Ethics board puts aldermen in squeeze play on Cubs tickets

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 07: Fans celebrate after the Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 at Wrigley Field on October 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 674215233

The Chicago Board of Ethics tried Friday to make it tougher for aldermen who preside over all things Wrigley Field to take advantage of the Cubs’ lucrative offer to purchase playoff tickets at face value, but the squeeze play didn’t work with one of the City’s Council’s die-hard fans.

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 limit, the board has said.

In a revised memorandum, 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.

“This could include the mayor as the representative of the city itself and the alderman of the ward in which the venue is located as the representative of the citizens and businesses in the vicinity.”

The new rule will take effect only if the Cubs advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said he’ll be at Wrigley for games six and seven of the National League Championship Series — and for all three World Series games in Chicago if the Cubs win the pennant–no matter what the Board of Ethics says.

It’s the second time in two weeks that the Board of Ethics has changed the rules in the middle of the game when it comes to the team’s offer to let aldermen pay face value for playoff and World Series tickets going for hundreds and thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

Under a previous ruling, the board ruled that aldermen and city officials who take advantage of the ticket offer must accompany their guests to all games and be publicly announced to the crowd or risk violating the city’s ethics ordinance.

The Cubs have complied with the ruling by displaying the names of aldermen and city officials in attendance on the video board long before the first pitch.

“They offered me the tickets. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong,” Sposato said.

The lucrative perk comes 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.

But Sposato categorically denied that the ticket offer amounts to a conflict of interest.

“You allowed me to buy tickets to a game . . . That’s not gonna influence my decisions on whether I think anything is wrong or right. I’ve been here long enough. You know I’ve stood up for what I think is right or wrong. Nobody is gonna make me rubber stamp anything. I’m gonna do what’s right,” he said.

Sposato ridiculed a Board of Ethics long known as a paper tiger for demanding that the Cubs create some sort of ceremonial role for aldermen to justify the ticket offer.

“You know what a zoo it is over there? Have you driven by there during the game? Now the Cubs have got to announce me or…have me in some kind of ceremony. I mean—it’s totally ridiculous to ask the Cubs to do anything,” he said.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green was asked whether the team has any intention of creating “ceremonial duties” for aldermen and city officials to perform.

“Our focus is on baseball. We do not have the time to interpret what this means. It’s for the Ethics Board to interpret,” Green said.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza, a die-hard Sox fan, said she might take the Cubs up on the ticket offer, but only because she has a dear friend with terminal cancer who is “obsessed” with the Cubs.

“To take this cancer survivor, I would consider the public shaming of it,” said Mendoza, who is locked in a big-bucks race for state comptroller against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s handpicked appointee, Leslie Munger.

“I would prefer to let him enjoy it with his wife. [But] if they make me go, I’ll cheer them on.”

After testifying for just five minutes at a City Council budget hearing this week, Steve Berlin, longtime executive director of the Board of Ethics, acknowledged that the board lacks investigative powers.

That means aldermen who go to the NLCS or World Series games at Wrigley without being announced or performing any ceremonial function are unlikely to face fines unless Inspector General Joe Ferguson pursues it and conducts an investigation.

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