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Tunney, Emanuel deserve credit for tough Wrigley negotiations

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) addresses Chicago City Council City Hall about Wrigley Field rehab deal July 2012.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) addresses the Chicago City Council at City Hall about the Wrigley Field rehab deal in July 2012.

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Updated: August 26, 2013 4:27PM

Someday, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) will bask in the glow of a newly rehabbed Wrigley Field alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel and be comfortable he helped achieve the best possible outcome for his Lake View community.

Without a single dollar of taxpayer subsidy, one of the city’s great tourist attractions and economic engines has a new lease on life that should carry it through at least another 50 years without seriously detracting from the quality of life of its neighbors.

But Tunney wasn’t quite there yet Wednesday as he stood to speak on the City Council floor in favor of the deal that will see the Cubs invest $500 million on a complete makeover of the ballpark.

In a rambling, often defensive speech that even made reference to his critics on sports talk radio, an agitated Tunney lashed out again at the Cubs and their owners over the long, contentious negotiations.

“You have to be a good neighbor! Otherwise, I’m gonna be up your butt every day!” Tunney scolded. “And I’m gonna tell you, I’m gonna be up the butt every day to make sure that the commitments the Ricketts make and that the commitments that the mayor makes are absolutely solidified . . .”

That’s an audiotape the radio boys will keep on file for a few years.

Poor choice of words obviously, but indicative both of the tense final weeks of squabbling between the parties and, shall we say, the passion that Tunney brought to those talks.

Having watched Tunney hung out to dry these past months as a tool of the Wrigley rooftop club owners for not allowing the Cubs to bulldoze him with their original plans, I would like to offer a word in his defense.

If an alderman isn’t going to stand up for his constituents on an issue that affects almost every one of them, then who is? It’s the alderman’s job to sweat the details of any major development in his ward, especially one that so greatly impacts its residents.

Those residents understand better than anybody the traffic and parking hassles of game days — and especially game nights. They know that while more Wrigley night games might be good for bars, they can be death on restaurants.

And most of them now know that Tunney fought for them as best as best he could, not that all of them will be pleased with the outcome.

“People feel that he had their best interests at heart,” said Will DeMille, president of Lake View Citizens Council, a group bringing together 10 neighborhood organizations.

At the same time, Tunney may have brought a lot of the problems on himself by taking the negotiations too personally and not being careful to separate the interests of rooftop club owners from the interests of the broader neighborhood.

As was made clear during his “off-script” diatribe at City Council, Tunney still harbors a lot of resentment against the Cubs, in part for transgressions committed by the previous team owners. Among the broken promises he cited was the team’s failure under the Tribune to build a parking garage in exchange for more night games.

As with many longtime neighborhood business owners and residents who predated the “Wrigleyville” resurgence, Tunney also is resentful of those who think the Cubs are entirely responsible for the community’s economic well-being.

It’s the chicken or the egg argument I hope we never are able to resolve. Is the neighborhood more important to Wrigley, or is Wrigley more important to the neighborhood?

Toss in the fact that Tunney and Emanuel don’t have a close political relationship, and you can understand how this negotiation became so difficult.

That’s why it’s especially impressive that Emanuel was able to help secure most of the concessions Tunney sought. That included 44 separate changes from the original “framework” agreement struck in April, Emanuel pointedly noted.

“Without the mayor, this thing would have blown up a long time ago,” a source I trust said.

In that light, let me compliment Emanuel, as well, for a huge victory.

It’s really a rather amazing outcome. Not only will the Cubs stay in the city where they belong, preserving one of the city’s most iconic treasures, but they are doing it without reaching into the public’s pocket.

Stadium deals just aren’t done these days without taxpayers being forced to pay up.

“I’m telling you this is a big day for the city of Chicago,” Tunney told his fellow aldermen, while showing little evidence of being happy about it.

He should take his own words to heart.

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