractors to assist with snow removal — it boosted the total storm tab to a whopping $77 million.

For that 1999 storm, Daley requested federal disaster assistance, as he did again this week. Back then, he was ultimately forced to raise an array of taxes, blaming at least some of it on the snow.

This time, the tab is likely to approach $100 million. The next mayor is already facing a structural deficit in the $1 billion range when pension obligations are factored in. Daley managed to hold the line on taxes in his final budget, only after draining all but $76 million from the 75-year, $1.15 billion lease that privatized Chicago parking meters.

“There will be huge costs. No doubt about it. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time,” said mayoral challenger Miguel del Valle.

Del Valle said storm expenses “may well” trigger a supplemental budget appropriation shortly after the new mayor takes office. Pressed on whether a mid-year tax hike would be required, he said, “I wouldn’t say that at this point. Let’s see how well the mayor manages this part.”

The more immediate question is why it took the city as long as 14 hours to rescue motorists stranded in their cars on Lake Shore Drive — and why the city lacked a contingency towing and evacuation plan in the event that traffic conditions worsened on a roadway with a history of weather trouble.

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened ... on Lake Shore Drive. With hundreds of passengers stranded for hours, it’s clear there were mistakes made we can never let happen again,” candidate Rahm Emanuel said in a prepared statement.

“All major incidents require after-action reviews, and I expect nothing less following this one.”

Like Emanuel, Gery Chico went out of his way to praise the herculean efforts of emergency responders, snow removal forces and mass transit workers.

But, he said, “People are sitting in cars. No food. No water. You have to have a better response time should a situation like this develop where a few accidents and huge winds cause drifting that paralyzes traffic. You have to be ready to respond to that with a fleet of tow trucks. They did a good job with firemen and policemen. But, we have to make sure that’s a well-oiled plan going into the future.”

Aides to mayoral challenger Carol Moseley Braun did not return calls.

Only del Valle dared to second-guess the city’s decision to keep the Drive open for thousands of commuters fleeing the Loop to get ahead of the storm.

“It’s obvious that a call should have been made earlier to close Lake Shore Drive,” the city clerk said.

“I know the city wanted to make certain people had that route to get home. But, the frustrating thing is there have been problems on Lake Shore Drive before. It’s had to be closed because of waves of ice, blowing snow and heavy winds. We’ve got to get Lake Shore Drive right. We haven’t learned that yet.”



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