Chicago aldermen vented their anger Wednesday about the Cubs’ decision to yank a lucrative offer to let aldermen buy World Series tickets at face value.
Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) said she’s “a poor alderman” who can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for Cubs tickets purchased on the secondary market.
“We were not the ones reaching out to the Cubs for some freebies or for some special treatment. The Cubs actually reached out to all of us to offer face-value tickets and those Cubs fans have to say yes. I said yes. I said of course I would like some tickets. We paid for them,” said Santiago, who described herself as a die-hard Cubs fan.
Santiago branded the controversy triggered by the Board of Ethics narrow interpretation of the city’s gift ban “kind of insulting, humiliating and embarrassing for us” for a perk that wasn’t all that hot.
EDITORIAL: Stop the whining, aldermen
“First of all, those tickets were not front-row tickets. They were all the way in the upper-deck. If I went like this, I would almost touch the ceiling. That’s how bad those tickets were,” Santiago said, lifting her arm over her head.
“This should be a matter of individual and personal choice. Those who are not Cubs fans can just say, `No. I’m not interested.’ But those of us who would like to get a chance to go to one of those games and be part of history — we should have that choice.”
Santiago was not alone in her complaints.
“It’s getting a little silly and out of hand,” said Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd).
“We don’t live in a Third World country where we’re not allowed to go to a sporting event because we’re on the City Council. I understand about how much they’re worth now. But just to go a ballgame with my wife and my family and because I’m an alderman, now I can’t buy a ticket?”
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) branded the Ethics Board’s ruling “half-baked.” Moreno said he “100 percent supports” the exemption carved out for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley.
But he said, “It’s ridiculous that 49 other aldermen or state reps can’t purchase tickets at face value if the Cubs so choose to do that.”
The chorus of complaints got louder after Inspector General Joe Ferguson told aldermen that the Ethics Board’s ruling appears to apply not just to playoff and World Series tickets but to face-value tickets to any high-demand sporting, concert or theatrical event whenever tickets are being sold on the secondary market for more than $50 more than the aldermen paid.
“I don’t know how you’re possibly gonna keep up with that. And I don’t know how this could possibly be enforced. It’s a tremendous burden to put on a baseball fan to try and figure out at any given moment what the price of the game might be on the secondary market,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).
“If this is gonna be part of the ethical policy going forward, it needs more than clarity. There are some real problems with this and it needs to be addressed.”
Ferguson, who now has limited power to investigate the City Council, said if aldermen don’t like the ruling, they can “change the law” banning gifts valued at more than $50.
But after testimony at City Council budget hearings dominated by questions about the Cubs ticket controversy, Ferguson warned aldermen to tread softly at a time when public confidence in elected officials appears to be at an all-time low.
“How would you feel if I got an offer of tickets — and you didn’t. . . . The distinguishing factor in all of this is whether or not you are getting something that other people cannot get because you are an alderman, and what the value of that something is,” Ferguson said.
“But what was missing in the back-and-forth that occurred here is, sort of consideration of the optics and the appearance of possible conflicts of interest,” he said. “As a cultural matter, especially at this moment in the city’s history, we should be thinking about the appearance of conflict.”
The now-canceled lucrative perk came three years after the City Council gave the Cubs the go-ahead to rebuild Wrigley and develop the land around it and less than four months after the Cubs won the limited right to sell beer and wine on an open-air plaza adjacent to the stadium.
“There certainly is an appearance of conflict,” Ferguson said, urging aldermen to engage in “more dialogue” with the Board of Ethics to “flesh out some of those nuances.”
The ethics ordinance prohibits city employees and elected officials from accepting gifts worth more than $50. The difference between the face value of Cubs playoff tickets and the “commonly understood fair market value” exceeds that $50 limit.
In a revised memorandum issued late Friday, the Board of Ethics said the mayor and aldermen can accept the offer, only if their “personal attendance is to enable them to perform an official, appropriate, ceremonial duty or action, such as publicly welcoming the crowd or making a speech, throwing out the first pitch, marching with the color guard or standing with other elected officials on the field.”
There also must be a “clear and direct connection” between the official’s attendance and performance of such ceremonial duty or action and the nature and location of the event itself,” the memorandum states.
Faced with those restrictions, the Cubs withdrew the offer, unwilling to go through those contortions and risk looking like the team was attempting to curry favor with aldermen who regulate Wrigley.