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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

For Mayor Daley, it's not that complicated

Posted By on 06.03.09 at 06:10 PM

The parking meter scandal was the hot topic at today's City Council meeting. The aldermen were barely done exchanging put-downs over which of them could read, how much the inspector general knew about finance and baseball, and above all who was to blame for the public outrage over the parking meter mess when Mayor Daley began delivering his version of events at a press conference down the hall.

Gripping the podium like it was David Hoffman’s neck, Daley informed the City Hall press corps that his administration would never, ever enter into a 75-year lease deal that wasn’t great for the city.

My chief of staff detailed—detailed!—why we think this is a very, very responsible agreement,” he said, referring to Paul Volpe, one of the deal’s primary brokers. Volpe stood to Daley’s side, gently nodding in rhythm to his boss’s rendering of the truth. “As mayor it is my job to be responsible.”

Next to Volpe and chief financial officer Gene Saffold were giant placards showing the timeline of the deal, revealing that the city had decided to hire financial advisers in June 2007—a full six months before the possibility of leasing the meters was made public—and the advisers’ analysis of what the meters might fetch on the market. What the city ended up accepting—about $1.16 billion—was at the high end of the graph.

“This agreement had the best professional people with regards to this agreement,” he said.

Daley’s intent, of course, was to tell Chicagoans that Hoffman’s searing critique of the meter agreement was just political hot air. Contrary to what Hoffman asserted and what aldermen were still whining about, no one had been kept in the dark about the city’s intent to lease the meters, he said, and the deal had hardly been a rush job. “This started in 2007! This wasn’t an idea just picked out of a hat to do this! This was under due diligence in 2007! This is a very simple deal—it’s not that complicated! This had been talked about for two years!”

The mayor acknowledged that people have been "frustrated" with the meter handoff, and that one mistake had been made. “There should’ve been a transition of three or four months, that’s all,” he said. “If there had been I believe we wouldn’t have had all these problems.”

But reporters wanted to go back to Hoffman’s report and its charge that the city may have given the meters up for far less than they were worth. Daley stood up straight and announced that he had complete confidence in his financial team. “I will put Paul Volpe and Gene Saffold against anyone,” he said. And he again pointed out that the city had hired outside experts to help put the deal together: William Blair and Company.

Why that firm? What were their qualifications?  

Daley got indignant: “Those are good people!”

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