Our weekly news discussion program Chicago Newsroom tackled Wrigley Field renovations and Midway privatization this week, along with an intriguing look at the huge numbers of people whose lives the Chicago Fire Department saved last year. This is host Ken Davis' description of the show:
Here's an interesting mind-game. Imagine for a minute that Chicago didn't have the vast network of Fire Department ambulances and life-support equipped fire engines, along with the incredibly effective trauma staffs at area hospitals.
Now take into consideration the 1,893 people the Police Department says were shot and wounded in Chicago last year. By some estimates, the Fire Department saved hundreds, perhaps even a thousand lives in 2012. So what might the gun death toll have been without this emergency medical heroism? It's impossible to say, but way more than 506.
Ted Cox wrote about this hidden aspect of the gun toll in an early edition of DNAInfo, Chicago's newest online news source. "They're already dealing with the 500 deaths," he says on today's show. "That's bad enough publicity. You don't wanna say hey, we're saving 1,500 people who also got shot. It's a hard feel-good story to tell."
Over the past decade or more, Chicago's Fire Department has come to the point where emergency medicine is almost the Department's primary job, because they get so many medical calls. "There was one Fire Department official who said that his best estimate was that the Department treats about 90 percent of all the people who get shot (in Chicago)," Cox tells us.
Cox's stories raise an even more troubling hypothetical: If today's remarkable trauma network had been in place decades ago when shooting deaths were even higher than today, might the death totals for those years have looked more like today's?
We lead off the show with a conversation about Wrigley Field. Mayor Emanuel seems to be in a strong position to get the deal done this time, now that the Ricketts family has proposed spending its own money on stadium renovations. But there are real sticking points.
"The other thing that complicates this," explains the Tribune's Hal Dardick, our other panelist, "is these rooftops. The anomaly is enshrined in a twenty-year contract entered into in 2004 where the Cubs agreed to let them continue to operate the rooftops, they wouldn't block them, and (the rooftop owners) would give them 17 percent of the revenue the rooftop owners made. And they in turn went and invested tens of millions of dollars in these buildings. And the contract is still running."
"And I think there is a dispute brewing about exactly what it says," he adds. "Does it say you can't block their views, or what exactly does it say? It's a private contract -- no one has gotten their hands on that."
So whatever is arranged between the Cubs and the rooftop owners is a private matter, but the city can help negotiate a different deal if necessary. In any case, there's the complicated entanglement of landmarks issues, since city approval would be needed for anything that materially changes the appearance of the historic park. And there will be contentious negotiations with the neighbors, since the Cubs seem to be demanding a large increase in the number of permitted night games, or possibly an elimination of all restrictions.
We also tackle the impending privatization of Midway. It can be difficult to understand how the average citizen benefits from leasing such a well-run city asset to a private entity, which will be drawing profit from the operation and obviously raising consumer prices to fund that profit. But Dardick says the city could benefit in several ways.
"First of all, there's more than a billion dollars in debt at Midway," Hardick says. That's debt that was accrued during the massive remodeling in the '90s. "If you get that debt off the books it enables the city to borrow money to do other things. And all the revenue that comes in at Midway is used at Midway. It's all part of the Aviation Department. This could not only pay off some debt but it could bring in a new revenue stream that the mayor ostensibly could divert to other infrastructure projects outside of the airport. So it would give him more financial freedom."