Black aldermen rally around city’s Olympic bid

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DEFENDER STAFF WRITER

All 19 of the city’s Black aldermen voted for an Olympic ordinance at last week’s City Council meeting even though some had previously been critical about Chicago’s Olympic bid. Some aldermen said it was the $2 billion the city’s official Olympic committee-Chicago 2016-secured in insurance that swayed their support while others said it was the oversight authority the City Council would have should Chicago be awarded the Games.

In the end 49 aldermen voted to authorize the city to financially guarantee it would cover any losses from the Games.

"The City Council will receive quarterly reports from Chicago 2016. This way we know what they are doing as things progress especially when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money," said Ald. Leslie Hairston whose 5th Ward borders Washington Park on the South Side where an Olympic stadium is proposed to be built.

According to the Olympic ordinance passed Sept. 7, aldermen who chair the budget, government operations and finance committees would automatically become board members of the organizing committee. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) chairs the budget and government committees. "Chicago could use the Olympics.

The Olympics represents economic opportunities for the Black community," Austin said. "I was always in favor of Chicago pursuing the Olympics at any cost. So if it takes a financial guarantee to win the Games, so be it. If it takes insurance money to get the Olympics, so be it."

Kurt Summers, 30, chief of staff for Chicago 2016, said the 50 meetings in all 50 wards also changed aldermen’s minds.

"The meetings were a big boost because it allowed us to speak directly to their (aldermen’s) constituents. We answered every questioned raised in detail and aldermen were able to see our desire to share information with residents about the Olympics," Summers told the Defender.

West Side Ald. Ed Smith (28th) has been a staunch critic of the bidding process but now is a supporter.

"I was never against Chicago bidding on the Games. I was against how the process excluded input from the City Council and residents," Smith said. "More jobs are needed in my ward and the Olympics could potentially provide 173,000 new jobs to Chicago."

In the Bronzeville community on the South Side where the proposed Olympic Village would be built to house athletes, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) has been pushing for minority guarantees since January.

It was Preckwinkle along with other fellow Black aldermen who pushed for the Memorandum of Understanding that offers such guarantees as housing and employment for minorities and communities located near Olympic venues.

The insurance secured by Chicago 2016 played a big factor in her vote to last week.

"I did not want the city to be obligated to pay the tab and while the ordinance still obligates the city to cover losses, the likelihood of that happening are remote in light of the insurance coverage now in place," she said. "Chicago winning the Olympics would be great and I am in full support of the city’s bid."

Should Chicago win the Games, Preckwinkle’s involvement could change if she is successful in her run for Cook County Board president next year. But whether she wins or loses her county board bid she said her support for the Olympics would remain the same.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) was among the aldermen who worked with Preckwinkle to craft the MOU and for Dowell the 50 meetings in 50 wards won her complete support.

"The ordinance allows for taxpayers to review the process as it unfolds and provides full protection for the taxpayer," Dowell said. "Furthermore, I see a real commitment on the part of Chicago 2016 to affordable housing at Olympic Village."

She added that during the recent demolition of the former Michael Reese Hospital site, 2929 S. Ellis Ave., where the Olympic Village would be built, 50 percent of the work was awarded to minorities and Blacks accounted for 22 percent. On Oct. 2 the International Olympic Committee will vote on which host city should be awarded the Games. Chicago is competing against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo for the Games.

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Copyright 2009 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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