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Wrigley rooftops' political donations dry up

The bitter quarrel between the Chicago Cubs and nearby rooftop owners over signs at Wrigley Field remains hot, but the rooftops' political contributions have cooled off this year.

The city's landmarks commission has approved a plan to upgrade the ballpark and surrounding property that would cost the team $575 million and include seven new signs that may block some of the rooftops' views. With so much at stake, political connections are important, and over the years owners of the rooftop clubs along Waveland and Sheffield avenues have donated plenty to campaign war chests.

But rooftop clubs and their owners have made just five donations to politicians totaling $5,550 this year, a sharp decline from last year, when at least $80,000 went to politicians and campaigns in Illinois. Since the Ricketts family's purchase of the Cubs in 2009, the 15 rooftop clubs and their owners have made political donations of about $300,000.

On Wednesday, the campaign of state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Democrat representing the Wrigley area, reported $2,500 from the rooftop owners' organization. Last summer, a few days after a separate contribution, she introduced a bill that was signed into law that exempts the clubs from a ban on happy hours.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, who represents the area around Wrigley Field, has led all recipients in rooftop donations. Community activists have complained that he advocates too heavily on behalf of rooftop owners, but this year his $76,650 in overall contributions includes just two rooftop donations. On July 15 — less than a week after the Cubs' plan was approved — the campaign reported receiving $1,000 from a business owned by Beth Murphy of Murphy's Bleachers, 3655 N. Sheffield. In April, Tunney received $500 from 3639 Wrigley Rooftop at 3639 N. Sheffield.

Kim Shepherd, a spokeswoman for Tunney, said political cash doesn't play a role when the alderman deals with issues involving Wrigley Field. She said campaign contributors appreciate the business experience of the alderman, who owns the Ann Sather restaurants.

"(Rooftop owners) know his focus and commitment has always been the best interest of neighbors and businesses in the 44th Ward," Shepherd said. "Many rooftop owners are both — they run a small business in a building in which they also live."

Asked about the rooftops' overall decline in donations, Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said in a statement:

"The rooftop owners are a collection of small business owners who have felt the impact of the economy in recent years. That issue, coupled with the litany of attacks and efforts to block them by the Ricketts family — and shrinking interest in the Cubs — has hurt their bottom line. The rooftop owners must pay 17 percent of their gross revenue — which equates to about half their profits — before they pay any taxes, operations, employees, debt and eventually themselves."

The Ricketts family and Cubs executives haven't stuck to the political sidelines since the family bought the team five years ago. But while the Rickettses have pledged millions to national causes, their donations in Illinois have been for smaller amounts.

Recipients in Illinois have included Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign fund. And a rooftop in which the Ricketts family invested, Down the Line Rooftop at 3621-25 N. Sheffield, gave a ticket package worth $1,300 this year to Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, who is leading talks between the Cubs and rooftop owners at the request of Emanuel.

Since the Rickettses bought the Cubs, the team itself has made four donations, three to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce political action committee. (Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, sold the team in 2009 and retains a 5 percent stake.).

Tom Ricketts' only donation in Illinois since becoming chairman after the sale was $50,000 this year to Yes for Independent Maps, a political action committee whose legislative redistricting amendment was knocked off the ballot after a challenge by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Tom Ricketts' brother Todd has donated $62,800, mostly to Republicans. Their sister, Laura, a philanthropist and gay rights activist, has long been a liberal donor. She has given $6,000 to Feigenholtz's campaigns. Last year, Emanuel's campaign received $5,300 from her, plus $2,500 from Todd.

"The members of the Ricketts family have diverse political views and make individual decisions consistent with their personal beliefs and values as to the issues, candidates, causes and organizations they each support," Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton said.

Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney also has given to Emanuel — $5,000 in 2011. That same year, Jim Hendry, then Cubs general manager but now with the New York Yankees, gave Emanuel's campaign $1,500.

"Donations made by members of the Cubs organization are simply an individual choice and not part of an organizational strategy to be active in the political process," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.

Owners of some rooftop clubs have threatened to sue the team if the planned signs end up blocking their views. The rooftop owners signed a 20-year contract with the Cubs in 2004 that settled a lawsuit brought by the team. Rooftop owners believe the contract assured that their views would not be blocked.

The only contributions to Tunney since 2009 tied to the Cubs executives are from Mike Lufrano, director of community relations, who gave $2,500 in three donations to Tunney's campaign in 2010 and 2012.

Tunney, who opposes the seven signs, was involved in the talks that led to the 2004 agreement, and to approval of the Cubs' initial plans last year for two new signs. But his name was left out July 10 when Kenney thanked participants in the recent deal.

Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed.

jahopkins@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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