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Cubs pull ticket offer to aldermen after ethics flap

With huge crowds expected in Wrigleyville this weekend, the city is taking extreme measures to keep cars off the streets — even the cars belonging to people who live there. | Sun-Times files

If Chicago aldermen want to go to the World Series at Wrigley Field, they’ll have to cough up big bucks on the secondary market just like the rest of us die-hard Cubs fans.

To the delight of the newly-appointed Ethics Board chairman and the disdain of the City Council, the Cubs have pulled the lucrative offer to let aldermen purchase tickets at face value for the third, fourth and fifth games of the Series.

The about-face comes three days after the city’s Board of Ethics issued new rules that made it more difficult for aldermen, who preside over all things Wrigley Field, to take advantage of the ticket offer.

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, the board has said.

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 ruling stated.

Faced with those restrictions, the Cubs yanked the offer, unwilling to go through those contortions and risk looking like the team was attempting to curry favor with aldermen who regulate Wrigley.

Newly appointed Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon was pleased. He called it a “fair and ethical thing.”

“The fundamental basis of our opinion is that people should have equal access to Cubs tickets and status and position ought not to give one group precedence over another group,” Conlon told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday.

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.

That fact was not lost on Conlon.

“It is inappropriate under the circumstances for a group that has governance over Wrigley Field — everything from vendors to hot dogs to improvements to the stadium and building adjacent to the stadium — to accept preferential treatment from the Cubs,” Conlon said.

In an email to the Sun-Times, Cubs spokesman Julian Green wrote: “We have not pulled tickets. We have only referred Alderman who have called for tickets to the new Ethics Board opinion which prevents members of the City Council from purchasing tickets.”

“Our focus should be on baseball and this issue has become a complete distraction during one of the most historic runs in Cubs history. We really don’t have time to interpret or explain something that is not our issue,” he added.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) accused the Board of Ethics of forcing the issue with a pair of rulings, one more stringent than the next after rookie Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) publicly condemned the offer as a conflict of interest.

“I went to every home game when the White Sox went to the World Series. Paid face value for the tickets and there was not a problem. And now, we let one aldermen make a comment that this isn’t fair who’s not even a sports fan, and now, we can’t even take advantage of World Series tickets, even though we’re paying face value,” Beale said angrily.

Beale categorically denied that it was a conflict for aldermen who preside over all things Wrigley to get special treatment from the Cubs.

“They’re not giving us anything. We’re buying the tickets. If they were giving ’em to us and you took advantage of it, now I would say there’s a problem,” Beale said.

“If you are a sports fan, that’s what this is all about. This is about supporting this great city of Chicago. We have a team that has tried to get there over 100 years and they finally got there. Who would not want to be part of history?”

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) took the high road.

He said he can’t really blame the Cubs for deciding that it’s “not worth the distraction and the circus” to continue the offer to aldermen at a time when World Series tickets are going for thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

“The ruling is based on the existence of a secondary market…If that’s the ruling, we’ll abide by it. The Cubs are in the World Series. If we can’t go to the games, c’est la vie,” Pawar said.

“I’m happy they carved out an exemption for the mayor and Ald. Tunney,” whose ward includes Wrigley.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he accepted the ticket offer because he “didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“I paid full price. I’m also a season ticket holder so I paid that way, too. I wanted to celebrate the success of the team, show my support for Chicago and didn’t feel like it was an ethical breach. I’m critical of everything that comes before me regardless,” Arena said.

Yet another aldermen, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that the Cubs’ offer was nothing compared to other cities.

City Council members in Los Angeles were offered as many playoff tickets as they wanted at face value, the alderman said.

The aldermen further noted that Cleveland City Council members get two tickets for every regular season game at face value and the same for the playoffs. In Washington D.C., tickets to every home game — both regular season and playoffs — are free, and they’re the cushy seats right behind home plate.

“The Ethics Board did a search and, rather than consider the big picture, they took the outliers and that became the standard,” the alderman said.

“Look at the tough negotiations that went on between the Cubs and the city. They didn’t get their free year-round beer garden and a lot of other stuff they really wanted. I don’t think anybody was looking to play favorites with them. The gift ban has been on the books for several years. We’ve always paid face value. They’re not inexpensive, even at face value. . . . It’s being pretty hyper literal,” the alderman added.

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 had complied with that earlier ruling by displaying the names of aldermen and city officials in attendance on the video board long before the first pitch.