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Quinn to Emanuel: Back off my choice to run stadium authority

(MCT) — Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of character assassination after the mayor raised concerns about the qualifications of the governor's pick to lead the agency that operates U.S. Cellular Field.

Emanuel has suggested that the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority board start over in its search for a new executive director and look for someone with more experience managing large organizations. Quinn wants his chief spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft, to get the job despite questions about her expertise and the Tribune's disclosure that she filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009.

The Democratic governor stood by his selection of Kraft on Monday after previously arguing that her three years in the state budget office make her a good choice to run the stadium authority.

"I wish the mayor would stop doing this," Quinn told reporters after an appearance at the annual Columbus Day Parade downtown. "This is a very good person. Stop assassinating her character. He has his operatives doing that. This is not the right way to go. Let's let a good person do her job. She'll do an excellent job for that agency."

Earlier in the day, Emanuel said he had nothing personally against Kraft. But the mayor said he wanted someone with the financial management skills needed to protect Chicago taxpayers, noting that they are the ones on the hook for the bonds the agency issued to build and renovate the home of the White Sox as well as Soldier Field.

"I want the best there," Emanuel said. "I have nothing against Ms. Kraft, nothing individually. … We need to make sure the people in and around the Illinois Sports Authority have the best professionalism to achieve that goal of protecting the Chicago taxpayers — not anybody else — Chicago's taxpayers, from paying the bonds if, God forbid, anything bad happens."

Kraft was a TV reporter before she joined the Quinn administration as a budget spokeswoman in 2009, the same year she filed for personal bankruptcy with $102,500 in debt. The case has been resolved. Quinn later promoted Kraft to assistant budget director before naming her his director of communications in July.

The stadium authority's seven-member board is responsible for picking a new executive director and was scheduled to interview candidates Monday. The panel, made up of four Quinn appointees and three designated by Emanuel, met behind closed doors but adjourned without taking action. The board is scheduled to reconvene next month.

The agency could be in line for an expanded role in the coming months if talks among state and city leaders to renovate Wrigley Field heat back up. By trying to install a top aide at the sports agency, Quinn may be trying to keep closer tabs on the issue.

"Kelly Kraft is a very good person. She's very competent and qualified," Quinn said. "She's done a very good job at reducing costs in state government … knows how to work with people. And I think that's what's important. And I think it's important we stand for that purpose."

Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Hal Dardick contributed.

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