Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Illinois governor pressured the Chicago Tribune; in New York, the mayor & Ratner have had much less trouble

The sell-the-Senate-seat scandal immolating Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has a very interesting subplot regarding state help for a sports facility and the role of Chicago's leading newspaper.

After the Department of Justice (DoJ) press release, I'll point to some interesting contrasts with the situation in New York.

$100 million at stake

The DOJ stated:
Misuse of State Funding To Induce Firing of Chicago Tribune Editorial Writers
According to the affidavit, intercepted phone calls revealed that the Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs, has explored the possibility of obtaining assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) relating to the Tribune Company’s efforts to sell the Cubs and the financing or sale of Wrigley Field. In a November 6 phone call, [chief of staff John] Harris explained to Blagojevich that the deal the Tribune Company was trying to get through the IFA was basically a tax mitigation scheme in which the IFA would own title to Wrigley Field and the Tribune would not have to pay capital gains tax, which Harris estimated would save the company approximately $100 million.


Pressure on newspaper

The DoJ stated:
Intercepted calls allegedly show that Blagojevich directed Harris to inform Tribune Owner and an associate, identified as Tribune Financial Advisor, that state financial assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board were fired, primarily because Blagojevich viewed them as driving discussion of his possible impeachment. In a November 4 phone call, Blagojevich allegedly told Harris that he should say to Tribune Financial Advisor, Cubs Chairman and Tribune Owner, “our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ‘em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support.”

...In a November 11 intercepted call, Harris allegedly told Blagojevich that Tribune Financial Advisor talked to Tribune Owner and Tribune Owner “got the message and is very sensitive to the issue.” Harris told Blagojevich that according to Tribune Financial Advisor, there would be “certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he’s going after that section.” Blagojevich allegedly responded. “Oh. That’s fantastic.” After further discussion, Blagojevich said, “Wow. Okay, keep our fingers crossed. You’re the man. Good job, John.”


Meeting a tight deadline

The DoJ stated:
In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, “as somebody who was the most biased and unfair.” After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field. On November 30, Blagojevich spoke with the president of a Chicago-area sports consulting firm, who indicated that he was working with the Cubs on matters involving Wrigley Field. Blagojevich and Sports Consultant discussed the importance of getting the IFA transaction approved at the agency’s December or January meeting because Blagojevich was contemplating leaving office in early January and his IFA appointees would still be in place to approve the deal, the charges allege.

(Emphasis added)

And in New York

Things are not quite so crude in New York. The same kind of agreement is sought, but the pressure and the process is far more politic, perhaps because so many have started on the same page.

Consider Mayor Mike Bloomberg's effort to extend term limits. Wrote Wayne Barrett in an 11/19 Village Voice article headlined The Transformation of Mike Bloomberg:
The day before Joe Biden's selection was formally announced in late August, The New York Times revealed that the mayor had been reaching out to fellow media titans—including Arthur Sulzberger of the Times, the Post's Rupert Murdoch, and the Daily News's Mort Zuckerman—to see if they would support a City Council bill to reverse the two-term limits that voters had approved in two overwhelmingly popular referendums. Two of the newspapers had to distance themselves from their own prior opposition to altering term limits by legislation, as did Bloomberg (he called a previous attempt "an absolute disgrace") and his council consigliere, Christine Quinn (in December, she nixed the possibility of a bill, saying that "the voters have made their will very, very clear").

Barrett added:
We are all used to editorial boards making endorsements determined by their owners, but this was the first time in memory that these three proud institutions had marched in such lockstep on a policy matter after meetings between a political figure and their three owners.

The rush to approve AY

And what about the rush to approve Atlantic Yards before 2006 and the end of the administration of Gov. George Pataki? Consultants for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) worked over Thanksgiving to revise the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The votes by the ESDC board and then the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), on which Pataki had one of three crucial votes, came in December. Of course incoming Gov. Eliot Spitzer was a project supporter, but even Spitzer avoided endorsing the widespread calls--even from civic groups that didn't oppose the project--to delay approval.

And, of course, the city more than doubled its contribution to Atlantic Yards without any public explanation.

1 comment:

  1. what's all this talk about calling for Blagojevich to "resign?" ... "throw him in prison" sounds a lot more fitting

    it gives me chills to see how calm and collected he continues to act

    ReplyDelete