Northwestern trustee, former Obama-Biden admin official behind Chicago's $66M COVID hospital that treated just 38 people

The city of Chicago spent $66 million turning McCormick Place — the largest convention center in North America — into a coronavirus hospital. 

Although the facility treated a mere 38 patients during its month of operation, Chicago’s deputy mayor for economic development and Northwestern University trustee and former Obama administration official Samir Mayekar doubled down on his support of the hospital.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mayekar said he is “incredibly proud of” the facility, adding that the expenditure — which amounted to $1.7 million taxpayer dollars per patient — was “not spent in vain.”

Chicago hired a highly politically connected company called Walsh Construction to complete the project, passing over two other companies that offered more attractive proposals. McPier, the governmental body that runs McCormick Place, passed on proposals from Pepper Construction and Power Construction Company, which reportedly offered to either forgo fees or donate payment to pandemic relief to avoid profiting from a humanitarian disaster.

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The Sun-Times reported that internal emails from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended going with either Power or Pepper for the project. Instead, Chicago went with Walsh — paying the firm $66 million, including $5.1 million in fees. Although Walsh completed the construction of the McCormick Place facility by mid-April, Chicago announced on May 8 that the facility would be dismantled.

Mayekar was intimately involved in the selection process of Walsh Construction; the Sun-Times reported that he emailed city officials to set up the facility at McCormick Place, as well as additional treatment centers at three previously closed hospitals. 

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Mayekar is a Northwestern University trustee, alumnus, lecturer, and recipient of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, which provides graduate students with up to $90,000 in scholarships.

Walsh Construction also works with Northwestern University; Campus Reform reached out to the university to inquire about the nature of the university’s partnership with Walsh but did not receive a response. According to Open Secrets, which tracks political donations, employees, owners, and family members associated with Walsh Construction have donated to both Republicans and Democrats. However, their contributions have been primarily to Democrats, including $2,739 to Joe Biden's presidential campaign, $2,185 to Sen. Bernie Sanders, $1,001 to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, $458 to Pete Buttigieg, $243 to Sen. Kamala Harris, and $128 to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Of the $22,439 given to political candidates and causes by Walsh Group affiliates, $17,796 went to Democrats, while just $3,922 went to Republicans.

Jim Lakely, a spokesman for the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-area based free-market think tank, told Campus Reform that "Everyone who lives in Chicago expected the construction of the city's emergency COVID hospital to be corrupt." 

"Expecting otherwise is as dumb to a Chicagoan as putting ketchup on a hot dog. But we waived off this graft because it was for more than just a 'good cause.' We were told, in no uncertain terms by Chicago's political leaders, that thousands of people would die if we didn't instantly construct this emergency medical facility as soon as possible. Of course, we quickly learned that the dire mortal threat of COVID did not remotely require the instant construction of a pop-up hospital with nearly 3,000 beds. 

"The 38 patients treated there must have felt pretty lonely, and could have been handled easily in any Chicago hospital," he said.

"Hindsight is 20/20. I get that. But for Samir Mayekar to say after the fact he is not even a little bit embarrassed by this debacle — but to double down and say he is ‘proud’ of it, and then add that taxpayer money was 'not spent in vain' — is a joke and an insult. The actual construction workers should be proud of their work. Mayekar should be embarrassed because all that money was corruptly spent in vain," Lakely added.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft