Anti-Obama ad flap deals blow to Wrigley Field rehab plan
Ricketts family patriarch had been offered a plan for using super PAC to run ads linking president with Rev. Wright
Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, whose family trust was used to buy the Cubs from Tribune Co., quickly sought to tamp down the controversy. (Kris Connor, Getty Images / April 10, 2011)
Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, whose family trust was used to buy the Cubs from Tribune Co., quickly sought to tamp down the controversy along with his children who run the day-to-day operations of the baseball club.
But the political damage was done.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff, was furious.
"I don't think that's fitting in a campaign of any nature," Emanuel said. "You can have disagreements without being disagreeable."
"America is too great a country with too great a future with the content they are talking about," added the mayor. "And it's insulting to the president, it's insulting to the country."
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts phoned the mayor, but Emanuel didn't return the call.
"He's not interested in talking right now," said a source close to Emanuel. The source was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.
About six weeks ago, Emanuel said he was in the "final stages" of talks with Cubs ownership over a public-private deal to help renovate an aging but historic sports shrine.
The idea already faced a tough time in Springfield, where Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers are struggling to agree on staggering cuts in taxpayer-supported human services and getting a handle on runaway public worker pension costs. Helping the wealthy Ricketts family was hardly a priority at the Capitol.
Then Thursday's firestorm struck. The timing could not have been worse for the Ricketts family.
Emanuel was busy preparing for the NATO summit of world leaders in Chicago this weekend and did not want sideshows distracting from that. If Emanuel had planned to surface a Wrigley deal ahead of the Legislature's May 31 adjournment deadline, he now can point to the Obama ad flap as reason to wait.
As first reported by The New York Times, the political consulting firm Strategic Perception Inc. last week pitched ideas to the super PAC for attack ads against the president that included a strategy of reviving Obama's connections to Wright, who retired from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in May 2008.
Obama was forced to distance and later disavow his relationship with Wright after the preacher's inflammatory and often racially charged comments surfaced. Wright once said of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the country, the "chickens are coming home to roost."
Two of Joe Ricketts' children, Pete and Todd Ricketts, both Cubs board members, were present for the meeting where the anti-Obama pitches occurred, according to a source close to the family who asked not to be named. Pete Ricketts, a member of the Republican National Committee, was a largely self-funded but unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska in 2006.
The president of the Ending Spending Action Fund — the super PAC heavily funded by Joe Ricketts — said the ad proposal "reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take."
Tom Ricketts noted in a statement that his father had repudiated the ad strategy, and added that he would not have "further comment on this or any other election year political issue. My full-time focus is on making the Chicago Cubs a World Series champion, preserving Wrigley Field and making the Chicago Cubs a great corporate citizen."
Joe Ricketts plays no role in the Cubs' operation. But his desire to use his wealth to play an increasing role in conservative political causes has sometimes clashed with the Cubs' business objectives.
He has long railed against government spending on pork-barrel projects, an irony given the Cubs ownership is trying to work out a deal with City Hall that would involve using $150 million in city amusement taxes to leverage a $300 million renovation of the National League's oldest ballpark.