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Emanuel fires back at Quinn, denies scheme for Wrigley rehab

Mayor Rahm Emanuel  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:19AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday ruled out using the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to renovate Wrigley Field and insisted that his turf battle with Gov. Pat Quinn over who will lead the stadium authority is about “protecting the taxpayers” and nothing more.

One day after Quinn accused the mayor of blocking his choice for executive director to pave the way for a “backroom deal” to renovate 98-year-old Wrigley, Emanuel flatly denied any ulterior motive.

“Not true. This is all about protecting the taxpayers . . . It’s not about personalities. It’s about [the fact that] the taxpayers of Chicago are on the hook if it runs amiss,” he said.

“A couple years ago because of the recession, they almost had to dip into the reserves. And about a year ago, all of you reported on stories about past agreements [to build a restaurant] at the Cell that may not have been in the interest of the public. . . . That board and that staff is the thin blue line protecting taxpayers from paying in case something is mismanaged. . . . We should find the best qualified people for that, which is why I . . . put in place a whole new board with backgrounds in financial management and expect the staff to meet that standard.”

Emanuel was asked whether he was prepared to rule out using the stadium authority as a financial conduit to renovate Wrigley — either by issuing tax-exempt bonds to finance construction or by reviving a failed plan to have the state acquire and renovate the landmark stadium.

“Yeah. That’s never been discussed. It’s ridiculous. It’s not gonna — it’s not even been on the table,” he said.

Pressed on whether he would use any public funds to seal an elusive Wrigley deal he once described as “in the final stages,” Emanuel said, “We haven’t had any conversations in about five months. I’ve said in both cases [stadium authority leadership and Wrigley], I’m making sure that the taxpayers of Chicago are protected.”

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, team owner Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

Emanuel was prepared to sign off on that plan, a $150 million variation of a financing scheme he once called a “non-starter.”

The other $150 million would have come from relaxing Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring more advertising and sponsorship revenue out of the stadium.

But, sources said the stadium authority has not been part of the discussions about Wrigley for more than year.

Quinn has been maneuvering for weeks to install Kelly Kraft, his former assistant budget director-turned communications chief , as executive director of the authority that built U.S. Cellular Field and helped rebuild Soldier Field.

Emanuel has been equally determined to stop the appointment on grounds that the former television reporter-turned-deputy budget director lacks the financial expertise needed to provide the required oversight.

Earlier this week, the governor accused the mayor of blocking Kraft — and tarnishing the reputation of a “strong woman” by spreading stories about Kraft’s now-resolved personal bankruptcy — to pave the way for a “backroom deal” to renovate Wrigley.

Quinn ridiculed Emanuel’s argument that Kraft lacks the financial acumen to run the stadium authority, noting that the mayor’s newly-appointed Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams is a former high-ranking Chicago Police officer with no background in snow removal or garbage collection.

On Tuesday, the mayor sloughed off the governor’s insult about Williams.

“First of all, he managed the entire police patrol and he follows in the footsteps of Tom Byrne, who is also a police officer and has the background through management and leadership, to bring about the changes that are necessary,” the mayor said.

“This is not between me and the governor. This is not between me and any other staff. I am seeking the protection of the taxpayers.”

Last year, Emanuel engaged in a months-long verbal battle with Quinn aimed at pressuring the governor to sign a bill that would have paved the way for a land-based casino in Chicago and slot machines at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

When Quinn denounced the bill for “serious shortcomings” in the area of casino oversight, Emanuel all but dismissed those integrity concerns as a smokescreen. He also ticked off the wish list of projects he intended to build with casino cash and talked about the other side of the equation: the steady “withdrawal” of state and federal funding that has created the infrastructure crisis.

The pressure tactic didn’t work with Quinn, who subsequently vetoed the casino bill, put the decades-old issue back to Square One.

Does the stadium authority feud put a Chicago casino at permanent risk?

“What’s at risk is the taxpayers. If you have bad management in place where the taxpayers of Chicago are at risk and on the hook, that’s what I worry about,” the mayor said.

“The casino has been about 25 years in the making. If that’s the choice, I don’t think that’s how the governor would view it [but] he’ll make the call.”

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