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Clinton Restates Support Of Chicago Infrastructure Trust In DNC Speech

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 6, 2012 7:00PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with former President Bill Clinton in March at Emanuel's announcing the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. (Photo via Chicago Mayor's Office Facebook page. Photo credit: ©2012 City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Judging from the response of some on Twitter Wednesday night, eyebrows were raised when former President Bill Clinton endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Infrastructure Trust during his 48-minute hard sell for re-electing President Barack Obama. Clinton's hearty endorsement drew a maniacal laugh from Emanuel.

People should have been more stunned that Clinton managed to get an arena full of Democrats to cheer for George W. Bush at one point in the speech. After all, Clinton was present when Emanuel announced the Infrastructure Trust in March. While hosting the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago in June, Clinton put even more heft behind the Infrastructure Trust and said he would love to see the model replicated in other cities.

“I was here when Rahm announced his investment fund,” Clinton said in Chicago at the opening of his second annual Clinton Global Initiative conference. “I met all these bankers and investment people and developers … I swear I had no idea whether I was meeting a Republican or a Democrat or an independent — they actually showed up to get something done.”

Clinton is supporting a loyal former staffer here, that much is obvious. But he also may be speaking from his own experience as President. The achievements of the Clinton administration become more impressive when we remember how they happened in the face of a hostile and belligerent Congress throwing up road blocks at every turn. Clinton’s first term shares many parallels with Barack Obama’s first term. But both Clinton and Emanuel have shown that they'll listen to, and do business with, private interests when it suits them.

Some of the donors to the Clinton Global Initiative include:

  • Citigroup’s Citi Foundation ($1 million to $5 million)
  • AIG ($500,000 to $1 million)
  • Lehman Brothers ($100,000 to $250,000)
  • Goldman Sachs ($50,000 to $100,000)

Emanuel has used the current culture in Washington to justify setting up the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

“I wanted a breakout strategy for the city that doesn’t tie us to Washington or Springfield’s dysfunction,” Emanuel said. “The day we announced [the trust], Congress passed the ninth extension of the Highway Bill from 2005 for 90 days. I cannot tie the city’s economic vitality, its future, its viability, to that dysfunction.”

Sixteen months into his mayoralty, Rahm Emanuel has proven to be a mayor whose actions bear watching because his words about how he plans to rebuild Chicago are so vague, chosen to tug at the heartstrings of voters without asking too many questions about the details.

Emanuel has displayed a “do as I say, not as I do” quality about government transparency that rivals his predecessor. He’s gone out of town for undisclosed business trips, butted heads with City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson on investigations, his administration has refused FOIA requests to the Chicago Tribune, and most notably he set up the Chicago Infrastructure Trust as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, which shields it from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act requests.

In order to maintain that transparency promise on which Emanuel campaigned, the Infrastructure Trust’s Board, which includes former Inspector General David Hoffman, included language in its bylaws that they would cooperate with any investigation launched by the IG’s office. Hoffman said he learned his lesson from the parking meter privatization deal made by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The Board's decision to cooperate with the IG may not have been what Emanuel expected, but it was a welcome relief for those of us who have been calling for transparency in the project all along. Both Emanuel and City Budget Director Alexandra Holt said the Trust was established as a matter of economic necessity to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure they say has been neglected for decades. With the word "tax" apparently kryptonite to voters and with the city streets, public transit system, water system and other public infrastructure systems barely concealed behind the skyline (like the Bluth family building a miniature city to con its Japanese investors), we can see why Emanuel is pushing for the project. But it can only truly work if we know what projects the Trust is funding and what it could possibly cost us down the road.

Watch Rahm's grand plan on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

But transparency in the Trust is paramount and, if it can help rebuild the city's infrastructure without leading to another parking meter deal or worse, maybe it can serve as the model Emanuel and Clinton hope.