All the pres­i­dent’s cronies and the Olympics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Michelle Malkin

When gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials play the Olympic lot­tery, tax­pay­ers lose. That has been the dis­as­trous ex­pe­ri­ence of host cities around the world. (Forbes mag­a­zine even dubbed the post-Olympic fi­nan­cial bur­den the “Host City Curse.”) So, why are Pres­i­dent Obama and his White House en­tourage headed to Copen­hagen, Den­mark, this week to push a fis­cally doomed Chicago 2016 bid? Po­lit­i­cal pay­back.

Bring­ing the games to the Windy City is Chicago Mayor Richard M. Da­ley’s “vi­sion.” The en­trenched Demo­cratic power­bro­ker — in of­fice since 1989 — would like to cap off his graft-haunted ten­ure with a glo­ri­ous $4 bil­lion bread-and-cir­cuses pro­duc­tion. The in­flu­en­tial Da­ley ma­chine backed Barack Obama for the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary. Mr. Obama lav­ished praise on Mr. Da­ley’s stew­ard­ship of the city. Long­time Da­ley cronies helped pave Mr. Obama’s path to 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. Now, they’re re­turn­ing the fa­vor for their home­town boss.

Se­nior White House ad­viser and Obama con­sigliere Va­lerie Jar­rett is a Da­ley loy­al­ist who worked as his deputy chief of staff, deputy cor­po­ra­tion coun­sel and plan­ning com­mis­sioner. She hired the fu­ture first lady of the United States, then-Michelle Robin­son, as a may­oral as­sis­tant. Ms. Jar­rett went on to serve as pres­i­dent and CEO of The Habi­tat Com­pany, a real es­tate firm with a mas­sive stake in fed­er­ally funded Chicago pub­lic hous­ing projects.

One of those pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, the Grove Parc Plaza Apart­ments, was run into the ground un­der Ms. Jar­rett’s watch. Fed­eral in­spec­tors graded the con­di­tion of the com­plex a bot­to­mof-the-bar­rel 11 on a 100-point scale. “They are rapidly dis­plac­ing poor peo­ple, and th­ese com­pa­nies are prof­it­ing from this dis­place­ment,” Matt Gins­berg-Jaeckle of South­side To­gether Or­ga­niz­ing for Power, a com­mu­nity group that seeks to help ten­ants stay in the same neigh­bor­hoods, told the Bos­ton Globe last year. “‘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.’”

Co­in­ci­den­tally enough, Grove Parc — 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 Olympic Sta­dium. Ms. Jar­rett served as vice chair of Chicago’s 2016 Sum­mer Olympics bid com­mit­tee be­fore mov­ing to the White House, where she has helmed a new “White House Of­fice on Olympic, Par­a­lympic and Youth Sport” with an undis­closed bud­get and staff.

It’s not just tax­pay­ers in cash-strapped Chicago who should be wor­ried about this field of schemes. Crain’s Chicago Busi­ness re­ports that Jar­rett and Chicago 2016 com­mit­tee mem­ber Lori Healey met this month with fed­eral of­fi­cials at the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment “to dis­cuss fi­nanc­ing op­tions” for the es­ti­mated $1 bil­lion Olympic Vil­lage.

The door is open, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion is “will­ing to meet and lis­ten” to any fed­eral sub­sidy pro­pos­als, Ms. Jar­rett said. Hey, what hap­pened to Mr. Obama’s tough rules on in­ter­est-con­flicted lob­by­ing by his ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials?

A ma­jor­ity of Chicagoans who live in pay-for-play-plagued Cook County op­pose pub­lic fund­ing for the Olympic party. The city has more than a half- bil­lion-dol­lar deficit — and just re­ceived word that its Olympic in­sur­ance pol­icy will cover only about $1.1 bil­lion of the $3.8 bil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get drawn up by Mr. Da­ley. Cost over­runs, fraud and union-in­flated con­tracts are in­evitable. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs de­fended Mr. Obama’s all-out cam­paign for Chicago’s 2016 Olympics bid by claim­ing Amer­ica will see a “tan­gi­ble eco­nomic ben­e­fit.”

But as is al­ways the case with sports cor­po­rate wel­fare dis­guised as “eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” an elite few will ben­e­fit far more than oth­ers.

Take se­nior White House ad­viser and Obama cam­paign guru David Ax­el­rod. He’s been a Da­ley loy­al­ist since 1989, when he signed up as a politi- cal con­sul­tant for the mayor’s first run. Mr. Ax­el­rod’s pub­lic re­la­tions firm, Chicago-based AKPD Mes­sage and Me­dia, has pitched in work for the Chicago 2016 com­mit­tee. It is un­known how much AKPD has re­ceived for its ser­vices — or how much they’ll make in fu­ture in­come if the bid is suc­cess­ful. AKPD cur­rently owes Ax­el­rod $2 mil­lion.

The head of the Chicago 2016 bid com­mit­tee is Pa­trick Ryan, chair­man of the Aon Cor­po­ra­tion and a co-chair of Mr. Obama’s deep-pock­eted pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee. Also on both of those com­mit­tees: Obama con­fi­dante Penny Pritzker, who, in ad­di­tion, chairs the Olympic Vil­lage sub­com­mit­tee and is pres­i­dent of Pritzker Realty Group — a mega-de­vel­oper in Illi­nois that could reap un­told mil­lions in project work if the Da­ley ma­chine/White House cam­paign suc­ceeds. For­mer Pritzker ex­ec­u­tive and Obama cam­paign trea­surer Martin Nes­bitt is also on the bid com­mit­tee — and serves as Mr. Da­ley’s chair­man of the Chicago Hous­ing Au­thor­ity.

An­other bid com­mit­tee mem­ber, Michael Scott Jr., is “try­ing to de­velop a for-profit real es­tate project that would sit within feet of the cycling venue if Chicago wins the 2016 Sum­mer Games,” ac­cord­ing to the Chicago Tri­bune.

It takes a crony-filled White House to raise a Chicago Olympic vil­lage. Messrs. Da­ley and Obama will get the glory. Amer­ica will get stuck with the bill.

Michelle Malkin is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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