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As deputy mayor, Koch oversaw Navy Pier rehab, pension funding fix

Chicago City Hall exterior

Chicago's general obligation debt backed by property taxes now stands at nearly $9.9 billion — roughly $3,680 for each of the city’s 2.7 million residents. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago taxpayers got their money’s worth from their $1-a-year deputy mayor — including a steady stream of corporate relocations, dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds and the revitalization of Navy Pier and the neighborhood that surrounds McCormick Place.

Now, attorney Robert Rivkin will try to fill Steve Koch’s big shoes and help Mayor Rahm Emanuel execute strategies tailor-made to share the wealth of downtown development with long-neglected neighborhoods.

Rivkin spent four-and-a-half years as general counsel under former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of Emanuel’s closest friends in politics.

The new deputy mayor’s resume also includes stints as a federal prosecutor, CTA general counsel and as senior vice president of Delta Air Lines and Chicago-based Aon Corp.

More recently, Rivkin has worked as a city consultant helping Emanuel deliver the elusive dream of building a high-speed rail line between downtown and O’Hare Airport into a reality.

In that role, he and Koch recently traveled to Los Angeles to meet with visionary billionaire Elon Musk of Space X and Tesla fame. They checked out the Jetsons-like technology that Musk hopes to build in tunnels beneath Los Angeles and maybe even do the same in Chicago.

The mayor’s office refused to let Rivkin be interviewed about the deputy mayor’s job he will assume in mid-August with a $185,000-a-year salary that matches the one paid to Andrea Zopp, the deputy mayor for neighborhood development.

LaHood said Rivkin is uniquely qualified to deliver for Chicago.

“He’s one of the smartest lawyers I have ever known … and he also has worked with Rahm. He knows his personality. He also knows Chicago,” LaHood said.

“Bob’s intimate knowledge of the Department of Transportation — the programs that are available, where the money is, the bureaucracy that you have to work with — is gonna be an opportunity that hasn’t existed before for the city.”

LaHood noted that the Trump administration came out Thursday with a “very bold statement about putting money into rail and making rail a priority.” That bodes well for the O’Hare express project, the former transportation secretary said.

Koch said his replacement has a huge leg up on where he was when he joined the Emanuel administration in 2012 after a career in investment banking. That because of Rivkin’s long career at all levels of government.

“I didn’t know s—t about this when I started. I don’t know that I had been at City Hall more than a couple of times in my entire life,” Koch said.

“He’s got a real advantage in that he knows how to function in this context. It took me a year to learn that. Two years to learn that. Some people might say I never learned it.”

Koch said he spent one-third of his time on city finances, one-third on economic development and infrastructure and one-third on “special projects” like O’Hare express, the 606, the DePaul basketball arena and the failed Lucas Museum.

“From the revitalization of Navy Pier to construction of the event center at McCormick Square to the completion of the 606 trail to the recruitment of countless corporate headquarters, I have been able to count on Steve to get important projects to the finish line,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.

After wrapping up his work at City Hall, Koch, 61, plans to spend two months riding his bike the length of the Mississippi River to raise $1 million for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The money he raises will provide three million meals for needy kids.

“I am at a point in life where I know I want to do a couple of other things. I’m not a young man. So, I want to do ’em while I still can,” Koch said.

“It just seems like the right point [to leave] in terms of where the city is at and where I’m at personally.”