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Quinn accuses Emanuel of seeking ‘backroom deal’ to fix up Wrigley

Gov. PQuinn says Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants use Illinois Sports Facilities Authority help Cubs by issuing tax-exempt bonds renovate Wrigley

Gov. Pat Quinn says Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to use the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to help the Cubs by issuing tax-exempt bonds to renovate Wrigley or reviving a plan to have the stadium authority acquire and renovate it. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 10, 2012 6:16AM



Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of blocking the governor’s choice to lead the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — and tarnishing the reputation of a “strong woman” in the process — to pave the way for a “backroom deal” to renovate 98-year-old Wrigley Field.

Quinn argued that Kelly Kraft, his former assistant budget director-turned-communications chief, has the perfect mix of budget and marketing expertise to right the ship at the government agency that built U.S. Cellular Field and helped rebuild Soldier Field.

But, the governor charged that Emanuel is blocking Kraft’s appointment to pave the way to use the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to help the Cubs — either to by issuing tax-exempt bonds to renovate Wrigley or by reviving a failed plan to have the stadium authority acquire and renovate the landmark ballpark.

“We’re not gonna have any backroom deals involving the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and Wrigley Field. I want to make sure there is someone there — the executive director — who is a goalie for the taxpayers and prevents any cooked-up deals behind closed doors on Wrigley Field,” the governor said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Quinn then referred to Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell’s failed plan to have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley under now-convicted-and-jailed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“We’ve already had a preamble here — a couple of efforts to use public money to invest in Wrigley Field. We don’t want another one of these deals that comes down that involves a private sports stadium, Wrigley Field, wanting public money with the cooperation of City Hall,” Quinn said.

“I’ve said over and over again I don’t think public money should be abused with respect to private stadiums. Kelly Kraft is a strong woman who knows how to say `no’ to proposals that are not in the public interest. That’s what the position entails: A person who knows the financials, knows the bond world and is able to prevent backroom deals.”

Sources close to Emanuel insisted that the mayor has no intention of using the stadium authority to either acquire or renovate Wrigley.

Quinn accused the mayor’s appointees of dragging Kraft’s name through the mud — by leaking information about her personal bankruptcy, which has since been resolved.

“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 at the Columbus Day Parade.

“Kelly Kraft went through some very hard times in 2009. Any person who knew all about it would be very sympathetic to the fact she has bounced back in the best tradition of American comebacks. She is a people person who is open and honest. To have people attacking her is regrettable.”

Emanuel countered that he has “nothing against” Kraft personally. He simply wants an executive director who can match the financial expertise of the three new board members he has appointed to protect Chicago taxpayers who would be left holding the bag if the authority defaults on stadium bonds.

“Nobody else but the taxpayers of Chicago are on the hook if the bonds are bad or there’s financial mismanagement or something financially goes wrong, which nearly happened during the deep recession,” the mayor said.

“The board and the staff are literally the thin blue line protecting Chicago taxpayers, and I want the best there. ... I have appointed people [who] . . . understand financial management, have a deep appreciation for it and bring an expertise that had not been at the Illinois Sports [Facilities] Authority in years past. I expect the staff to have that same level of professionalism.”

Despite the personal bankruptcy stories about Kraft, Emanuel said, “I have nothing against Ms. Kraft — nothing individually. I just want to protect the taxpayers. ... I believe, since the taxpayers are on the hook for either what happens at Soldier Field, the Cell or the United Center, we need to make sure people around the sports authority have the best professionalism to achieve that goal of protecting Chicago taxpayers from paying the bonds, God forbid something bad happens.”

The governor didn’t buy Emanuel’s financial acumen argument.

Pointing to newly-appointed Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams, a former high-ranking Chicago Police officer, Quinn said, “The mayor probably wants to shake things up over there. He brought in someone with a career in policing. He doesn’t know Streets and San. I don’t second-guess Mayor Emanuel’s choices for cabinet spots.”

Quinn has been maneuvering for weeks to install Kraft as executive director of the stadium authority.

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.

Sources said the mayor’s forces have countered with three candidates: former deputy purchasing agent-turned-General Services Commissioner Judy Martinez; former Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams and Mike Conley, former president of and still a board member of World Sport Chicago.

On Monday, the stadium authority comprised of four Quinn appointees and three members appointed by Emanuel held, yet another executive session on the issue and voted to extend the search process for another 30 days.

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.

If the stadium authority issued tax exempt bonds, it would reduce the need for the city to forfeit future amusement tax growth.

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority could also be used to help the Bulls build a new practice facility in Chicago, United Center partners Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz build a new entertainment complex in the shadows of the United Center or DePaul build a new basketball arena near McCormick Place.

The stadium authority controversy is only the latest political feud between the mayor and the governor.

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.

Emanuel also ticked off the wish list of projects he intended to build with casino cash. It included: 40 miles apiece of roads and water mains; 25 new schools; 45 renovated CTA stations; 20 miles of new rail; 150 buildings to be made more energy efficient.

And he 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 accused the mayor of “putting the cart before the horse” and spending casino cash he doesn’t have.

The governor subsequently vetoed the casino bill, putting the decades-old issue back to Square One.

The casino and stadium authority feuds have not prevented Quinn and Emanuel from working together on issues. At the mayor’s behest, the governor signed a controversial bill authorizing the city to install surveillance cameras to catch motorists speeding around schools and parks.

And the two powerful Democrats desperately need each other to solve the pension crisis that’s strangling the state and threatens to do the same to Chicago property owners.

Tensions between Emanuel and Quinn are mild compared to the bitter feud between former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former Gov. Jim Edgar over the future of Meigs Field.

That controversy dragged on for years, prompting a threatened Republican takeover of Chicago airports that Daley blocked, only after cutting a secret airport deal that has sent nearly $24 million to Gary, Ind. The power struggle over the lakefront airport ultimately culminated in Daley’s notorious midnight destruction of Meigs in March, 2003, paving the way for Northerly Island to be turned into a nature park.



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