Back in the pre-Joe-Ricketts-wants-to-fund-efforts-to-get-his-former-boss-bounced-from-office-which-somehow-has-something-to-do-with-the-Cubs days, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was as much a driving force behind the push for partially publicly-funded renovations at Wrigley Field as was Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts. A theoretical Cubs fan who saw the public value that Wrigley Field’s mere sustained existence brings to the city, Emanuel was working closely with the Cubs on a variety of plans to provide financial assistance to the Cubs, which, together with a substantial investment in the ballpark and the surrounding area by the Ricketts family, would see Wrigley Field brought back to respectability.
But then that ugly hyphenated thing happened five months ago, and talks went in the tank. Whether it was Emanuel leveraging an advantageous situation, whether it was genuine anger by Emanuel that suddenly made an unrelated public project unpalatable, or whether it was a push from other political spheres to punish the Ricketts family, the anticipated start date for a renovation went from “October 2012” to “Dear God Please Someday.”
Against that backdrop, we have the latest political incursion into a story we’d love to believe isn’t entirely about politics (I sure know I’d love to believe that). The Cubs, once again, are stuck in the middle.
Earlier this week, the Sun-Times reported that Governor Pat Quinn was accusing Mayor Emanuel of blocking the Governor’s preferred appointment to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. Emanuel was doing so, alleged Quinn, because the Mayor sought to install someone at the ISFA who would be willing to use that entity to help publicly fund the Wrigley renovation (which would reduce the burden on the city). You’ll recall, the ISFA built U.S. Cellular Field for the White Sox, and helped fund the rebuilding of Soldier Field. But now that Wrigley Field and the Cubs are at issue, Quinn, who has been adamantly opposed to any public assistance for a Wrigley renovation, wants no involvement from the ISFA.
[T]he governor charged that Emanuel is blocking [former state assistant budget director Kelly] Kraft’s appointment to pave the way to use the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to help the Cubs — either to by issuing tax-exempt bonds to renovate Wrigley or by reviving a failed plan to have the stadium authority acquire and renovate the landmark ballpark.
“We’re not gonna have any backroom deals involving the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and Wrigley Field. I want to make sure there is someone there — the executive director — who is a goalie for the taxpayers and prevents any cooked-up deals behind closed doors on Wrigley Field,” the governor said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Quinn then referred to Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell’s failed plan to have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley under now-convicted-and-jailed former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“We’re already had a preamble here — a couple of efforts to use public money to invest in Wrigley Field. We don’t want another one of these deals that comes down that involves a private sports stadium, Wrigley Field, wanting public money with the cooperation of City Hall,” Quinn said.
“I’ve said over and over again I don’t think public money should be abused with respect to private stadiums. Kelly Kraft is a strong woman who knows how to say `no’ to proposals that are not in the public interest. That’s what the position entails: A person who knows the financials, knows the bond world and is able to prevent backroom deals.”
The two have been at odds over the appointment for some time, and the Wrigley issue would seem a logical reason for such a protracted, public battle about a single, low-ish profile appointment. But Mayor Emanuel says one has nothing to do with the other. In a followup from the Sun-Times:
One day after Quinn accused the mayor of trying to pull a fast one on Wrigley, Emanuel fired back that he was doing no such thing.
“Not true. … That’s never been discussed. It’s ridiculous. … It’s not even on the table, “ the mayor said, noting that there have been no conversations about renovating Wrigley in five months.
The opposition, according to Emanuel’s camp, is solely about Kraft’s financial acumen and ability to protect the taxpayers.
So, is Mayor Emanuel really doing his part to ensure the renovation happens with the help of the city and/or the state? Is Governor Quinn just grinding an ax and using the Wrigley renovation as a convenient vehicle? I think we’d be fools to believe we could answer either of those questions clearly and simply. These things are complex. (The Sun-Times’ Mark Brown has an interesting take on what’s really going on here. To him, the struggle is a good ole’ fashion case of “who’s really in charge,” combined with the Wrigley Field thing.)
We’ll never know the full story, but if anything is as certain as death and taxes, it’s the fact that nothing gets done during election season. And election season keeps getting longer and longer.
With that in mind, I choose to believe that nothing is going to happen on this front until long after the election. No, neither of the men here are up for re-election this season, but you can’t underestimate the impact elsewhere of sensitive issues like public funding for a ballpark. I won’t pretend to be an expert in these matters, and I certainly won’t pretend that I’m interested in discussing them here.
The point – the only relevant point from my perspective – is that political machinery moves slowly, and is subject to a great many unanticipatable externalities. If the Cubs want public assistance in their efforts to renovate Wrigley Field, these kinds of hiccups are a part of the equation.