When I heard the news that the feds had tapped Governor Blagojevich's phones and had caught him wheeling and dealing and trading favors for big-time economic deals, I thought: Please, please, please let it be the Olympics.
After all, nothing would kill that boondoggle faster than having it snared in the swamp of sleazy state politics. But, alas, it turned out the deal in question was only the old Wrigley Field handout.
Now it turns out that it's like some sort of monster crawling out from the grave to terrorize the citizenry and fleece the taxpayers to the tune of $100 to $150 million -- as if anyone really knows the full amount.
As you may recall, former governor Jim Thompson, who was acting as the front man on this proposal, pitched it as necessary to keep whoever bought the Cubs from destroying Wrigley Field. To which Mayor Daley responded that there was no chance that the new Cubs owner would be dumb enough to kill a cash cow like Wrigley Field.
In any event, it was satisfying to eavesdrop on Blago's private conversation with John Harris, his chief of staff (who resigned today), to see what the deal's revival was really all about.
"Rod Blagojevich and Harris then discussed the details of the deal the Cubs are trying to get through the IFA
ISFA [a state agency]," according to the complaint. "Harris said that it is basically a tax mitigation scheme where the IFA ISFA will 'own title to the building' (believed to be Wrigley Field), and the Tribune will not 'have to pay capital gains tax.' Harris explained that the total gain to the Tribune is in the neighborhood of $100 million. Rod Blagojevich said, '$100 million is nothing to sneeze at. That's still worth something isn't it?'"
Yes, governor, it certainly is worth something. I was hoping that what would follow would be a sophisticated analysis between Blago and his economic brain trust as to exactly what it was worth to the ordinary citizens of our illustrious state. You know -- what are the pros and cons of buying Wrigley Field from the Cubs and what do we, the general public, get for giving the Trib such a boon?
But, no, instead Blagojevich and Harris launched into a discussion of how they could swap the tax break for getting the Tribune to fire a nettlesome editorial board member.
I know, I know -- $100 million ain't what it used to be. But, still, you have to figure this is truly a rich country when the governor's willing to trade at least $100 million for one largely unknown editorial-page writer. For that sort of change you'd think he could get Eric Zorn or John Kass.
Anyway, the only good to come out of all of this is that it ought to kill once and for all any possibility that this idiotic handout will go through, since there's clearly no public benefit to the state buying Wrigley Field.
I would hope that Mayor Daley's deliberations over the pros and cons of spending billions on the Olympics are a little more sophisticated. But without a federal wiretap, I guess we'll never know.