Sunday, April 5, 2009

Analysis: Daley's big game: All or nothing
OLYMPICS | He has gambled, lost on past mega-projects
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April 5, 2009
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Mayor Daley's singular -- bordering on obsessive -- focus on hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games marks a return to an all-or-nothing strategy that has failed him in the past.

In the early years of his 20-year reign, Daley gambled and lost on a string of mega-projects.

He was so desperate to build a third airport at Lake Calumet that he offered to share control over O'Hare Airport, ban new runways there and close Midway Airport to persuade suburban Republicans, then-Gov. Jim Edgar and the Federal Aviation Administration to support the project.

To this day, Daley jokes about how foolish he was to make that deal and how lucky he was to snake out of it after then-Senate President James "Pate" Philip (R-Wood Dale) balked.

The mayor reversed his long-standing opposition to casino gambling just a few hours after three hotel and gaming conglomerates offered to build a $2 billion land-based casino-entertainment complex downtown. Edward Hanley, a powerful union leader who had close ties to the Daley family and reputed ties to organized crime, orchestrated the blockbuster deal.

The casino project went nowhere -- even though talk of a gambling expansion seems to resurface every year in Springfield.

Daley's grand plan for a downtown trolley system also derailed. Edgar publicly endorsed the project. The Republican-controlled General Assembly joined Congress in refusing to fund it. An angry Daley pulled the plug and accused the governor of paying lip service to another city project.

After the defeat of those three mega-projects, Daley made a conscious decision to lower his sights. He focused on the things he could achieve on his own -- by building police and fire stations, libraries, schools and parks that serve as "community anchors," expanding O'Hare and Midway and upgrading the city's overall appearance.

Now, the mayor is returning to his all-or-nothing roots.

He's doubling-down on Chicago's Olympic bid and gambling $500 million in local tax dollars that, even if his Olympic dream comes true, Chicago can host the 2016 Summer Games without losing money.

"The Olympic and Paralympic movement is bigger than Mayor Daley. It's bigger than anything else. ... I've been to Beijing and Athens and all these other cities that have had it. This is something you want to have for the city of Chicago," Daley said Friday as International Olympic Committee evaluation team members were settling in for their final site visit here before selecting a host city in October.

"This is not about the people now. This is about 2016 -- all the infrastructure, all the improvements you can do, spent by the federal government. It's amazing how much money they spend. Up-to-date security as well as public transportation and other things. This is an opportunity. That's why I'm excited about it. The legacy that will last you forever -- the things we're gonna do for the children of Chicago [and] another generation."

The mayor can only hope that this Olympic-size gamble turns out better than his earlier mega-projects.

And like Bears general manager Jerry Angelo trading quarterback Kyle Orton and a boatload of draft picks for Denver's Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, Daley can only hope that the price Chicago pays to win the Olympic sweepstakes doesn't turn out to be too high.

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