Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has taken the plunge in trying to lure the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago. Now he has to explain to taxpayers in this cash-strapped city why they may be on the hook for millions of dollars if the event flops.
Daley was nowhere near Chicago on Thursday. He was still overseas after telling the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland that he would sign a contract requiring the city to take full financial responsibility for the games, a move intended to erase any IOC doubts about the commitment of the U.S. bid city.
The IOC will announce Oct. 2 whether the games will go to Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro.
When Daley gets home, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore wants the mayor to explain his thinking. Moore also said there should be an independent review of the taxpayer risk if Chicago gets the games.
“The days where we just take the mayor’s word for it when he says ‘Trust me,’ those days are over. We need to verify, we need to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s,” Moore said.
Daley’s office said Thursday that he will meet with the City Council to talk about signing the so-called host city contract.
Chicago bid officials this week said they had come up with an additional $500 million in private insurance, clearing the way for Daley to sign the contract if Chicago wins.
Daley has said a Chicago games would not “burden local taxpayers” and he insists that’s still the case. Local organizers have a safety net of $2.5 billion in public and private funds if the Olympics are a money-loser.
“It’s not appropriation of any more money,” Daley said in Switzerland. “It’s just an insurance policy for anything above $500 million. It’s not a liability for the city.”
Chicago organizers have repeatedly described additional financial exposure for taxpayers as “extremely remote.”
Chicago resident Christopher Jones doesn’t buy it. Chicago already is in tough financial shape with some 1,500 city workers facing layoffs next month because of ongoing budget troubles in a sluggish economy.
Jones, 24, said the city already had enough of its own problems. “It’s irresponsible to take on such a huge responsibility at this point.”
But another resident, Tara Bailey, said any money the city commits to the Olympics needs to be viewed as an investment.
“Our city could be put on the map for this,” the 40-year-old Bailey said. “And, the city has already said they’d do the Olympics. Of course we would have to be fully committed.”
Still, Alderman Leslie Hairston wants a public hearing on Daley’s “arrogant” decision.
“This is a really big decision and it’s too big of a decision to make unilaterally,” she said.
The city is counting on private financing to pay for the games, which are expected to cost $4.8 billion. The number almost certainly will rise because of the inevitable cost overruns other Olympics have seen.
But Chicago also has history on its side. The 1984 Los Angeles Games, for example, were profitable, said Carson Cunningham, a visiting assistant professor at DePaul University who teaches a class on the history of the modern Olympics.
“I’m pretty confident, outside of a catastrophic event, that the games would be a net plus economically for Chicago,” Cunningham said.
Daley surely won over IOC members by agreeing to sign the host contract and he likely would have lost backing if he didn’t, Cunningham said.
Chicago is in a tight contest for the games with Rio coming out strong after presentations this week to the IOC. The three other finalists have the financial backing of their governments, but the U.S. federal government doesn’t do that.
Alderman Toni Preckwinkle said it seemed Daley didn’t have a choice but to make the commitment. Preckwinkle is counting on vigorous fundraising to make sure a Chicago Olympics would be a success and taxpayers wouldn’t be out any money.
“The Olympics aren’t until 2016 and my assumption is that the economy will be better in 2016,” she said.