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Cubs’ Theo Epstein: Trump ‘grandstanding’ on Chicago crime

Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, partakes in a Becoming A Man mentoring meeting at Hyde Park Academy High School Wednesday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Send in the feds? Convene a meeting of gang leaders?

The man who solved the North Side’s seemingly intractable problem of winning the World Series — and backed Hillary Clinton for president — doesn’t think much of President Donald Trump’s suggestions about quashing Chicago crime.

“Honestly, it seems like grandstanding to me personally,” Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said Wednesday of Trump. “Federal resources are more important than words to create headlines for the president. There are a lot of specific requests that Chicago has made of the federal government. Starting by addressing those specifics in a constructive way would be really helpful.”

Hours earlier in Washington, the president again had Chicago on his mind as he emerged from a meeting with black leaders, including the pastor of a suburban Cleveland church who claimed to have been working with Chicago gang members to “bring the body count down” here.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Trump said, adding that if Chicago can’t reduce a surge in shootings and homicides that dates to last year, “we’ll solve the problem for them.”

Epstein — who spoke to reporters while appearing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a South Side High School to promote the “Becoming A Man” mentoring program — said he isn’t so sure.

“I’m focused more — and I think the mayor is focused more — on progress and solutions than on any damage that might be done by some sort of political grandstanding,” Epstein said. “The mayor is focused on finding real-world solutions like B.A.M.”

Epstein donated to Clinton’s campaign, and he’s been particularly vocal on politics. Asked what he thought about Trump’s win at a meeting of baseball executives shortly after the election in November, Epstein offered, “I’m still processing it.”

His bosses, the Cubs-owning Ricketts family, are mostly Republican donors. Family members include Todd Ricketts, Trump’s pick to be his administration’s deputy commerce secretary, and Pete Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska. Breaking with her brothers, Laura Ricketts backed Clinton, hosting a fundraiser for her last year.

Chicago has been a regular target of barbs from the president, dating back to his aborted trip to the University of Illinois at Chicago for a campaign event last spring. In the months since, Trump has made Twitter hay over the murder of Bulls star Dwyane Wade’s cousin and tweeted his vague promise to “send in the feds” if the murder rate doesn’t decline.

Epstein counts himself among those puzzled by which “feds” Trump might dispatch to the city — or what they might do if they arrive.

“By feds, what did he mean? Did he mean military? Who knows what he meant?” Epstein said.

And it’s not as if Epstein isn’t wary about rising crime in the city. In October, Epstein gave a testimonial at a meeting of the Southport Community Alliance, a group formed by residents of his Lakeview neighborhood to finance private patrols. Epstein’s wife is listed in state records as one of the group’s officers.

On Wednesday, Epstein took a longer view on fighting crime.

“[T]he solutions are grassroots, like this mentoring program. They’re economic and social and political,” he said.

“There are myriad ways to improve the situation,” Epstein added. “But, maybe just sort of making headlines isn’t necessarily the right way.”