Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Olympics? Budget? Whatever: Mayor Daley keeps it copacetic

Posted By on 06.30.09 at 08:27 PM

If there’s an insurgency afoot in Chicago, Mayor Daley isn’t aware or worried. His mind is on other things.

“I hope you don’t take pictures of me,” he abruptly told a photographer in the middle of a press conference this afternoon. “You’re trying to make me always look mad. Now I can’t get emotional—I have to calm down. When you’re emotional, you start looking different.”

In fact, throughout his Q & A with reporters the mayor sounded surprisingly chill and jovial, passing up numerous opportunities to knock down his ever-louder critics and repeatedly proclaiming adherence to something like a live-and-let-live philosophy—which happened to be helpful as he discussed and deflected questions about the city’s budget deficit and funding for the Olympics.

Daley had some reason to feel copacetic. Minutes before he started the press conference, the City Council had concluded a fiery debate over whether to endorse his plan to save the city $14 million by making nonunionized city workers take 15 unpaid days off over the next six months. Some aldermen bitched, saying they wouldn’t sign off on the plan because Daley’s budget staff had kept information from them, but others countered that they’d all had plenty of time to get whatever information they needed. Most simply lamented that they didn’t know what else to do but vote yes.

The resolution was nonbinding—meaning Daley could have enacted the plan without any council say so—and even though the debate lasted nearly two hours, the administration wasn’t worried about the outcome: press releases announcing council approval were printed up before the vote was taken. It came in at 42-6.

Afterward Daley praised the aldermen for their support. He praised his budget staff for being honest and hardworking. He praised the furloughed city employees who were doing their share to help the city. He praised himself for being one of those employees. He even reserved some goodwill for organized labor, whose leaders have so far have resisted pay or benefit cuts that might avert city layoffs.

“Unions are good,” Daley said, and then added, “They’re not all evil.”

He was asked about the idea, floated earlier by a frustrated First Ward alderman Manny Flores, that the City Council start conducting its own independent budget analysis since some aldermen don’t think they can trust the administration’s.

“They can analycize anything,” Daley said with a shrug.

Another reporter told the mayor that alderman Sandi Jackson said she’s reconsidering her support for the Olympics because of a “credibility gap” created by Daley’s contradictory statements on funding them.

“First of all, there’s no credibility gap,” Daley said. “There’s no credibility. I don’t know where they get that.”

But if aldermen start opposing the Olympics?

“If they want to be against it, fine—they can be against it,” he said. “This is not Mayor Daley’s idea. Let’s forget that. This is not Mayor Daley’s idea. This is not Mayor Daley’s plan. We went though a whole process several years ago with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and we got strong support, and we were the finalists—they selected Chicago on behalf of the United States of America. We represent the United States of America—not just Chicago. . . . If they oppose it, I have no problem with that.”

Yesterday, the mayor was reminded, inspector general David Hoffman declared that the City Council should start discussing Olympic funding plans right away—not in a month or two, as has been promised by bid committee chairman Patrick Ryan.

Instead of replying, Daley calmly offered a rough outline of his plans to cover potential cost overruns—which is apparently all there is so far. “We are now trying to get an insurance policy. We told them—we have $500 million from the city, $250 million from the state, and an insurance policy—we are trying to get an insurance policy. That’s it!”

But wait, I asked him—what was the agreement you signed on to in Switzerland?

“I signed nothing!” Daley cried out. He ran from behind his podium and stopped directly in front of me, shouting and giggling inches from my face. “I signed nothing! Please! Write that—the Reader! Please! I signed nothing! I signed nothing! I don’t know where you get that—I signed nothing!”

My mistake—he merely promised to sign something: an agreement that the city would cover any cost overruns if it hosts the games.

The mayor was still cracking up as he returned to the podium and promised that more details on the plan would follow—as soon as he and the bid committee had any. “We have not come up with that end plan yet,” he said, but vowed that when they did, “We’ll be briefing you on it.”

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