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Quinn wins over Emanuel in battle over sports authority leadership

Kelly Kraft Executive Director Illinois Sports Facilities Authority James R. ThompsCenter Chicago Ill. Thursday November 1 2012. | Andrew A.

Kelly Kraft, Executive Director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, November 1, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:38AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel suffered a rare and stunning defeat Thursday in his turf battle with Gov. Pat Quinn over who will lead the state agency that built U.S. Cellular Field and helped rebuild Soldier Field.

Over Emanuel’s objections, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority’s board of directors voted 4 to 3 to approve the governor’s choice of former television reporter-turned-deputy state budget director Kelly Kraft to be the agency’s executive director.

Emanuel was bitterly opposed to Kraft, 39, arguing that she lacked the financial acumen to protect Chicago taxpayers who are the financial backstop for Soldier Field bonds whenever the hotel tax falls short of the rosy growth assumed a decade ago.

The mayor favored Diana Ferguson, former chief financial officer for the Chicago Public Schools and an Emanuel appointee to the board overseeing the mayor’s Infrastructure Trust.

Quinn sealed the job for Kraft after replacing attorney Manny Sanchez, whose term on the board had expired. Sanchez was replaced this week by Chicago physician Dr. Quentin Young, who voted for Kraft.

Sanchez said he was chosen by the governor in July 2011 to fill an unexpired term on the stadium authority board and expected to be re-appointed.

He found out otherwise when he arrived at U.S. Cellular Field for Thursday’s meeting. Young was there to take Sanchez’s place.

“I was more than surprised. I was disappointed, discomfited, saddened. All of the above. . . . This is the first time that I’ve experienced this kind of situation,” he said.

Emanuel had no comment about the stadium authority defeat as he hustled out of a firefighter’s graduation ceremony at Navy Pier.

His communications director Sarah Hamilton made no bones about the mayor’s disappointment.

“Jim Reynolds put forward a candidate, Diana Ferguson, with extensive financial and management experience to lead ISFA and ensure Chicago’s taxpayers are protected, as they are on the hook for ISFA’s finances. It is unfortunate that, with her experience and qualifications, Ms. Ferguson was not given any consideration by the Board’s majority,” Hamilton wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

During the bitter feud over who will lead the stadium authority, Kraft’s name and reputation were dragged through the mud. Quinn accused the mayor’s minions of spreading the word about Kraft’s personal bankruptcy, which has since been resolved, in an effort to bury her candidacy.

“I wish the mayor would stop doing this. This is a very good person. Stop assassinating her character. He has his operatives doing that. This is not the right way to go. . . . They ought to examine their conscience,” the governor said.

On Thursday, Kraft said she holds no ill will toward Emanuel, whom she has never met.

“Gov. Quinn knows my skills. He recognized early on that I enjoy working with numbers and put me in the budget office, which everyone knows is a complicated matter. I love budgets,” she said.

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