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Ricketts family political activity threatens to scuttle Cubs reno plans

Chicago CubsThe political activities of Joe Ricketts, part of the Chicago Cubs ownership and father of Tom Ricketts, could, but probably won’t, kill city efforts to help the Cubs renovate Wrigley Field.

Ricketts, who made billions after founding TD Ameritrade, has emerged as a major player in conservative politics, establishing a Super PAC seeking to limit the size of government. While that’s not really noteworthy for most Chicago politicos, his decision to work with political consultants to craft a $10-million ad buy linking President Barack Obama to “incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign,” certainly attracted the attention of former Obama aide Rahm Emanuel, according to a story today in The New York Times. The relationship between Obama and Wright first emerged in Obama’s first presidential race. But tying Wright’s positions to Obama — especially positions that Obama has decried — is a very risky move, one with some serious racial overtones. It’s a political strategy eschewed by John McCain in the 2008 presidential elections and one today condemned by presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney

Because of the negative feedback, the campaign won’t run, and the elder Ricketts sought to distance himself from the controversial ad buy, saying he had been a peripheral player in the whole thing. 

Peripheral or not, he did manage to cause some serious collateral damage for son Tom Ricketts, the public face of the Cubs, purchased via the Ricketts family trust. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who went to great measures to put together a plan for renovating Wrigley Field despite serious opposition from the City Council and Cook County officials, isn’t too thrilled that anyone connected with the Cubs was going to run a racial smear campaign against his former boss(Emanuel served as Obama’s original chief of staff) and interject themselves into local politics (despite being demonized on the far right, Wright is still a noteworthy public figure in Chicago). Indeed, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting Emanuel is refusing to take a call from Ricketts “today, tomorrow or anytime soon,” according to a mayoral aide — but apparently Emanuel cooled off by the end of the day, with a deal potentially back on the table.

The team responded with their own statement: “I repudiate any return to racially divisive issues in this year’s presidential campaign or in any setting — like my father has,” said Tom Ricketts via press release.

And, although Joe Ricketts wants to be a major conservative player, the rest of the family — including Tom and his daughter Laura — gives both to Democratic and Republican candidates.

The Cubs have proposed a $300 million renovation of the ballpark, which would include structural improvements, a new suite/club level replacing the current mezzanine/suite area, and more. Half of the cost would come from bonds issued against future amusement-tax revenues collected by the city and Cook County (which would probably need to be issued by a third party), the rest from the team. The Cubs would also receive permission to put up a larger scoreboard (the current manual scoreboard would remain) and close Waveland and Sheffield on game day to accommodate fans. It’s already drawn intense criticism from Ald. Tom Tunney, who represents Wrigleyville.

Politically speaking, the plan from Joe Ricketts couldn’t have done more to hurt the Cubs’ chances of obtaining public money for a private facility. If it was merely a case of Ricketts contributing to conservative political causes, no one in Chicago would have blinked an eye. But by being involved in such a politically divisive ad campaign — one explicitly repudiated by mainstream Republicans — Ricketts elevated the conflict to a whole new level.

Besides the personal politics, there’s also the political perceptions at play here: if Joe Ricketts has $10 million to throw into the political ring, why should Chicago taxpayers subsidize the renovation of a private venue owned by his family? The optics are so bad for the Cubs on so many levels.

Writes David Haugh:

How many people living in a state suffering from chronic unemployment can relate to an owner asking for public funding when his family has enough capital to commit $10 million to take on the president?

A more pressing question for Ricketts looms: How can he repair his relationship with Emanuel, who reportedly was livid hearing plans to target his former boss in the White House?

I know the Ricketts family took great pains to say Joe has nothing to do with running the team but, without the fortune he amassed, they would have no team to run. Suddenly the public financing part of the renovation project for which the Cubs sought city help, as much as $150 million, hangs in the balance.

RELATED STORIES: WSJ: Tear down Wrigley Field now!Chicago politics at play: Tunney vs. the CubsCubs reno plan draws harsh criticism from key aldermanCubs funding request: $500M in Wrigley Field improvementsEmanuel plan for Wrigley renovation: set aside landmark statusIllinois guv: No public money for ballpark renovationsCity, Cubs finalizing terms of Wrigley Field renovationsRicketts: Time to talk Wrigley Field public funding againWant to buy a chunk of Wrigley Field? Dream onGammon rips Wrigley Field, defends RickettsMayor Rahm: No to city aid for Wrigley FieldPoll: Voters oppose public funding of Wrigley Field renovationsState funding of Wrigley Field renovations dies as Assembly adjourns


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