We heard those words repeatedly when Wall Street banks were going broke and the federal government swooped in to bail them out – with our money.

The arrangement was a deal with the devil. But both George W. Bush and Barack Obama said we should just hold our noses because so much of the country's economic success depends on those firms' viability.

We are hearing a similar argument made here in Springfield. The Wyndham Springfield City Centre – that 348-foot erection in the downtown – has received a $240,000 bailout. The hotel is owned by TowerCapital Group, a Texas-based company controlled by investor Al Rajabi.

Rajabi bought the Wyndham in a foreclosure sale in 2019 but occupancy sagged in 2020 as fewer people traveled during the pandemic. He fell behind on his utility bills.

Mayor Jim Langfelder, with the swipe of a pen, made $243,068 the hotel owed City Water, Light and Power disappear; the city was able to recoup about $1.2 million. He swears up and down the city council gave him the green light to forgive the debt when they met behind closed doors back in November 2021.


In Illinois, a public body can't make any official decision in secret. All votes have to be done in public. Since there was no public vote, the decision to write off the debt is Langfelder's alone.

It doesn't matter how many attaboys he got from city council members behind closed doors or that some encouraged him to cut the best deal he could. They didn't vote one way or another.

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

Mayor, it can be lonely at the top – especially when the top is a 348-foot architectural monstrosity that screams 1970s louder than a Farrah Fawcett hairdo or a polyester leisure suit.

If he wanted the city council to share the credit – or blame – he should have asked for a public vote. It didn't happen, so now he bears sole responsibility.

The mayor says the continued prosperity of the downtown depends on the viability of that building. Its hotel rooms are critical to the city's convention and tourism trade. Downtown bars and restaurants will suffer if there are fewer guests.

I won't argue that.

But capitalism is about risk and reward. Rajabi snatched the property up thinking he could make a tidy profit. But when business went south, he sought and got a handout.

Conservatives call that "crony capitalism." Liberals call it "corporate welfare." Let's just call it plain wrong.

When government intervenes like this, it's unfair to the motels and hotels that have to compete against a subsidized competitor. More importantly, it's not how the system is supposed to work.

Rajabi chose to take a risk when he bought the building because he believed he could turn a profit. Now that the profit didn't materialize, he's found a way through political connections to not pay his debt to the city.

Imagine not liking the size of your utility bill and calling up someone you know at city hall to make it go away. Seem far-fetched? It is if you are an ordinary resident or small business.

But if you own the tallest building in town, you can do just that and say, "I'm too big to fail."

It is a pretty good deal if you can get it. Rajabi's profits remain his, and his losses, well, they become ours.

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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