Obama's Olympic Bid: The Chicago Way

Posted: Sep 29, 2009 1:40 PM
President Obama will be traveling with wife Michelle to Copenhagen, Denmark, this week in hopes of persuading the International Olympic Committe to hold the 2016 Summer Games in Chicago.  But is this effort on the city's behalf, or are there other interests at play here?

In June, Obama announced the creation of a "White House Olympics Office," the first of its kind to my knowledge.  Obama's close advisor, Valerie Jarrett, is leading the White House effort to lure the games back to the United States. 

Prior to taking up her role in the White House, Jarrett had been the chair of Chicago 2016, the organization leading Chicago's bid efforts.  Politico reported back in June, that Chicago 2016 is "led partly by Obama allies, and has leaned heavily on the international goodwill generated first by Obama’s candidacy and now his presidency.
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It adopted a six-point logo it calls “the Chicago star” that serves as bid’s official logo, which tracks closely with the themes employed by the Obama campaign — with hope representing “the top point” and other points including respect, harmony and celebration.

Four of the five co-chairs of Obama's inaugural committee have unpaid leadership roles in the Chicago bid, including Pat Ryan (read more on him here), the chairman and CEO of Chicago 2016; John Rodgers, the treasurer and director of Chicago 2016; Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress who led Obama’s meteoric presidential campaign fundraising; and Bill Daley, the former Clinton Commerce Secretary and brother of the Chicago mayor.

Ryan and Priztker each contributed $100,000 or more to Chicago 2016, as did White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, an Obama family friend, who also served on the Chicago committee. It still counts Obama confidant and vacation companion Eric Whitaker among its members. Jarrett was replaced as vice chair by Martin Nesbitt, the treasurer of Obama’s campaign and another Obamaland fixture.

But Olympic observers and several members of the IOC last month told POLITICO that the real test of Obama’s commitment will be whether he travels to Copenhagen on October 2 to personally deliver Chicago’s final pitch to IOC members who will vote to decide the winning bid for the 2016 games. That could be risky for him, since it would undoubtedly be cast as a personal defeat if Chicago loses.

Though Jarrett, a long-time friend and fundraiser of the Obamas, has relinquished her position on the Chicago 2016 board, her slum-lord record in Chicago is highly relevant to her current pursuit of Chicago's Olympic bid--a project which will cost taxpayers nearly $5 billion and bring about untold windfall to developers and contractors. 

In her latest book, Culture of Corruption, Michelle Malkin takes a close look at Jarrett's shady past:

In an uncommonly hard-hitting investigative piece, the Boston Globe’s Binyamin Appelbaum blew the whistle on the rodent-infested, sewage-clogged Chicago slums run by the Obamas’ most trusted confidante. Jarrett refused to answer any questions about Grove Parc, “citing what she called a continuing duty to Habitat’s former business partners.” A “continuing duty,” presumably, to whitewash the inconvenient truth about the failed public-private partnerships the Obamas continue to promote in the White House:

“They are rapidly displacing poor people, and these companies are profiting from this displacement,” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that seeks to help tenants stay in the same neighborhoods.

“The same exact people who ran these places into the ground,” the private companies paid to build and manage the city’s affordable housing, “now are profiting by redeveloping them.”

In 2006, while Valerie Jarrett was executive vice president of Grove Parc’s management firm Habitat Company, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex a bottom-of-the-barrel 11 on a 100-point scale. Another Habitat-mismanaged property called Lawndale Restoration was so run-down that city officials urged the federal government to take over the complex.

Jamie Kalven, a veteran Chicago housing activist, told the Boston Globe about Barack Obama: “I hope there is not much predictive value in his history and in his involvement with that community.” Kalven’s hopes will likely be dashed. As Chicago goes, so goes the nation. Obama has made a career of rewarding failure and no amount of overhyped “Hope” will change that. He sponsored a plethora of bills in the state Senate benefitting affordable housing developers. In February 2009, he unveiled a plan to set up a $1 billion Housing Trust Fund “to rehabilitate housing in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.” “Trust Fund?” Try slush fund, bottomless pit, and eternal stimulus for the real estate moguls posing as saviors of urban America.

In one of those endless Chicago coincidences, Grove Parc Plaza Apartments—now targeted for demolition as a result of years of neglect by Obama’s developer friends—sits in the shadows of the proposed site of the city’s 2016 Olympics Stadium.

Ever since the Obamas moved into the White House, Jarrett has used her new position to bolster her old friend and employer Mayor Richard Daley's bid for the Olympics. 

Michelle Obama is also lending a hand to her good friend Valerie:

A top White House adviser said first lady Michelle Obama is planning to make a dramatic presentation when she offers the closing argument for the bid by her hometown of Chicago to win the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“There won’t be a dry eye in the room,” said Valerie Jarrett, who plans to travel with the first lady to Copenhagen for the Oct. 2 International Olympic Committee vote.

“I’m sure that it will touch the hearts of each of the IOC members,” Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said today in an interview.

Jarrett declined to say what the first lady will tell the IOC. The stakes are high because winning the games would be an economic boost nationally, as well as for Chicago, she said.

“It will be a huge economic engine for Chicago, but it will have a ripple effect throughout the country,” Jarrett said, adding that U.S. corporations have voiced support for Chicago’s bid.

And with the revelation that Barack Obama will be joining Michelle and Valerie in Copenhagen, Jarrett admitted:

[T]he president several days ago personally communicated his desire to be in Copenhagen to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“The president has been an ardent supporter from the beginning,” Ms. Jarrett added. “He cares passionately about bringing the Olympics to Chicago. . . .It’s good for the U.S. and it’s good for Chicago. We talk about it every day.”

President Obama certainly does have his priorities in line--talking to his commander in Afghanistan once in 70 days, but chatting about their plan for Chicago's Olympic bid every day. 

And don't think Jarrett is the only Obama administration official who will benefit from the Chicago bid: Senior Advisor David Axelrod's PR firm, AKPD, has been doing work for the organization formed to lure the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. 

And who will be stuck with the bill to prop-up this scheme?  You guessed it--taxpayers!:

“Even if [White House officials] don’t give financial guarantees, at least now they can say there is some government support behind the Olympic bid, and they’ve never been able to say that,” said Mallon.

“We’ve never had anything approaching this. Historically, the U.S. government has said, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with governing the Olympic Games and supporting Olympic sports in the United States.”

The new office – officially called the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport – will “coordinate federal resources, and act as liaison to, any organizing committee for an Olympic and Paralympic Games hosted in the United States,” according to a statement announcing the new office.

The office also will work to promote youth sports, particularly in urban areas, the statement says. “As the International Olympic Committee moves forward with their selection process we hope that this new office can serve as a model for youth involvement worldwide,” Obama said in the statement.

And finally, columnist Steve Bartin sums up the Chicago-style corruption which surrounds this entire effort:

In Chicago, prestige is important, but graft is the real king. In Chicago, one of the most corrupt big cities, the Olympics represents, more than anything, a grand chance for a giant heist.

Economists have a technical term for profiting from the political process: it’s called rent-seeking. Chicago’s politically favored businesses, unions, and insiders with ties to Mayor Daley and Alderman Burke have perfected this activity. The Olympics just provide another opportunity to clean up at the public expense.

This is how it works. On Chicago public works projects, those on the inside hope to get overpaid at the expense of Illinois and federal taxpayers. Now throw in the Olympics where opportunities for such activities have long been rife with corruption and you can understand the glee in the Chicago machine’s eyes.

Right now there isn’t any financial guarantee from the federal government. But Chicago’s power elite hopes Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and others can convince the Congress at some point to help with Chicago’s Olympic sized costs if they get the 2016 games. They can always call it a “stimulus”!

…The fear of cost overruns, a history of bloated union contracts, and fraud has tempered enthusiasm for the Olympics. Mayor Daley has had to promise tighter oversight on the whole Olympics process. Yet this has not prevented an effective grassroots opposition organization from springing up. No Games Chicago has been instrumental at raising questions of money and accountability, dampening public support for the games. No Games Chicago spokesman Thomas Tesser explains:

The City Council voted to give oversight of the City’s Olympic commitments to Ald. Ed Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee. This is the final cruel joke played by the Council on the taxpayers. Burke has become a millionaire doing deals with firms that have business with the city and has collected millions in campaign contributions from firms doing business with the city. Pat Ryan, the chairman of the 2016 effort, contributed $3,000 to Burke. Burke didn’t mention that he has ten clients who are major donors to the 2016 Committee, giving a total of at least $1 million in cash and services, and likely much, much more.

But, Alderman Burke isn’t the only insider benefiting from the Olympics. Real Estate developer Michael Scott also stands to gain. The Chicago Tribune reports of Scott: “A member of Mayor Richard Daley’s team working to bring the Olympics to Chicago has quietly arranged to develop city-owned land near a park that would be transformed for the 2016 Summer Games, potentially positioning himself to cash in if the Games come here.”

Michael Scott (read about him here) is also President of the Chicago Public School board. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Scott

has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating how students are chosen for admission to some of the city’s most elite public schools.

This new scandal might put in to question Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s leadership as CEO of the Chicago Public School system.

All the recent skepticism of the cost of the games couldn’t stop Chicago insiders from getting the stunning vote of support from Chicago’s City Council. This is still a one-party, all-machine, all-the-time town. In a vote of 49-0, the City Council showed that there is not a single vote to back the nearly fifty percent who oppose Mayor Daley’s plans.

Michelle Obama will lead a Chicago delegation for the last pitch for the games in Copenhagen next month. Some speculate that President Obama will make a dramatic last minute appearance to make Chicago’s case in front of the International Olympic Committee. No one knows for sure whether Chicago will get the 2016 games but if it does, it will be a grand feeding time at the trough for the insiders and ever bigger burdens on the less well-connected businesses and individuals who inhabit Chicago.

The No Games Chicago group is scheduled to have a protest rally this week to reflect the overwhelming opposition of Chicagoans to hosting the games--will they be attacked as an "astroturf mob," too?
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