Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today his picks for the five-member board of the Infrastructure Trust, a plan to use private money to finance public projects that passed the City Council in April. The council, which next meets June 27, must approve each choice.
But the mayor has still not identified Trust projects, except a plan where private investors would use $225 million to make some city buildings more energy efficient. Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander said in an interview last week that, currently, there are no additional projects on the table.
The Trust sailed through City Council 41-7, even though the city and aldermen never clearly defined, or even gave hypothetical examples, of projects, besides the energy retrofit. Any Trust project would presumably have to be enticing for both private investors and the public.
Aldermen opposed to the Trust focused on the issues of transparency and checks on mayoral power. Partly in response to the transparency concern, Emanuel nominated as board member David Hoffman, now an attorney in private practice, who previously gave life to the city Inspector General office. As Chicago's IG from 2005 to 2009, Hoffman exposed public corruption among city employees.
Hoffman subsequently endorsed the candidacy of Emanuel, citing – still unfulfilled – pledges Emanuel made to strengthen the city ethics ordinance and IG office.
The other nominees include Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. CFL has consistently supported the Trust, even as individual Chicago labor unions opposed it. The nomination of Ramirez, though, comes just a month after the labor leader slammed Emanuel for appearing in Springfield to push public employee pension cuts.
Emanuel named James Bell, the former vice president of Boeing Co., as the first Trust chairman.
Diana Ferguson, a former chief financial officer at Sara Lee Foodservice – and former chief financial officer of the Chicago Public Schools – was also nominated as an inaugural board member.
The mayor named Ald. John Pope (10th) to be council representative on the board. The council persuaded Emanuel to include one of their members as a check on executive power.
However, Pope would likely not be the choice of Trust skeptics. The Southeast Side Chicago alderman was largely quiet during the Trust council floor debate, except to salute Emanuel for devising the public-private partnership.