Are Cities Being Sold off to the "Shadow Elite"?

Facing enormous budget shortfalls created in part by the recession, mayors and governors are increasingly turning to the sale of public assets - often to the very Wall Street businesses that helped fuel the crash, writes Donald Cohen.
February 25, 2010, 10am PST | Michael Dudley
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Donald Cohen of the Center on Policy Initiatives warns about a disturbing trend: the sale or lease of public assets to private enterprise. Informed by the findings in Janine Wedel's new book The Shadow Elite, Cohen shows how such deals undermine the ability of local government to control their own areas of decision-making, as well as eliminate the possibility of public consultation.

"Mayors and governors staring down massive budget gaps are putting bridges, buildings, parking lots, and more up for sale. Who's buying? Wall Street, which, in turn, wants to sell off your public assets to investors with the promise of sure-fire returns. [For example], Chicago's Mayor Daley rushed a 75-year lease of the City's 36,000 parking meters through City Council for $1.15 billion in much-needed budget cash.

[D]eals like the one in Chicago go well beyond simple government contracting. Private interests are increasingly eating up not just public assets or functions, but also the public power that comes with those assets, power to make policy in a way that good government demands: with transparency, accountability and with the interest of the public front and center. With each lease signed, pieces of official government disappear, as does your right as a taxpaying citizen to control what should be part of the public sphere, now and well into the future.

The privatization craze is happening all over the country, and the risk of vanishing public power spreads with it."

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Published on Thursday, February 25, 2010 in Huffington Post
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