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Olympics Crony Watch: Let the games begin

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 22, 2009 11:00 AM

Last week, I spotlighted Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama’s collaborative efforts to push their mentor, friend, and former employer Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016.

From now until Oct. 2, when the International Olympic Committee votes on the decision in Copenhagen, I’ll keep tabs on all the Chicago scheming with an Olympics Crony Watch.

The latest news on the p.r. front? Jarrett is hinting that The Crony-in-Chief himself may make an appearance in Copenhagen:

President Barack Obama personally gave the order to send a White House advance team to Copenhagen and would “love” to be there himself next week to argue Chicago’s case for the 2016 Olympics.

That’s the word from key presidential aide Valerie Jarrett in the latest and perhaps strongest sign that last week’s suggestion that Obama would skip Copenhagen has changed.

In a phone interview Monday, Ms. Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president who heads the White House’s new office on the Olympics, said the decision to send the advance team to Copenhagen to prepare for a possible presidential visit “was his”: Mr. Obama’s. Sending the team will “preserve the option” that the president can join first lady Michelle Obama, who already is scheduled to travel to the Oct. 2 IOC meeting.

“(Mr. Obama) would love to be there,” Ms. Jarrett said. “He (just) wants to make sure his absence won’t be harmful” to ongoing negotiations in Washington over national health care reform.

Ms. Jarrett said the president several days ago personally communicated his desire to be in Copenhagen to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“The president has been an ardent supporter from the beginning,” Ms. Jarrett added. “He cares passionately about bringing the Olympics to Chicago. . . .It’s good for the U.S. and it’s good for Chicago. We talk about it every day.”

They talk about it every day.

Priorities.

Jarrett and FLOTUS will travel ahead of POTUS and are scheduled to land in Copenhagen on Sept. 30.

Taxpayers, hold on to your wallets:

Mayor Richard M. Daley and Patrick Ryan assure Chicago taxpayers that a safety net of insurance would insulate them from the financial risks of hosting the 2016 Olympics.

But the insurance policies Mr. Ryan says he’ll secure would cover only about $1.1 billion of the $3.8-billion operating budget that the mayor’s Olympic point man has drawn up for the games. In many key areas, no insurer stands between taxpayers and the risk of revenue shortfalls or cost overruns.

For example, there’s no insurance against the risk that private lenders won’t shell out $1 billion to finance construction of the Olympic Village, as Messrs. Daley and Ryan predict they will. And there’s no coverage against shortfalls in corporate sponsorship sales, which they predict will rake in $1.8 billion, two-thirds more than London expects to collect for the 2012 games.

Oh, and did you know that there is a White House Olympics office?

“Even if [White House officials] don’t give financial guarantees, at least now they can say there is some government support behind the Olympic bid, and they’ve never been able to say that,” said Mallon. “We’ve never had anything approaching this. Historically, the U.S. government
has said, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with governing the Olympic Games and supporting Olympic sports in the United States.”

The new office – officially called the White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport – will “coordinate federal resources, and act as liaison to, any organizing committee for an Olympic and Paralympic Games hosted in the United States,” according to a statement announcing the new office.

The office also will work to promote youth sports, particularly in urban areas, the statement says. “As the International Olympic Committee moves forward with their selection process we hope that this new office can serve as a model for youth involvement worldwide,” Obama said in the statement.

The White House did not answer questions about staffing or budgeting, but did say the office would be housed in the White House Office of Public Engagement, whose top leadership includes Jarrett.

Guess who else gets a windfall? Senior White House adviser David Axelrod’s p.r. firm, AKPD, which has done work for the nonprofit corporation formed to lure the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.

Steve Bartin sums up the Olympic-sized graft and taxpayer rip-offs that lie ahead:

In Chicago, prestige is important, but graft is the real king. In Chicago, one of the most corrupt big cities, the Olympics represents, more than anything, a grand chance for a giant heist.

Economists have a technical term for profiting from the political process: it’s called rent-seeking. Chicago’s politically favored businesses, unions, and insiders with ties to Mayor Daley and Alderman Burke have perfected this activity. The Olympics just provide another opportunity to clean up at the public expense.

This is how it works. On Chicago public works projects, those on the inside hope to get overpaid at the expense of Illinois and federal taxpayers. Now throw in the Olympics where opportunities for such activities have long been rife with corruption and you can understand the glee in the Chicago machine’s eyes.

Right now there isn’t any financial guarantee from the federal government. But Chicago’s power elite hopes Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and others can convince the Congress at some point to help with Chicago’s Olympic sized costs if they get the 2016 games. They can always call it a “stimulus”!

…The fear of cost overruns, a history of bloated union contracts, and fraud has tempered enthusiasm for the Olympics. Mayor Daley has had to promise tighter oversight on the whole Olympics process. Yet this has not prevented an effective grass roots opposition organization from springing up. No Games Chicago has been instrumental at raising questions of money and accountability, dampening public support for the games. No Games Chicago spokesman Thomas Tesser explains:

The City Council voted to give oversight of the City’s Olympic commitments to Ald. Ed Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee. This is the final cruel joke played by the Council on the taxpayers. Burke has become a millionaire doing deals with firms that have business with the city and has collected millions in campaign contributions from firms doing business with the city. Pat Ryan, the chairman of the 2016 effort, contributed $3,000 to Burke. Burke didn’t mention that he has ten clients who are major donors to the 2016 Committee, giving a total of at least $1 million in cash and services, and likely much, much more.

But, Alderman Burke isn’t the only insider benefiting from the Olympics. Real Estate developer Michael Scott also stands to gain. The Chicago Tribune reports of Scott: “A member of Mayor Richard Daley’s team working to bring the Olympics to Chicago has quietly arranged to develop city-owned land near a park that would be transformed for the 2016 Summer Games, potentially positioning himself to cash in if the Games come here.”

Michael Scott is also President of the Chicago Public School board. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Scott

has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating how students are chosen for admission to some of the city’s most elite public schools.

This new scandal might put in to question Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s leadership as CEO of the Chicago Public School system.

All the recent skepticism of the cost of the games couldn’t stop Chicago insiders from getting the stunning vote of support from Chicago’s City Council. This is still a one-party, all-machine, all-the-time town. In a vote of 49-0, the City Council showed that there is not a single vote to back the nearly fifty percent who oppose Mayor Daley’s plans.

Michelle Obama will lead a Chicago delegation for the last pitch for the games in Copenhagen next month. Some speculate that President Obama will make a dramatic last minute appearance to make Chicago’s case in front of the International Olympic Committee. No one knows for sure whether Chicago will get the 2016 games but if it does, it will be a grand feeding time at the trough for the insiders and ever bigger burdens on the less well-connected businesses and individuals who inhabit Chicago.

Commenter almiller: “Utah’s Olympic bad boys will look like Boy Scouts once this crew is done.”

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