The candidates' deal on the parking meter deal

February 16, 2011

A friend of mine, echoing so many other friends of mine, recently wrote to say: “My bottom line is the parking meters. Unless someone’s going to do something about the parking meters, I can’t even fathom voting for them.”

So here’s the deal on the parking meters deal:

Miguel del Valle came up with a plan inspired by a series of Reader articles by Ben Joravsky. 

“What became clear in that article was that Morgan Stanley, who negotiated the deal, did not register the lobbyists involved in the deal,” says del Valle. “And the lobbyists were on Morgan Stanley’s payroll.”

Chicago’s ethics ordinance demands that lobbyists who negotiate contracts with the city be duly registered.

“We see that, as it stands right now, in the affidavit Morgan Stanley filled out, they state they had no lobbyist,” says del Valle. “That being the case, it stands that the city should be able to void the contract since they did, in fact, use lobbyists.”

Del Valle took his case to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who has promised to look into it. He chuckles. “Honestly, I don’t think the ethics ordinance has ever been used for much in the past.”

But does he honestly think this can undo the multimillion dollar deal?

“I’m on record saying the only way of having any chance of renegotiating this lease is to get a court order to force them back to table,” says del Valle. “They have such a great deal, they’re not coming back any other way. And I feel obligated to try to renegotiate the lease. It’s a terrible deal for the citizens of Chicago.”

And if the courts don’t force their hand?

“Listen, the mayor’s office has a lot of authority. Morgan Stanley is huge, but the parking meter lease is not their only deal with the city. As mayor, I will use my authority to strongly encourage them to come back to table,” he says. “This lease will continue to be verycontroversial. The city completely surrendered authority for 75 years on how many meters we have, how many tickets need to be issued before a boot – I understand they have to be compensated for a decline in their revenue. But, look, we’re paying the highest parking rates in the country right now, and they’re going to go up 75 cents in January 2012, and another 75 cents in January 2013. We can at the very least talk about spreading that out a bit more. My position is that either we’re going to do it through courts or through the political process, but one way or another, we’re going to get them back to the table.”

Del Valle points out that none of his rivals thinks the deal is a good one.

Del Valle can take credit for coming up with a possible way to realistically begin a new conversation about the meters contract but it was probably Carol Moseley Braun who in this campaign first called for voiding the deal. Problem is her campaign has not offered a strategy other than an online petition to “cancel” the deal – a petition that has absolutely zero legal or political weight.

Rahm Emanuel has mostly avoided talking directly about the deal, choosing, like Gery Chico, to focus more on protecting Chicago’s reserves – there’s about $75 million of meter money left. But, while Emanuel hasn’t gone as far as del Valle in calling in the attorney general, he has indicated a willingness to take a second look.

"I actually believe you can renegotiate sections of it, look at it top to bottom, have a fresh set of legal eyes to see if there are opportunities to see ways and terms to bring money back to the city . . ." Emanuel told the Tribune Editorial board.

How he might do that, he hasn’t said.

Gery Chico, however, has said exactly what he’s going to do about the deal: Nothing.

"Candidates who say the city can sue Morgan Stanley or renegotiate this deal without returning money the city already spent are simply deceiving voters,” he said when the question was posed to him in November after Braun made the deal an issue.

“In 2008, our city missed the mark when it agreed to the parking meter deal. To add insult to injury, we barely have anything left to show for it,” Chico said. “Putting the city on the path to fiscal responsibility starts with protecting our long-term reserve funds.”

His solution is to be found in a citizen ordinance he submitted called “The Chicago Taxpayer and Credit Protection Ordinance” – which doesn’t have anything at all to do with the meters deal but puts the city’s reserves in a lockbox so they can’t be used to balance the city’s budget. (A fine idea – so fine that all the other candidates espouse some version of it.)

But the parking meters deal?

In a nutshell:

 * del Valle is for forcing Morgan Stanley back to the table one way or another, and has requested a state investigation;

* Emanuel thinks some parts of the deal are renegotiable;

* Braun wants to walk away from it outright but has not explained how;

* and Chico, who’s up to his ears in Daley’s muck from so many years of being his go-to, says to leave the deal alone.