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Email To Rahm Shows Why State's Richest Man Donated $12 Million For Path

By Heather Cherone | December 22, 2016 11:34am | Updated on December 23, 2016 7:19am
 Ken Griffin speaks about his donation Tuesday at Ellis Park, 3520 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
Ken Griffin speaks about his donation Tuesday at Ellis Park, 3520 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

CITY HALL — The plan to separate trails for runners and bicyclists along the lakefront began with a brief email from Illinois' richest man to Mayor Rahm Emanuel last spring.

Ken Griffin — who gave Emanuel more than $1 million in the 2015 runoff against Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia — sent Emanuel a brief email April 27 that touched off a chain that prompted Griffin to give $12 million to the Chicago Park District.

The chain was among the nearly 3,000 pages of emails released by the mayor's office Wednesday as part of a settlement with the Better Government Association.

Griffin, an avid user of the Lakefront Trail, did not mince words about its condition.

"Lake front bike path is a disaster. How can this be after they just refinished much of the path?"

The same email included a complaint about 30 shots fired near the University of Chicago Lab School and another about the city's speed bumps, which Griffin said damaged his car.

"Why doesn't the city paint the speed bumps on the road white - my damage bill is over $10k from going over one at dusk ..." Griffin wrote.

After agreeing to look into why the speed bumps aren't painted, Emanuel touts the plans he announced to add nearly 6 acres of green space where Lake Michigan used to be at Fullerton Avenue, as well as separate paths for runners and bicyclists along 7 miles between Fullerton and Ohio Street and from 31st Street to 51st Street.

That, in turn, prompts Griffin to ask what "we can do to repair the lakefront bike path — any idea if the park district plans to do this?"

Wrote Griffin: "Can they accept private funding .. this is a mess."

A day later, Emanuel sets the ball in motion, telling an aide to set up a lunch for him and Griffin at his office at the Citadel investment firm.

"The lakefront is our crown jewel," Griffin said at a press conference Wednesday. "On a beautiful day, the Lakefront Trail should be a place where cyclists, runners and walkers can enjoy without having to navigate around one another."

The path for bicyclists — closest to Lake Shore Drive — and the path for pedestrians are expected to be complete in 2018, officials said.

The asphalt bike trail will be 12 feet wide, while the pedestrian trail will be 20 feet wide with 14 feet of asphalt and 6 feet of soft surface mix on either side, officials said.

Separate paths for bicyclists and runners on the Lakefront Trail — which draws more than 100,000 people daily on summer Saturdays and Sundays — has been among the top priorities of the Active Transportation Alliance for years, officials said.

Griffin, who made his fortune running Citadel, gave $13 million to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been at loggerheads with the mayor over funding for Chicago Public Schools.

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