Lausanne Needs a Letter from Chicago
by Peter Zelchenko February 13, 2009

Valerie Jarrett: "Sir, there's an urgent fax coming in from the International Olympic Committee!"
Mayor Daley (looks at fax): "Oh. Oh. Ohhh... Ohhhhhh... Oh!"
Arnold Randall (whispers): "Crap, we must have lost to Madrid."
Valerie Jarrett: "Nah, I think he was just trying to read the logo."
[Adapted from an old Soviet joke about Brezhnev's stupidity.]

Judging from mainstream (pardon my French) media, you'd think Chicago really wanted the Olympics (pardon my Greek). Last Sunday's Tribune front-page headline was "We're game for Olympics" and was accompanied by a supposedly scientific poll. And, so typical of the major media, A Channel 7 story highlighting No Games Chicago's well-attended meeting in Hyde Park February 1 sought internal balance at the further expense of external balance, and also missed key facts.

Naturally, there is a subtler story: Only 64 percent of those polled by the Tribune were in favor of the Olympics -- without any explanation. And 31 percent were against or had no opinion. And an overwhelming majority didn't want our taxes to be wasted on it. But you know the cautious Tribune's front page wears its pro-Daley heart on its sleeve. John Kass's column is far less charitable and tells it like it is.

Another poll, by Zogby, said 84 percent were in favor. The Beachwood Reporter questioned its methodology, which has never been disclosed.

And, "A poll taken last year," Channel 7 said, "showed that the Olympics were supported by 72 percent of local residents. But now a new group is hoping to change that." Gee, thanks. They didn't mention that the poll was paid for by the organizing committee itself. And of course Channel 7 had to balance the story with that lead, with Olympic czar Arnold Randall's spew and with reassuring claims that somehow the $500 million ventured by taxpayers can't possibly be a bad risk. Blech. But for the sole major-media story we've seen, it was more than one might expect. Still, it's kind of like eating an ice-cream bar that fell and you had to pick dirt off of and tried to enjoy.

Well, well -- 64 percent, 84 percent, 72 percent, in secret polls paid for by the organizers. Probably close to 100 percent aren't even informed about the facts. How can you have an opinion if you know almost nothing? And why would people know almost nothing in a city that has already spent millions of dollars developing and promoting it?

"Taxpayer costs, congestion and security threats" as the biggest concerns among citizens, said the Tribune. They forgot the fact that Olympics tend to drive cities to bankruptcy.

And let's not forget the overarching concern: that Mayor Daley never asks before doing anything to the good people of Chicago. Even though he's very good at giving the appearance. This planning, with doors closed to all but developers, tends to trample the average Joe.

Gyata Kimmons, Chicago 2016's Minister of Promotion, made a presentation to the Jackson Park Advisory Council back in September 2007, as reported in the Hyde Park Herald (he later gave similar shows in Lincoln Park and elsewhere). He told the council, "I'm taking all the criticisms, all the issues, all the concerns -- anything anyone has to say." I'm sure he is, and he's crumpling it up and slipping it into trash cans all over the city.

Daley's creative directors have already been drooling over the idea of commandeering much of the lakefront and major parks for the Games. (Here's their view of the city.) Parks activists, particularly those on the Jackson Park and Lincoln Park Advisory Councils -- who together oversee about 70 percent of the most attractive space along the lakefront -- are not amused. They have had cold receptions for Gyata Kimmons. Last month, LPAC hosted a well-attended debate on the issue at Notebaert Nature Museum. U of C economist Allen Sanderson took Kimmons & Co. to task about their unscientific -- and presumably biased -- economic analysis.

And they've got their ducks in a row. Last year around this time, the Chicago Park District began hobbling the powers of all advisory councils in the city, presumably to make them docile enough to be steamrolled for the Olympic effort. They essentially began stripping our councils of their autonomy, forcing their members into the Park District's orbit and allowing them even less latitude in decision making, as well as reserving the right to dissolve a council they see as recalcitrant. So much for independent oversight and transparency.

Who are the mayor's big movers in the process? Just before Valerie Jarrett began helping Obama full time, she was one of the main floggers of the Olympics. And Arnold Randall's name should be familiar enough: As head of the Department of Planning and Development, member of the Chicago Plan Commission, and Chicago 2016 Committee development director, he's been one of Daley's key linebackers for the Latin School Soccer Field, the Children's Museum in Grant Park, the Olympics plan, and many other plays. This sort of hat-dance is so common among Daley's lieutenants, of which there really are only a few.

Some critics, myself included, have felt that the Olympics could bring important legacy infrastructure for transit and other public benefits, assuming the proper planning and public involvement. So, while we are not out-of-hand against the Olympics, we have rejected Daley's plan completely because of its closed-door nature. Last January, a few of us shut down a U.S. Senate transit committee hearing where Daley's people thought they would quietly beg for Federal money for Olympics infrastructure without any public transparency.

But none of this matters. When the process is this bureaucratized and supported by powerful interests, opponents are rolled flat by the sheer momentum. Unless a huge movement coalesces within the next two to four months, prepare to assume the position.

Trust me, I've been rolled over many times. You can have justice and an overwhelming majority of the community on your side, and the marketing team and aldermen will simply smile benignly, remain polite, give another PowerPoint presentation, and a few months later It Will Happen Just As They Said It Would.

If it's an extra-special issue, they'll let you do some charretting, outlining your ideas and objections with Sharpies on giant 3M tablets and letting you play with sticky dots, just to make you feel like you've had your say. Then they'll take that say, along with all of the other says, cram them into a box somewhere, and It Will Happen Just As They Said It Would.

However, we are fortunate that in this case the buck does not stop with Richard Daley. This time it stops outside his reach. What Chicago can do is to draft a clearly thought-out and concise letter to the IOC, telling them of the serious problems and significant opposition, charging no confidence in the mayor's self-serving plan. It needs to be signed by the most important opponent organizations.

The main groups that I know who have highlighted problems of the Olympics plan include:

There's at least a big chunk of your coalition, folks. I'm sure I missed some. If anyone knows of any other organizations or any coalition progress, please let me know.

Archive Index | Subscribe to The Party Line | Pete Home | Gapers Block Home

(c) 2003-2009, Peter Zelchenko and Gapers Block