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Monday, June 29, 2009

The Olympic games have already begun

Posted By on 06.29.09 at 08:24 PM

The controversy over funding for the Olympics is hardly about funding for the Olympics anymore. It’s about whether Mayor Daley still gets to say and do whatever he wants.

Over the last few days, the mayor has struggled to articulate—even by his standards—what exactly he agreed to during his meetings with the International Olympic Committee a few days back.

It appeared to reporters, the IOC, and most of the rest of the world that Daley guaranteed that the city—i.e., we the people—would cover any cost overruns the 2016 games might incur.

But when he came back to town the mayor vowed to look out for taxpayers and make sure any final Olympic agreement would ensure they’re not left with the tab.

Today Daley sought to clarify those comments, insisting he wasn’t still trying to work a new deal with the IOC (since he can’t). Instead, he was out to make sure various insurance packages and private financing arrangements will cover the full cost of the games.

Who’s going to provide billions of dollars worth of insurance and funding, and how will the mayor and his bid committee get them to do it at no cost to the public?

Daley and his team aren’t ready to tell us just yet.

That irks city Inspector General David Hoffman. Not so long ago Hoffman was busy discovering the shocking news that city garbage collectors sometimes loaf on the job. Today he told the Chicago City Club that the way the administration was putting together its secret funding plan was starting to remind him of how the parking meter lease deal went down. That’s the same lease deal he described as “hasty” and “dubious” in a report earlier this month.

Under city ordinance, Hoffman’s office has wide power to “promote economy, efficiency, effectiveness and integrity in the administration of the programs and operations of the city government by reviewing programs, identifying any inefficiencies, waste and potential for misconduct therein, and recommending to the mayor and the city council policies and methods for the elimination of inefficiencies and waste, and the prevention of misconduct.”

But never before has the IG—not Hoffman and certainly not his ineffective predecessors—taken to giving speeches, weighing in on the controversies of the day, and issuing on-the-spot challenges to the officials elected to run the government.

The rumor around City Hall—advanced aggressively by some of the mayor’s allies—is that Hoffman is gearing up to launch his own campaign for mayor. Today he acknowledged that he’s thinking about running for something.

Don’t expect the attack dogs to wait for an official campaign announcement. They’ll be tearing into him at tomorrow morning’s City Council meeting, if not sooner. “Our great inspector general knows all and sees all,” alderman Berny Stone sneered during the council meeting after Hoffman’s parking meter report. “Next the inspector general is going to tell Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella how to manage the Sox and the Cubs. What is his job? Is his job to run the city?”

Someone probably should while Mayor Daley's trying to lock up the Olympics. But Stone has been a Hoffman hater since an earlier investigation targeted one of his political workers, and there are many other less vocal critics in the City Council. After today their numbers are sure to grow. Nobody likes a do-gooder who starts thinking he’s got power—unless he’s willing to give them a little piece of the action.

All this is happening when most aldermen hadn’t even finished shaking off the blows they received for signing off on the parking meter mess. Some are already pissed the mayor’s trying to push them around again; they’re not going to enjoy being squeezed additionally by somebody who calls himself the inspector general.

Others, of course, are donning hairshirts for their rubber-stamp ways, scurrying to protect themselves from an angry public, or picking up the reform mantle they were forced to set aside after Daley rebounded from the Hired Truck and patronage scandals of 2005 and 2006.

Tomorrow alderman Manny Flores and some allies will formally propose an ordinance that attempts to limit the city’s Olympic obligations to the $500 million approved by the council two years ago—and to close a possible loophole that the mayor could try to use to broaden the commitment: “This ordinance supersedes any language ... that may be construed as limiting the authority of the City Council to affirm the $500,000,000 cap on the City’s financial obligation to the Games.”

Then the council will get to vote to approve the city’s latest plan to cut pay and services, which already has even the most cautious aldermen contemplating such radical things as legislative oversight.

The fun will continue on Thursday, when the council’s finance committee will hold another hearing on the parking meter lease deal, this time focusing on how it came about. Any aldermen who plan to attend are welcome to ask questions the city hasn’t been willing to answer so far, starting with: exactly whose idea was this, and when and why did it move forward?

In the past Mayor Daley has always survived his tough spots by letting his critics lose their nerve, get distracted, or simply self-destruct. The difference this time is that there are a whole lot more of them, and each day thousands are reminded of why they’re pissed off when they pull into a public parking space.

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