A feud between Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel intensified Tuesday as the two traded barbs about a little-known state sports commission, protecting taxpayers and alleged attempts to cut a backroom deal to help renovate Wrigley Field.
Emanuel said he was trying to block a Quinn appointment to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to make sure the agency had capable people on staff. But Quinn defended his choice of his spokeswoman to lead the ISFA, saying someone was needed to make sure taxpayer money is not used to renovate the Chicago Cubs' aging ballpark.
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Emanuel flatly denied Quinn's suggestion about Wrigley Tuesday, calling it "ridiculous." He said negotiations with Cubs owners to renovate Wrigley are "not even on the table" and that they two sides had not spoken for five months.
The spat between two of the state's top Democrats has been brewing since it became known several weeks ago that Quinn was promoting Kelly Kraft, his communications director and a former assistant budget director, to be executive director of the ISFA.
The little-known sports commission, which has staff of only five people, was created to build and renovate stadiums for Illinois' professional sports teams. The agency owns and manages U.S. Cellular Field and issued the $399 million in bonds to renovate Soldier Field. It also could be used as a vehicle to finance renovations at the Chicago Cubs' aging ballpark.
The governor gets to name four of the seven members of the organizations' board of directors, while the mayor gets to choose three. The board then selects the chief executive officer. Earlier this week, board members voted to postpone the decision for another 30 days.
The mayor has raised concerns about Kraft's qualifications, insisting he's just trying to protect Chicago taxpayers by recommending a statewide search for a candidate with more financial expertise. In recent years, he said, the board negotiated a deal with the White Sox that wasn't in the best interest of taxpayers, and the organization almost had to dip into its reserves because of financial problems.
"If it's not managed properly, who pays the bill? The taxpayers of the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.
On Monday, the governor accused Emanuel and his allies of "character assassination" for their criticism of Kraft, who was once a television reporter. On Tuesday, he said those who are trying to tear Kraft down should "examine their consciences."
Quinn said Emanuel called him this spring and said he wanted his own choice named to head the authority.
Deals to renovate Wrigley Field have been under discussion several times in recent years, often away from the public eye.
As recently as April, Emanuel said the city was in the "final stages" of talks with the Ricketts family, who own the Cubs, for a renovation plan. That deal fell through after the mayor, a friend and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, learned that the patriarch of the Ricketts family planned to bankroll a campaign against the president.
Asked if the Cubs are in negotiations regarding using ISFA to fund renovations, Cubs Vice President of Communication and Community Affairs Julian Green issued a one-sentence statement: "The concept of ISFA funding was mentioned more than a year ago and the City flatly rejected it."
Emanuel told reporters Tuesday the disagreement isn't personal. Quinn agreed, and said the mayor has been a good friend for 30 years.
"He's a strong personality," Quinn said. "So am I."