The small state agency that runs the home of the Chicago White Sox will be led by Gov. Pat Quinn's chief spokeswoman over the objections of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, board members decided Thursday.
The board of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority cited "budget and communications expertise" in choosing Quinn's communications director, Kelly Kraft, who had the governor's backing. However, Emanuel had tried to block her appointment by publicly questioning her qualifications and experience. The governor later accused Emanuel and his allies of "character assassination."
The ISFA board has seven members; four are picked by the governor and three by the mayor. Board members voted 4-3 in favor of Kraft -- the governor's appointees lining up for her -- after meeting in closed session Thursday.
Kraft, a former television reporter, began working for Quinn in the budget office in 2009. She was named his chief spokeswoman earlier this year.
"Kelly Kraft's unique combination of budget and communications expertise, intergovernmental experience and commitment to protecting taxpayers will be a strong benefit to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and the ballpark, said board chairman Emil Jones in a statement.
Kraft, an Illinois native with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Indiana University, said she was honored to be named to the job.
"We have a world-class stadium and a world-class baseball team, and I am eager to work with the board and our staff to ensure we are protecting taxpayers and implementing creative strategies that bring in more revenue for the state," Kraft said in a statement.
The board had been meeting for weeks to determine a new executive director for the agency, which owns and manages U.S. Cellular Field and issued the $399 million in bonds to renovate Soldier Field. Someday, the agency could take on a bigger role and manage possible renovations at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs' aging ballpark.
The feud between Quinn and Emanuel sprung up when Kraft's name surfaced as a candidate. The two traded barbs about protecting taxpayers and allegations of backroom deals to help renovate Wrigley. Also, it was revealed that Kraft had filed for bankruptcy in 2009, an issue she said was the result of a personal situation and was resolved.
Emanuel said he wanted to make sure capable people were on the board. Quinn defended Kraft, saying he wanted someone to make sure taxpayer money was not used to renovate Wrigley, which Emanuel called "ridiculous." He said negotiations with owners of the Cubs to renovate the ballpark weren't in the works and both sides had not spoken in months.
An Emanuel appointee on the board had suggested former Sara Lee Corp. executive and former Chicago Public Schools administrator Diana Ferguson as a candidate, but Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said Ferguson wasn't given a full shot.
"It is unfortunate that, with her experience and qualifications, Ms. Ferguson was not given any consideration by the Board's majority," Hamilton said in a statement.
A board spokeswoman said Ferguson went into a closed session Thursday morning when all board members were present.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor was pleased with the appointment and that Kraft had a "unique combination" of experience for the job.
"We're moving forward. The governor plans to continue to work closely with the mayor on major issues coming up," including overhauling the state pension system, Anderson said.
The ISFA was created in 1987 to construct and renovate facilities for Illinois' professional sports teams. The small commission has been without a full-time executive director for more than a year.