Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Jr. (Reuters/Chris Wattie)
Last week, for the opening of the school year, I wrote about my interview with Tom Geoghegan about his (so-far) failed suit to stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s morally and educationally disastrous crusade to close fifty schools in Chicago. But that’s not all I talked about with Tom. “I don’t want this just to be a Mayor Emanuel–bashing session,” I said. “Because we have to bash Mayor Daley.”
Everyone, I suppose, dislikes parking meters. Chicagoans hate them even more. That’s because Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 struck a deal with the investment consortium Chicago Parking Meters LLC, or CPM, that included Morgan Stanley, Allianz Capital Partners and, yes, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi, to privatize our meters. The price of parking—and the intensity of enforcement—skyrocketed. The terms were negotiated in secret. City Council members got two days to study the billion-dollar, seventy-five-year contract before signing off on it. An early estimate from the Chicago inspector general was that the city had sold off its property for about half of what it was worth. Then an alderman said it was worth about four times what the city had been paid. Finally, in 2010, Forbes reported that in fact the city had been underpaid by a factor of ten.
Well, Chicagoans, Tom Geoghegan is here to tell you that the whole damn thing is illegal under the Illinois Constitution—and most other constitutions, too. He’s in the middle of a suit to have the whole thing torn up. The argument is driven by the legal theory that “a seventy-five-year-agreement to run parking meters is an unconstitutional restriction on the police power—the sovereign right of the city to control its public streets and ways…. This is a very traditional, conservative, really, argument: what the City of Chicago did was not sell the meters. They sold the police power of the city.”
The deal, you see, is structured like this. Not only does CPM get the money its meters hoover up from the fine upstanding citizens of Chicago. It gets money even if the meters are not used. Each meter has been assigned a “fair market valuation.” If the City takes what is called a “reserve power adverse action”—that can mean anything from removing a meter because it impedes traffic flow, shutting down a street for a block party or discouraging traffic from coming into the city during rush hour—“CPM has the right to trigger an immediate payment for the entire loss of the meter’s fair market value over the entire life of the seventy-five-year agreement.”