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Mark Brown: Rahm vs. Quinn: Who’s in charge?

Updated: November 10, 2012 6:26AM

For most of its 24-year history, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — landlord to the Chicago White Sox — has intentionally maintained the lowest of profiles.

The agency’s aversion to publicity was in furtherance of its informal mission, that being first and foremost to keep the White Sox happy while doing nothing to embarrass the two politicians who appoint its members: the governor and the mayor.

Toward that end, gubernatorial and mayoral appointees ­— both Democrat and Republican — worked cooperatively to carry out the authority’s few responsibilities while carving up its relatively modest opportunities for pinstripe patronage, including seats in their own skybox suite at U.S. Cellular Field.

Suddenly, though, the agency is awash in news coverage only partly of its own making — with the two big Democratic kahunas, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, battling over who should fill its $176,000-a-year executive director spot.

As City Hall reporter Fran Spielman tells us, Quinn fired back Monday in defense of his choice for the job, former deputy budget director turned communications chief Kelly Kraft, accusing Emanuel of trying to sabotage her appointment by leaking information about her 2009 personal bankruptcy.

The sports facilities position is a nice plum, to be sure, but given its current responsibilities, would hardly seem worth such a public bloodletting between Quinn and Emanuel.

That would seem to leave a couple of possibilities.

Either it’s really a fight, as Quinn told Spielman, about what the Sports Facilities Authority could be tasked with doing in the future, namely playing an important role in any Wrigley Field renovation deal.

Or it’s just the most public demonstration of a behind-the-scenes conflict that has been playing out for more than a year now as Quinn and Emanuel engage in an old-fashioned game of “Who’s in charge around here?”

My bet would be on a combination of both, with Emanuel’s explanation that his only interest is in finding someone with financial expertise to protect city taxpayers running a distant third.

It’s not that I doubt the mayor’s commitment to shoring up the finances at the Sports Facilities Authority, which became a priority for him last year after a shortfall in the hotel-motel tax revenues used to underwrite the Soldier Field renovation financing resulted in the state withholding $1.1 million in income tax revenue otherwise due the city.

His appointees have led the way in tightening up operations at the agency, slashing its legal costs by getting rid of two outside lobbyists and dropping a contract with the Mayer Brown law firm in favor of hiring an in-house general counsel. The agency also got rid of its marketing director after a story last year by the Sun-Times Watchdog reporters about how he had traded use of the agency’s skybox at U.S. Cellular for free tickets for himself to Lollapalooza.

The agency continues to control a nice little public relations contract that has switched hands as a form of patronage with nearly every incoming governor’s administration — except Quinn’s.

No shortfall is expected this year.

The agency has only five employees with the currently vacant executive director post making six.

By law, the governor gets four appointees to the seven-member board, with the mayor getting the other three. That puts the governor in the driver’s seat, as legislators intended when they struck the deal to build the Sox ballpark.

Emanuel’s people seem to think there has always been an informal agreement by which the mayor gets to pick the executive director, but I can think of two people who held the job who came right out of the offices of Republican governors.

By tradition, governors and mayors quietly worked out whatever differences they had over the agency and cleared everything with the White Sox, who in effect have total control of the ballpark. Jerry Reinsdorf likes it that way.

I have no opinion on whether Kraft should get the job, and I can understand that her bankruptcy is a factor to be considered in assessing her qualifications, not that it should automatically eliminate her.

On the few occasions I’ve dealt with Kraft on budget matters, she always struck me as one of the more knowledgeable and capable people in the Quinn administration.

There’s worse things for Illinois and Chicago taxpayers than having the governor and the mayor at each other’s throats — namely cutting all their deals in secret with us being none the wiser.

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