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Updated 11/1/12 – 5:10 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Handing a rare defeat to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to outmaneuver the mayor on Thursday in a heated battle over a key state board post.
And the governor’s pick to run the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority was quick to suggest holding regular concerts at U.S. Cellular Field, much like its North Side counterpart has for years.
Just hours before a critical vote on who would be the new executive director of the ISFA, Quinn replaced one board member who appeared to be leaning the mayor’s way, with another who cast the deciding vote in favor of Kelly Kraft, the governor’s pick for the job.
The ISFA board voted 4-3 on Thursday to approve Quinn’s choice of his chief spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft – a former TV reporter and deputy state budget director – to run the agency that operates U.S. Cellular Field.
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After taking over the new job, Kraft said she’d explore the idea of having regular concerts held at U.S. Cellular Field to improve state revenue generated by the stadium.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine explains how the governor maneuvered to install Kraft at the ISFA, despite Emanuel’s claims she wasn’t as qualified for the job as the mayor’s preferred candidate.
Before Thursday’s ISFA board meeting, it appeared four of the board’s seven members were siding with Emanuel in the choice between Kraft and former Chicago Public Schools chief financial officer Diana Ferguson for the next executive director of the agency.
However, Wednesday evening, Quinn quietly replaced one of those board members with someone who ended up casting the deciding vote in Kraft’s favor. The move to replace ISFA board member Manny Sanchez with Dr. Quentin Young was actually camouflaged among dozens of executive appointments made by the governor on Wednesday.
The governor said he was simply replacing a board member whose term had expired, and he defended Young’s qualifications to replace Sanchez.
“He ran Cook County Hospital for many years. He’s a very distinguished man. I thought he would do a good job. I’ve been to U.S Cellular with Dr. Young; we’ve watched ballgames from the fifth level, from the upper deck,” Quinn said Thursday afternoon.
But when asked about possible concerns about the timing of Young’s appointment, Quinn said, “The governor has to appoint people, to each board, who he thinks are the best ones to carry out the public good, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Sanchez said he didn’t find out that he would be replaced on the board until he showed up for Thursday’s meeting.
“I’ve known Pat Quinn for four decades … the least he could have done was call me himself,” Sanchez said.
Replacing Sanzhez – who supported Emanuel’s choice of Ferguson for the top job at ISFA – with Young also allowed the governor to get Kraft appointed instead, despite Emanuel’s opposition.
The mayor had argued Kraft does not have enough financial experience to run the ISFA, which has been under fire recently for its financial management.
Kraft disputed that, defending her qualifications as a former deputy budget director for Quinn.
“I’ve worked closely with Gov. Pat Quinn for the last three years. He recognized early on – when I came on board – that I liked numbers, that I have a knack for numbers, that I liked to look at facts and figures, and that’s how I like to work,” Kraft said. “So, quickly, he put me in the budget office to work closely with the budget director, and what we’ve done in the budget office is find a way to reduce costs.”
The ISFA is currently the White Sox landlord at U.S. Cellular field, and has been losing money because of the team’s disappointing attendance totals. The agency also has been suggested as a possible player in the proposed Wrigley field renovation, although Emanuel has denied there’s any deal in the works to fund a Wrigley renovation through the agency.
Young, an 89-year-old retired physician, cast the deciding vote to appoint Kraft shortly after being seated on the board. He had replaced Sanchez, whose term expired in June, but was kept on until Quinn got word that he’d planned to vote for Ferguson over Kraft.
ISFA board member James Reynolds Jr., an Emanuel appointee, said, “the qualifications between these two candidates for this position are not even remotely close.” But Reynolds’ protests during the board meeting were futile.
Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton called Ferguson a candidate who would ensure Chicago’s taxpayers are protected.
“It is unfortunate that with her experience and qualifications, Ms. Ferguson was not given any consideration by the board’s majority,” she said.
Kraft started working for Quinn’s budget office three years ago. She became his communications director this summer.
Now her first priority will be maximizing the financial value of the Cell.
“We need to get more fans out there to U.S. Cellular Field. We have a world-class ballpark out there, we have a world-class ball team, the Chicago White Sox,” she said.
But she said more can be done outside of taking steps to improve attendance at White Sox games to bring in more revenue for the state-owned stadium.
“We want to utilize that stadium, and implement creative strategies to make sure we’re generating as much revenue as we can for the state,” she said. “We can do a lot of things out there. When you take a look at Wrigley [Field] and you can see the amount of concerts that they have over there, we can do the same thing at U.S. Cellular Field.”
Kraft pointed out that, unlike Wrigley, U.S. Cellular Field has ample on-site parking, which could help attract concerts to the South Side ballpark. It also has a brand-new two-level bar, “Bacardi at the Park,” which has its own outdoor beer garden.