Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday blasted outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn for muscling his former campaign manager into the job of executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority as the lame-duck Democrat prepares to leave office.
Emanuel portrayed Chicago taxpayers as the big losers now that Quinn’s choice — 30-year-old Lou Bertuca —has been handed a two-year contract to run the state agency that built and manages U.S. Cellular Field and rebuilt Soldier Field.
The mayor’s comments were an instant replay of the arguments he made two years ago, when Quinn used a similar maneuver to install deputy state budget director and former TV reporter-turned-Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft as Bertuca’s predecessor.
“I don’t think it should be played for politics. . . . God forbid something happened financially or in the fiscal management and stewardship. Chicago taxpayers are on the hook. This should not be just for anybody. It should be for people who . . . take the responsibilities seriously and have a good background and knowledge as it relates to this authority,” Emanuel said Wednesday.
“If you look at the appointments I’ve made [to the stadium authority board] and the quality of the individuals, they have . . . a financial background that I think is essential because they are the thin line protecting Chicago taxpayers. I do not think this should be used in any other way but with the seriousness attached to the responsibility.”
Emanuel stressed that he has “nothing against Lou” Bertuca. But he thinks “political respect” and etiquette alone demanded that the job be left vacant until a new governor takes over.
“Gov.-elect [Bruce] Rauner will be coming in. He should have the right in time to not only appoint his nominees to the board, but then we would work together with the values I just enumerated” to choose a new executive director, the mayor said.
“This is an important entity. It has fiduciary responsibilities that, if not handled appropriate, would put Chicago taxpayers on the hook, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week, Bertuca argued that financial acumen is not the most important qualification for the coveted job.
“I have management experience, and management is what this position needs. I know how to deliver results and I’m really excited about the opportunity. I’m gonna bring a new energy to the position,” Bertuca said Monday.
Three years ago, Chicago’s share of the state income tax was nearly docked by $1.1 million because the 2 percent hotel tax increase that helped finance the Soldier Field renovation nearly fell short of the 5.5 percent annual growth needed to retire the $400 million debt.
That’s on top of the $5 million a year contribution Chicago taxpayers had already made.
Although the city dodged that bullet, Emanuel’s Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott has warned that an “accelerating curve” of bond payments creates an increased risk that, at some point, Chicago taxpayers will “be on the hook.” Wall Street rating agencies have “expressed concern” about the payment schedule, Scott has said.
Monday’s 4-to-3 vote by Quinn’s appointees, three of whom are operating on expired terms, has renewed speculation that Emanuel will seek legislation changing the stadium authority — either by shifting the balance of power from the governor to the mayor or by letting Chicago taxpayers off the hook entirely.
On Wednesday, Emanuel acknowledged that he has “discussed that very point.”
Asked if Bertuca’s appointment can be undone, the mayor said, “I’m having the legal team — there’s a lot of people interested in that question. Not me alone.”
Two years ago, Quinn beat Emanuel at his own game of political hardball in a fight over who will lead the stadium authority.
Over the mayor’s objections, the ISFA board voted 4 to 3 to approve the governor’s choice of Kraft as executive director.
Emanuel was bitterly opposed to Kraft, arguing that she lacked the financial acumen to protect Chicago taxpayers, who are the financial backstop for Soldier Field bonds whenever the city hotel tax falls short of the revenue required to pay off the bond debt.
The mayor favored Diana Ferguson, former chief financial officer for the Chicago Public Schools and an Emanuel appointee to the board that oversees the city’s Infrastructure Trust.
Quinn sealed the job for Kraft by pulling a fast one. He replaced attorney Manny Sanchez, whose term on the board had expired, with Chicago physician Dr. Quentin Young, who voted for Kraft.
Young is now the only Quinn appointee whose term has not expired.