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Chicago Infrastructure Trust Sails Through City Council

By Chuck Sudo in News on Apr 24, 2012 8:40PM

Photo Credit: © Brooke Collins/City of Chicago

The Chicago City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $1.7 billion, privately financed Chicago Infrastructure Trust today by a vote of 41-7. It's easier to simply name the aldermen who voted against the plan: Bob Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th); Toni Foulkes (15th); Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Brendan Reilly (42nd) and John Arena (45th).

Waguespack, Arena and Fioretti, in particular, were among the aldermen asking the hard questions about oversight for the Trust amidst concern the lack of transparency could draw comparisons to Richard M. Daley's much ballyhooed parking meter privatization deal.

After the vote, Emanuel said the debate over the Trust was "colored"—and "correctly" so—by that bit of how politics works in Chicago.

“(The parking meter deal) was introduced on one day and, four days later, you voted on it. This has been over six weeks... . You made no changes [on the parking meter deal]. Sixteen were made here. ... You leased a city asset for numbers of decades. Here, we own the public asset and will continue to own it,” the mayor said.

“At every level — process and substance — this is different. And I appreciate why it colored the debate. You’re supposed to learn from mistakes. That’s what we tell our children ... . And I understand why people want to use the parking meters for political purposes to scare everybody. But, I want you to step back and think about it. Contrast.”

This deal was debated over six weeks and Emanuel said he would make no more concessions. Contrast.

Emanuel has promoted the initiative as the signature project of his mayoralty, saying it would help Chicago rebuild an infrastructure desperately in need of a makeover without passing the bill off on "the taxpayers." Waguespack introduced an ordinance that would give City Council more oversight into how projects would be chosen and subject the Trust to FOIA and Open Meetings Act requests. Apparently, 41 thought the changes already made were enough.

In his closing arguments before the vote, Emanuel addressed Waguespack and Arena directly.

"Ald. Waguespack said Chicago's not going to fall into the lake. He's correct," Emanuel said. "But cars are falling into the street. They were in Ald. Arena's ward. That's the difference. You're right. The city isn't, but actually our residents' cars are falling right through the bottom of the street."

Among the changes Emanuel made to the Trust was the addition of an alderman on the board; a council vote on all projects involving city money, assets or property; a provision requiring trust-funded projects to follow city bidding procedures; and a provision that prevents board members with a financial interest in a deal from voting on it.