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Commissioners who took Cubs' ticket offer violated rules, county watchdog says

Friday, April 14, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Three Cook County commissioners accepted the Cubs' offer to buy face-value tickets to World Series games at Wrigley Field and violated county ethics guidelines in the process, the county's watchdog announced Friday.

County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard's office launched an investigation after a brouhaha erupted last fall over whether Chicago aldermen could accept a special offer to buy playoff tickets at retail prices. Scalpers were charging regular fans hundreds or thousands of dollars for those tickets.

Of the three commissioners to have taken the Cubs up on the tickets, two had checked with the county ethics board in advance. They were told the transaction was no problem because the team wasn't asking the county for anything or trying to do business with it, Blanchard said in his quarterly report.

Blanchard disagreed, though, saying special access to tickets amounted to "the appearance of impropriety in the eyes of the public."

"It is without question that in the days leading up to the World Series, the general public was not able to contact the Cubs organization directly and purchase World Series tickets, while the possibility of purchasing a ticket for face value in the secondary market was highly unlikely," Blanchard's report states. "Media outlets reported that World Series tickets with a face value of $175 to $450 were selling from $1,500 to $5,000 on the secondary market."

"By accepting the offer, the commissioners were receiving what amounts to a discount worth thousands of dollars that most members of the public undoubtedly would have pursued if available to them," Blanchard's report adds.

Blanchard said he recommended in March that the county provide training for officials to avoid such conflicts in the future and that the county had not responded. Frank Shuftan, spokesman for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said the county will review Blanchard's recommendation.

The report did not name the commissioners who accepted the tickets, in accordance with county rules. Shuftan said Preckwinkle did not accept playoff or World Series tickets from the team.

The Cubs withdrew a long-standing playoff ticket offer to the City Council after the city Ethics Board last October ruled that any city officials who accepted the deal would have to perform some sort of "ceremonial duty or action" such as throwing out the first pitch or standing on the field with other elected officials.

Aldermen faced widespread criticism when they continued to press the issue. Northwest Side Ald. Milly Santiago, 31st, said the seats offered for earlier playoff games weren't that great, and she didn't have the money to pay the exorbitant mark-ups demanded by scalpers.

"First of all, those tickets were not front-row tickets, they were all the way in the upper deck, and if I went like this, I would touch the ceiling. That's how bad those tickets were," she said then.

"So it's kind of embarrassing in my part. I don't know how the rest of my colleagues feel. I think this should be a matter of individual and personal choice because those who are not Cubs fans should just say, 'No, I'm not interested.' But those of us who would like to get a chance to go to one of those games and be part of history, we should have that choice," Santiago said.

"I'm a poor alderman, I cannot even afford to buy a $1,000 ticket," she said. "I cannot afford that."

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com



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