By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) I’m sure he’s saying some of his best friends are black.
If he had an African-American on his Cubs roster, you can bet that Tom Ricketts would be carrying him along as a prop on this current, local road show, on which he’s trying to convince black Chicago aldermen that he and his team have nothing whatsoever to do with the multimillion-dollar “Ricketts Plan” to smear Barack Obama with racially-tinged attack ads.
But Marlon Byrd was the last brother in a blue hat, so there goes that option. There’s always Ernie Banks or Billy Williams. Or Ronnie Woo Woo.
The Sun-Times reports that Ricketts is reaching out to the 19 City Council members that form the “Black Caucus,” trying to distance himself and his baseball team from his father’s hard-right brand of politics. Tom needs taxpayer money, but his dad is going great lengths to decry exactly that kind of government spending.
Joe Ricketts bought the Cubs. The kids are out front, but the deal was done with Joe’s money. It’s the same money that fuels the Ending Spending super-PAC and has been actively seeking willing partners in the fetid political backwaters, where skin color is still fair game.
So Tom is working overtime to pull off a defensive misdirection play. He’s trying to charm powerbrokers by saying he has nothing to do with any attempts to employ divisive politics, when his individual involvement isn’t the point. He’s trying to keep attention away from the fact that the Cubs purchase was a Joe Ricketts deal, designed to protect family wealth.
It’s easy to picture Ricketts dressed like Napoleon Dynamite’s brother, Kip — black do-rag and fat gold rope – awkwardly high-fiving the likes of Willie Cochran and Will Burns while misusing the street-slang terms that he wrote on his palm after asking his driver for a few good ones he could sprinkle in.
“What up, playa? Chillin’ at the crib? I’m bein’ straight with the OG’s, just keepin’ it onna real.” (improperly-executed half-hug)
The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal did a nice job outlining the truth of the Ricketts family’s ownership of the Cubs, describing it as “a family trust, a tax-efficient structure for protecting and eventually distributing wealth.” He lets Northwestern Business/Law professor Thomas Brennan explain that it “enables the sharing of assets with future heirs while reducing exposure to probate and minimizing the impact of estate taxes.”
“So although Tom Ricketts led the effort of family members to buy into the baseball franchise and related properties,” Rosenthal writes, “it should enable Joe Ricketts – even with no operational role – to transfer funds across generations through an asset that stands to grow if properly managed.”
And if they receive governmental assistance through tax breaks, that amounts to just the kind of public spending against which Joe is railing. Gotcha.
There is also something inherently ridiculous about Tom only trying to court the black aldermen. Are other ethnicities not allowed to be equally put off by the race-baiting presentation published in its entirety by the New York Times? Perhaps there are other tours to come, one for regular white folks and another entirely in Spanish, with Tom wearing a fringed poncho and shaking maracas.
And who is advising him to feed exclusives to the Sun-Times?
At some point soon, he may find himself needing to make his case for public assistance to the Trib’s editorial board. My experience with competitive news operations tells me that if he continues to cozy up elsewhere, that may be a rough room. Siding in any way against the lone broadsheet paper of record would seem a curious call, at the least.
But that’s where we are, now. Spokespeople are stretching strings of words into elaborate, convoluted designs, baking logical pretzels impossible for reasonable people to consume and digest. And the face of Cubs ownership is doing his sad, little dance the best he can.
Watch Tom shuffle.