A sports business consultant hired by Tribune Co. to help with the possible sale of Wrigley Field to the state commiserated over declining newspaper quality with a top aide to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and also sought a potential spot on Chicago's 2016 Olympic panel to help the now ousted Illinois governor, e-mails released Monday showed.
Marc Ganis was retained by Tribune Co. officials and dealt with the Blagojevich administration over possible attempts by the state to help the company structure the sale of Wrigley Field. Tribune Co. owns the Cubs, the ballpark and the Chicago Tribune.
Tribune Co. officials have repeatedly refused to publicly disclose details about their contacts with the Blagojevich administration, even though those contacts are part of the federal corruption investigation that resulted in the former governor being arrested at his Northwest Side home on Dec. 9. Also arrested that day was John Harris, Blagojevich's chief of staff.
In an exchange of e-mails between Ganis and Harris on the day prior to the arrests of the governor and his chief of staff, Ganis provided Harris with a copy of a news story noting Tribune Co. had filed for bankruptcy. Harris responded, "Lousy product. Inevitable."
"I feel what you are saying," Ganis responded to Harris. "It's not just the Chicago Tribune (and your comments are completely understandable). The whole newspaper industry has gone downhill and now we are seeing the effects of decades of monopolistic, insulated, ivory tower, 'I buy ink by the barrel so what I say is right' attitude."
Ganis also noted the Cubs were not part of the firm's bankruptcy filing and said "Nils is going to call you and Sam is going to call the Gov."
Federal agents have interviewed Nils Larsen, an executive vice president of Tribune Co. and a close associate of Tribune Chairman Sam Zell. Larsen was allegedly asked by the Blagojevich administration to help get Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired in exchange for state assistance involving Wrigley Field.
Larsen and other Tribune executives have declined comment to the newspaper. No Chicago Tribune editorial writers were let go and a company spokesman has said neither Tribune Co. executives nor their advisers did anything inappropriate.
Ganis, reached on a business trip in Hong Kong, said his intent in talking to Harris and Blagojevich about the Olympic committee was to volunteer his services as an expert on sports business. They had previously talked to him about another possible state board appointment related to energy, he said, but he had declined that since he didn't feel he could offer any expertise in that area.
"I thought if I can help I'd like to," Ganis said. "It would have been purely voluntary."
Asked if his Tribune work had any relationship to his other dealing with Harris and Blagojevich, Ganis said, "Zero, zero, zero." He also said he received no indication from the Governor or his aide that the stadium deal was contingent on any changes in Tribune's editorial board. "I'm not a naïve person, but I didn't get a whiff of that," Ganis said.
A Tribune Co. spokesman said in a statement late Monday: "We have no reason to believe that Mr Ganis' actions on behalf of Tribune have been anything but appropriate at all times."
The e-mails were released following a request from The Associated Press under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Most seem to be fragments of conversations, leaving the full context unclear.
In September, Ganis also told Harris that he would like a spot on Chicago's 2016 Olympic Committee if Blagojevich was successful in winning approval of a public works construction bill that also included money for the international event. But Blagojevich was unsuccessful in getting a public works bill passed.
"Just in case you guys get the capital bill done and if there is Olympics money, wanted to remind you if the opportunity is there to get a permanent Board seat on the 2016 committee under your control please do it," Ganis wrote in a Sept. 11 e-mail to Harris. "Its one appointment where I can help a lot and also watch out for things and be Rod's (hopefully credible) voice."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun