Today’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal gives Mayor Howard Frimark’s side of his recent tie-breaking vote to give up to $2.4 Million of public money to one of his big-ticket campaign contributors, Napleton Cadillac (“Mayor Backs Incentive Vote,” Feb. 6).  One comment by the mayor speaks volumes:

“I’m not ashamed of my vote at all.”

To those who have paid attention to Frimark’s four-plus years of public life, that comes as no surprise.  The thought that there might be something unseemly about the quid pro quo appearance of a public official casting a deciding vote – or any vote – for the benefit of one of his major contributors is most assuredly a stranger to Frimark’s mind.  That’s because he, like many of his peers who control the governments in places like Chicago, Cook County, Niles, Des Plaines and Rosemont, operate as if from the premise that what’s good for them and “their people” is, by definition, also good for “The People.”

That’s one of the founding principles of what Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass calls “The Combine” – the bi-partisan collection of Democratic and Republican officeholders and their well-connected cronies who have been fleecing Illinois taxpayers since downstate Combine power-broker William Cellini first dipped his beak in the public trough during the administration of Gov. Richard Ogilvie.

But what is actually more stunning than Frimark’s shamelessness in bestowing such largesse on Napleton is his seeming contempt for the intelligence of his constituents, as evidenced by several of the justifications for Napleton’s sweetheart deal that he offered The Journal, presumably with the expectation that the residents would swallow them hook, line and sinker.

Let’s start with the $400,000 giveaway to help Napleton clean up the environmental contamination that it caused at its old Meacham & Northwest Hwy location.  As reported in The Journal article, Frimark wants us to believe that’s really not a giveaway at all because Park Ridge will eventually get that money back after that property is redeveloped by PRC Partners LLC and the new property taxes start coming in. 

Of course, that alibi begs the question of why we would have to “get that money back” if Frimark and his alderpuppets hadn’t already given it away?  It also assumes a fact not in evidence: that PRC wouldn’t develop the old Napleton property if the City didn’t gild the lily with $400,000.

Another bit of misdirection is reflected in Frimark’s claim that the $400,000 comes from Tax Increment Financing District (“TIF”) funds rather than the City’s general fund, so it doesn’t really contribute to the City’s projected $600,000 2008 budget deficit.  But despite his hasty retreat into the alternate reality that is government fund accounting, Frimark appears to miss the fact that it’s still our money.  So even though it might not affect the 2008 budget, the windfall for Napleton means that our TIF fund still will need an extra $400,000 to dig itself out of the multi-million dollar hole it’s already in.

But where Frimark really hits his politician’s stride is when he cynically plays the “fear” card: If we don’t give away all these “incentives,” dealerships like Napleton will sell themselves to the highest bidders, like Des Plaines.  He even quotes Des Plaines mayor Tony Arredia as saying: “Howard, if you don’t want any car dealerships in Park Ridge, or you don’t want to make any deals, we’ll take them over in Des Plaines.”

Assuming Arredia actually said it, the bottom line is that we can’t compete with Des Plaines in a battle of the incentives – and it’s the height of foolishness to try.  That’s because Des Plaines has almost 59,000 residents v. our approximately 38,000; it’s total area of almost 16 square miles dwarfs our 7.1 square mile size; and it’s annual budget is more than double that of Park Ridge.  Des Plaines is also home to several Fortune 500 companies, as well as many industrial and commercial businesses that provide far more in the way of non-residential tax revenues than Park Ridge is capable or producing under any circumstances.

But more to the point: Do we want to be like Des Plaines?  Maybe that’s a question that should show up as an advisory referendum on the November ballot. 

Meanwhile, however, we can’t help but wonder just how much more of our money this shameless mayor and his sycophantic aldermen can give away before the people of Park Ridge say: “Enough!”