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Emanuel Cites Sinkhole As Reason To Approve Chicago Casino

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about the need for a Chicago casino at a City Hall press conference on Aug. 22, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about the need for a Chicago casino at a City Hall press conference on Aug. 22, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday used the example of a big sinkhole that swallowed a car on Saturday to make a point about the need for a Chicago casino – a not-so-subtle shot at Gov. Pat Quinn’s reluctance to sign a bill that would allow for a major expansion of gambling in Illinois.

As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, the mayor said the sinkhole on the Northwest Side was caused by a broken water main, which eroded the pavement above it and he wasted no time connecting that to the casino legislation.

Emanuel wants to use the revenue from a Chicago casino to pay for a bevy of infrastructure improvements – repairs to roads, bridges, sewers, water mains and schools.

“We have, literally, I think it’s over 100 miles of water main line that’s over 100 years old,” Emanuel said at City Hall on Monday. “I may have the numbers wrong, but directionally … that’s where it is.”

Emanuel has said he wants to use money for a Chicago casino to create jobs and “build Chicago’s economic competitiveness.”

“There is no other place but the casino to make the investment in Chicago’s economic competitiveness,” Emanuel said.

Several private contractors were making repairs to the sinkhole at Foster, Elston and LaPorte on Monday in order to reopen the intersection and give neighbors some peace of mind. Some of the lanes reopened Monday morning, as construction crews pour new concrete. Some of the intersection has already been patched up. All four affected lanes are expected to be open by Wednesday.

“I missed that hole by 5 to 10 minutes,” Forest Glen neighborhood resident Joseph Beran said. “If I hadn’t stopped for gas, I would have probably been down in that hole. I swear to God I would’ve.”

The mayor seemed to be suggesting that without a Chicago casino, this could happen again and again, although he maintained he wasn’t trying to poke or pressure the governor.

“I don’t think its pressure. I don’t think I was poking. I think I was explaining fact that is essential,” Emanuel said. “And I don’t think anything more brought home that fact than an 8-by-10 (foot) sinkhole in the middle of the street because of a water line that broke.”

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), chief sponsor of the casino bill, said he agrees with the mayor.

“The Mayor believes, rightfully so, that a casino is economic development for the city of Chicago,” Lang said. “And he’s looking for that, as he stated last week, to help fill in some of the holes – excuse the pun – that will help rebuild the infrastructure in the city of Chicago.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

The Mayor projected that casino revenue would pay for 40 miles of water and sewer line repairs, which pleases some residents in the neighborhood where the sinkhole opened up.

But Governor Quinn has repeatedly voiced concerns that the gambling bill would allow too much expansion of casinos in Illinois with not enough oversight.

Lang said he can satisfy the governor’s concerns about oversight, “But if he said to me, ‘I want you to take this casino for Danville or Rockford out of the bill,’ there’s no good reason to do that. If the reason is just to make the bill smaller just to satisfy somebody’s itch, I’m not prepared to do that.”

The casino legislation has been approved by lawmakers, but Senate President John Cullerton has placed a legislative hold on the proposal, stopping it from going to Quinn’s office, out of concern Quinn might veto it.

Quinn has not yet said what he would do with the legislation when it reaches his desk, but lawmakers who voted for the bill have been weighing possible changes in hope of getting Quinn’s approval.

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