Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist
Good, now we've got something new to fight about--the Olympics.
Whether Chicago should bid for the 2016 Olympics will provide fresh and irresistible material for commentary, politicking, demagoguery and, if things get really good, bar fights.
Mayor Richard M. Daley, once a skeptic about holding the Olympics here, had a vision and slapped his forehead in the sudden realization that it could mean a lot for Chicago, as in a lotta money, prestige and power. The vision has led him to China, to see how they are preparing for their 2008 Summer Olympics.
While he's there, he might want to pick up a few tips from the Chinese about how to avoid the bickering that's bound to break out here over a multibillion-dollar project. The Chinese might say that rolling a few tanks onto Daley Plaza would do the trick.
Which, of course, would require Daley to start a "hired-tank program," something that might be a little awkward for the mayor, considering how well the corrupt program worked for the city.
Somehow, I don't think that even tanks will mute the fight that will erupt over this project, including the necessity of maybe building a huge new stadium, bigger than the newly remodeled Soldier Field, to accommodate the world's most chemically enhanced athletes and all their publicists.
First up to complain, as usual, will be the "neighborhood advocates," who think that every project that involves a lot of concrete or downtown is a direct assault on the "people in the neighborhoods." They will say that the money instead must go to improve "vital neighborhood services," "educate our children," "raise the quality of life" and reinforce their conceits about what a city should be.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, except their argument is based on the incorrect premise that if the money isn't spent on sports facilities, it will be spent on neighborhood improvements. In fact, money not spent on sports facilities would have plenty of other places to go, besides neighborhoods. Or not be spent at all.
They also are leaving out what economists call the "multiplier effect." New, outside money that is brought into a city gets spent over and over again, multiplying its impact as it flows through the neighborhoods, increasing jobs.
Closely allied are Big Business haters, who will automatically oppose anything that involves corporate bigwigs. Except that they might not show up for this one. Didn't they already get sucked in enough by cost overruns from Millennium Park? How much more would they be expected to cough up for a project that already is being hyped as mostly privately funded?
And speaking of big money, there is the matter of huge contracts involving consultants and contractors, lawyers and accountants, design teams and architects, truckers and earthmovers, sand and gravel suppliers and all the rest who would be eyeing the billions of dollars.
The huge potential for corruption in the "City that Grafts" can't be overlooked. And the suspicion that Daley is proposing this to enrich insiders can't be so easily dismissed.
Let's not leave out of the fight those who don't dream, who would not have reversed the Chicago River's flow or who would have opposed skyscrapers because it would be too costly, impractical or just inconceivable.
If they had their way, Chicago today would be a suburb of Gary.
Then there are the usual overly rosy promises that have cast the public into a deep cynicism about anything coming out of the mouths of politicians. Such as: The Olympics will "reshape" the city, provide plentiful new housing and improve transportation.
All of this is entirely predictable and tiresome, because we went though the same thing years ago with the big fight over the proposed 1992 Chicago World's Fair. Like the Olympics, it was to be a global event, marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, and the 100th anniversary of Chicago's historic World's Fair of 1893. The idea died an ugly death, crushed by the same predictable divisions that will arise from the debate over the Olympics.
The coming debate will be marked by lots of speculation, ideology, personal vendettas and bellyaching. It doomed a World's Fair that could have greatly benefited the city, its residents and businesses. It doesn't make for a very exciting column to say so, but maybe this time we can wait for some solid information and analysis before cutting each other's throats.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune