Considering how much lame-duck Gov. Pat Quinn bragged about lowering the state’s unemployment rate, you’d think a talented top aide would be unafraid or even eager to try his luck in the private-sector job market now.
Why do any such thing when you have a calling to public service — and when Quinn has such a lucrative, taxpayer-funded parting gift for you?
This week, the outgoing governor’s appointees at an obscure yet highly important stadium agency obliterated any lingering doubt that he’s anything other than an old-school Illinois politician, the sort who places greater value on who you know than what you know.
Quinn’s legacy was sealed when he arranged a soft landing for Lou Bertuca. The 30-year-old manager of the failed $30 million re-election campaign got a two-year contract Monday to run the $51 million-a-year Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. Known as ISFA, it’s the state-city agency that owns and operates U.S. Cellular Field and that financed the renovation of Soldier Field.
To the losers apparently belong at least some of the spoils in Illinois, at least until the new governor is sworn in. Bertuca’s share will mean he actually gets a raise. He’ll now make $160,000 a year at ISFA, compared to the $92,004 that taxpayers spent for his work as a “special assistant” in Quinn’s office, before leaving to run the campaign last year.
Having begun his rapid rise in state government in 2006, in then-Lt. Gov. Quinn’s office, Bertuca doesn’t have any experience in running a major-league stadium. His only experience in sports was playing football at Lake Forest College after graduating from Fenwick High School, which also happens to be Quinn’s alma mater.
Perhaps Quinn was grooming Bertuca for the job at ISFA all along. It could be that Quinn was doing more than trying to enjoy a ball game and burnishing his man-of-the-people image when he sat in the Cell’s nosebleed seats during White Sox games with Bertuca and communications director Brooke Anderson (who, by the way, is marrying Bertuca soon).
I don’t know whether Anderson wrote her fiancee’s statement to the media on Monday. I would hope she could have done better than trying to tie this all-too-familiar tale of political favoritism together with Chicago’s feel-good story of the year.
“In the year that Jackie Robinson West took local pride in our Little Leaguers to new heights, this is a great opportunity to take the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to the next level,” Bertuca said in the statement.
Running ISFA has nothing to do with JRW. And there’s nothing little league about it.
State and city taxpayers each chip in $5 million a year to subsidize the agency. The city had to pay even more in 2011 because Chicago hotel tax revenues dipped and were not sufficient to make debt service payments on the bonds issued to renovate Soldier Field.
Tourism has bounced back in the past couple years, so the problem hasn’t recurred yet. Still, the Soldier Field bond deal is set up so that ISFA’s annual debt-service payments will grow from $35.7 million this year to $88.5 million by 2032.
Bertuca asks us to judge him on his performance in this crucial job. He might end up doing a great job.
But the taxpaying public would have been better served by hiring someone with high-finance experience and ideas for drawing more revenue-generating events to the Cell on days when the Sox don’t have home games.
That’s what Quinn himself could have done — or left Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner to do — if he wanted to do as well by the taxpayers as he has done for his own crony. Quinn might have held onto a scrap of his reputation for reform by giving Bertuca a generous but more conventional wedding gift.