Our Pledge To You

News

Quinn operative hired to run Illinois Sports Facilities Authority

Gov. Pat Quinn’s former campaign manager on Monday got a two-year contract to serve as executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in a lame-duck maneuver that Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner is hoping to reverse.

The 4-to-3 vote to hire 30-year-old Lou Bertuca was sealed with three votes cast by Quinn appointees whose terms have expired. It was an instant replay of the political hardball that Quinn played two years ago to out-maneuver Mayor Rahm Emanuel and install Kelly Kraft, Bertuca’s predecessor.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported last week that Quinn was maneuvering to install Bertuca as head of the state agency that built U.S. Cellular Field and rebuilt Soldier Field.

But as late as Friday, aides to Quinn insisted that Bertuca had no interest in the job.

Over the weekend, Bertuca apparently had a change of heart. With four Quinn appointees on the seven-member board, that sealed the deal for the governor’s choice, but not without controversy.

Emanuel’s three appointees to the board — Jim Reynolds, Norman Bobins and Richard Price — voted against Bertuca.

“We think there should be a search,” Reynolds said, arguing that Rauner deserves input. “We think the qualifications should be reviewed, and the best candidate should have an opportunity to have that job. And that’s not what happened today.”

Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said: “While the Mayor was supportive of a temporary/interim appointment to manage IFSA, he believes his appointees to the board and those of the next governor should select a permanent executive director of the agency.”

Chairman Emil Jones Jr., the former Illinois Senate president, argued that the law does not require a national search. 

“If the incoming governor would want to have a discussion with the board members, then he should have picked up the telephone and called. But I haven’t heard from him,” Jones said.

Bobins countered,  “Just going to the governor’s assistant isn’t much of a search. . . . The resume speaks for itself since his last position was campaign manager for Gov. Quinn. So why don’t we leave it there.”

Last week, Jones had been asked why the board would even consider filling the executive director’s job in the waning days of the Quinn administration — no less with the lame-duck governor’s former campaign manager.

Why not leave the opening and let Rauner fill it?

“It’s not his prerogative right now,” Jones said of Rauner.

“The appointment is not tied to the term of the governor.”

Rauner was so concerned about lame-duck hiring “shenanigans,” he had called for a hiring and appointment freeze in state government.

On Monday, the governor-elect said he hopes to find a way to reverse the Bertuca appointment.

“We want talented people who have expertise, high integrity, real knowledge to come into our state government in Springfield and turn our state around. We need talent and integrity. We’re not going to be using this old system of recruiting people in the government who worked on somebody’s campaign or somebody’s brother-in-law, we’re going to bring in talented people,” Rauner said. “We have a big turnaround in front of us, our state government is a mess.”

Bertuca is engaged to Quinn’s campaign spokesperson Brooke Anderson. His only experience in the field of sports is the four years he spent on the football team at Lake Forest College.

“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.

“This is the year of Jackie Robinson West. That team captured the hearts of the nation. I want to pursue new revenue opportunities and open up the stadium to give kids a chance to see what, for many, will be their first Major League Baseball game. There’s too many empty seats there masquerading as fans.

Bertuca said he changed his mind about the job after “people I really respect” asked him to reconsider. He refused to name them, but said he was not referring to Quinn.

“This is a great opportunity to do great things and work with the youth of Chicago and expand opportunities for them. I’m passionate about that. It’s not something I was born yesterday on. I’m gonna work my tail off to do a great job. I should be evaluated on my job performance,” he said.

Two years ago, Emanuel suffered a rare and stunning defeat in his turf battle with Quinn over who would lead the Sports Facilities Authority.

Over the mayor’s objections, the ISFA board voted 4 to 3 to approve the governor’s choice of Kraft, a deputy state budget director and former TV reporter-turned-Quinn spokeswoman, to be the agency’s 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.

“I was more than surprised. I was disappointed, discomfited, saddened. All of the above. . . . This is the first time that I’ve experienced this kind of situation,” Sanchez said at the time.

Instead of taking the embarrassment personally and vowing revenge, Emanuel portrayed Chicago taxpayers as the big losers.

“I have a disagreement there because the taxpayers of Chicago are on the line if, God forbid, something bad happens at the sports authority . . . for either Soldier Field or the Cell,” Emanuel said at the time.

“I believe we need the best team there, which is why I replaced the entire board with high professionals. And since there’s only five employees there, you don’t have an employee to waste.”

Emanuel argued that Ferguson had “exactly the right type of credentials” to right the ship at the stadium authority.

“Taxpayers of Chicago are on the hook if it’s mismanaged. [And] we know, in the past, there have been some questions,” the mayor said.

“I put forward a name of a person worthy of that position. . . . The governor made a different decision.”

In 2011, 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, we’ll be on the hook. . . . I know the [Wall Street] rating agencies have looked at that and expressed concern.”

Before beating Emanuel at the mayor’s own game of political hardball, Quinn had accused the mayor of blocking Kraft — and tarnishing the reputation of a “strong woman” in the process — to pave the way for a “backroom deal” to renovate Wrigley Field.

The governor accused the mayor of having a secret plan, either to issue tax-exempt bonds to renovate Wrigley or to revive a failed plan to have the stadium authority acquire and renovate the landmark ballpark.

“We’re not gonna have any backroom deals involving the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and Wrigley Field. I want to make sure there is someone there — the executive director — who is a goalie for the taxpayers and prevents any cooked-up deals behind closed doors on Wrigley Field,” Quinn said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

At the time, Quinn referred to then-Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell’s failed plan to have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley under now-convicted-and-jailed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“We’re already had a preamble here — a couple of efforts to use public money to invest in Wrigley Field. We don’t want another one of these deals that comes down that involves a private sports stadium, Wrigley Field, wanting public money with the cooperation of City Hall,” Quinn said.

“I’ve said over and over again I don’t think public money should be abused with respect to private stadiums. Kelly Kraft is a strong woman who knows how to say ‘no’ to proposals that are not in the public interest. That’s what the position entails: A person who knows the financials, knows the bond world and is able to prevent backroom deals.”

Sources close to Emanuel insisted at the time that the mayor had no intention of using the stadium authority to either acquire or renovate Wrigley.

Bertuca ran the governor’s failed, $30 million campaign against Rauner. Prior to that, he served as deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs in the governor’s office; deputy chief of staff at the Illinois Toll Highway Authority and as director of intergovernmental affairs for the governor.

His only experience in the field of sports is the four years he spent playing football for Lake Forest College.

Contributing:  Natasha Korecki