What a perfect metaphor for Chicago: thousands of Oprah fans sheepishly
corralled into their Michigan Avenue pens, fighting their full bladders
for hours in the sun and, finally, gyrating and bowing in unison as if
they were worshiping at the altar of a pagan god.
It reminded me of the Chicago City Council.
Last week, the toady aldermen danced and bowed before the Lord High Mayor Richard M. Daley as they wrote an IOU to the greedy International Olympic Committee on the backs of hard-pressed Chicago taxpayers.
suggest that the Oprah jamboree was designed to impress the IOC, so
that it will be more inclined to grant Chicago the 2016 Summer Olympics.
If a subservient population is a big plus for winning the 2016
Olympics, then with the Oprah and City Council displays falling in the
same week, Chicago should have the Games in the bag.
big on subservience.
Look at the City Council's failure to probe the
most obvious problems with the city's Olympics bid. (Remind you of the
Council's failure to probe Daley's parking-meter deal?) You will recall
that the IOC wants Chicago to cover all the Games' losses, the $500
million guarantee from the city and $250 million from the state being
insufficient to satisfy the IOC. So, the IOC finally pressured Daley
into promising to sign an open-ended agreement that will commit Chicago
to cover whatever cost overruns occur. The fact that the combined
city-state $750 million guarantee wasn't enough to satisfy the IOC
should tell you something about the IOC's avarice or its fear that cost
overruns could exceed the $750 million.
The Chicago 2016
Committee, which still insists on its Web site that the Games won't
cost taxpayers anything, now is emphasizing that taxpayers aren't in
jeopardy because the sponsors will buy an insurance policy that will
cover any unexpected and uncovered costs.
A friend and former
insurance executive scoffed at such a claim. Who would sell such a
policy, he wondered. Insurance spreads risk around a large pool of
insured against bad stuff happening. The bad stuff, in this case, could
be hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink. But there is no pool of
insured; Chicago is the only one covered, so the cost of the insurance
will fall entirely on Chicago. (Unless pieces of the policy can be sold
So, how big a premium does anyone have to pay
to cover an agreement that could generate hundreds of millions of
dollars of losses for the insured? What kind of company would be
willing to risk such a large percentage of its capitalization to cover
a single risk with such a potentially huge payout? What kind of history
is available to evaluate this one-time risk? Actually, Chicago's sad
history of bringing in big projects on time and budget by itself should
be a deal killer.
Insurance for high-risk, one-time events is
not unheard of; satellite launches come to mind. But there have been
more satellite launches than cities that have hosted the Olympics, so
no matter if, say, London ends up in the black, it doesn't tell an
insurer all that much.
I venture into an area that I know
little or nothing about. These are just common sense kinds of questions
that deserve detailed and clear answers. But just asking questions
isn't something Daley appreciates -- in fact, he appears to take it
very personally. The Tribune reported that when Ald. Manny Flores (1st)
began asking too many questions during a Council meeting, Daley -- at
the time chatting with aldermen in the council's anteroom -- became
"livid." An alderman who witnessed the flare-up said the mayor kept
asking, "What's his problem? What's his problem?"
famous temper not withstanding, obsequiousness -- like that displayed
at Oprah's unseemly paean or by the City Council when it wrote Daley
the blank check that he and the IOC wanted -- is not something that is
required from the citizens of this city and state. It's a democracy,
for crying out loud.
That fact seems little understood in
Chicago's political and corporate hierarchy, which harbors, I suspect,
a philosophy that if you get the "people" too involved, they'll get in
the way of what's good for them. That negative result of that
patronizing attitude is reflected in polls showing that the once
popular Olympics idea has soured. The behind-the-curtains strategy that
Daley's troops have employed has generated the kind of public
resistance that they now apparently fear will squelch Chicago's
chances. If that happens, the political and corporate leadership here
will have only themselves to blame.