Gov. Pat Quinn's choice to run the state agency that oversees the financial operations of U.S. Cellular Field filed for bankruptcy three years ago after racking up $102,500 in debt, mainly from credit cards, court records show.
The revelation follows questions Mayor Rahm Emanuel has raised about whether Kelly Kraft, the governor's chief spokeswoman, is qualified to be the executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.
The governor, however, is standing by Kraft. A statement from his office Thursday described her as "an honest, hardworking, well-qualified woman with excellent marketing skills and proven experience finding efficiencies, reducing the operational costs of state government."
The statement linked her financial problems to a "difficult personal situation" and noted that "the matter" is now resolved.
"Gov. Quinn does not agree with those who think that strong women who fight through difficult times should be prevented from future jobs and success," according to the statement.
Previously, Quinn has supported Kraft as someone who can run the agency in a "fiscally prudent" manner and touted her marketing skills.
Kraft, who was a TV reporter for Fox in Chicago before working in state government, declined to comment.
She had been spokeswoman for Quinn's budget office before becoming assistant budget director. In July, she was named Quinn's top spokeswoman at an annual salary of $111,000.
Quinn and Emanuel appoint members to the board of the authority, which built the White Sox stadium, issued bonds to renovate Soldier Field and has been mentioned as a conduit for aiding the Cubs in a renovation of Wrigley Field.
Kraft's candidacy became public last week after a closed-door interview with the agency's board of directors. But Emanuel almost immediately expressed reservations.
"He believes the executive director position should be filled by someone with the proven experience of managing large organizations to find cost savings and efficiencies," the mayor's office said in a statement.
On Thursday, contacted by the Tribune, the mayor's office declined to specifically comment on the bankruptcy.
In a statement, a mayoral spokeswoman said Emanuel's appointees to the board "have called for a legitimate search process that will identify a candidate for this position who will provide the leadership necessary to revitalize the authority and, more importantly, protect Chicago taxpayers."
Kraft, 39, whose given name is Kelly Krapf, is from Peru, Ill., and graduated from Indiana University. She worked as a television reporter and anchor for almost 15 years and began using Kraft as her professional name in 2004 upon arriving at a news station in Buffalo, N.Y., according to published reports.
At the time of the bankruptcy filing, she had recently left broadcast television and joined the state as a budget spokeswoman.
According to court records, Kraft filed for bankruptcy in September 2009. She was single and renting a Chicago apartment. Among the debts listed in that filing are $33,248 to Bank of America for "consumer goods and services," $20,995 to Discover Card and $3,543 to Nordstrom.
The filing shows her average monthly income was $3,410, with expenses of $3,346. The bankruptcy was closed Dec. 28, 2009, with her claims discharged after creditors filed no objections.
The stadium authority was created in 1987 as part of then-Gov. Jim Thompson's deal to build a new Comiskey Park to keep the White Sox from moving to Florida.
The mayor appoints three board members, the governor four, including the chairman. But there was a "political understanding" that the mayor would choose the executive director to balance things out, said Peter Bynoe, the lawyer who helped create the authority and was its first executive director.
"That was the understanding," Bynoe said. "I think a lot of people have gotten confused and a lot of things have gotten blurred since then."
Thompson said this week that the executive director is a crucial position because that person directs staff, works with the White Sox and coordinates between vendors, suppliers and lawyers. "It's important," he said. "It's a big job."
The agency no longer simply manages U.S. Cellular Field. Since expanding its financial duties by issuing bonds to renovate Soldier Field, it has assumed a whole new financial burden. Meanwhile, the agency could be an option for other projects with sports, whether renovating Wrigley Field or assisting a possible expansion project next to the United Center, which is co-owned by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
The agency's board convened briefly Wednesday before deciding to meet again next week, which Chairman Emil Jones Jr. said was to continue interviewing candidates.
Asked after that meeting about Kraft's capabilities, board member Manny Sanchez, a Quinn appointee, called her "formidable" but said other candidates will be interviewed.
The authority has been without a full-time leader for more than a year as its board of directors was overhauled by Quinn and Emanuel, who both pledged increased transparency amid criticism of the agency's operations.
The last executive director, Perri Irmer, was let go in spring 2011. Irmer, a lawyer who had served as an executive in the financial services sector, drew a $175,950 annual salary.
Thompson, serving as chairman, briefly filled in to manage day-to-day operations, but that arrangement was short-lived as Quinn replaced him with Jones.
The agency has come under fire in the past year for its financial operations and levels of transparency, and critics have described the lease with the White Sox as too generous. Last year, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation revealed that the authority spent some $7 million for a restaurant outside U.S. Cellular Field in which the White Sox will retain all profits. The team has since said it invested nearly $1 million as well.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun