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Emanuel: Ricketts controversy won’t block Wrigley Field deal

“Our whole city learned with sadness today passing Roger Ebert whose name was synonymous with two things: movies Chicago' said

“Our whole city learned with sadness today of the passing of Roger Ebert, whose name was synonymous with two things: the movies and Chicago," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in reaction to the death of Roger Ebert.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 9:42AM

It looks like the controversy over Joe Ricketts’ conservative politics won’t stand in the way of a $300 million deal to renovate Wrigley Field, but it could pave the way for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to play hardball with the Cubs.

With Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts running around doing damage control and admittedly in a weakened political position, it’s advantage Emanuel — which is precisely where Chicago’s controlling mayor likes to be.

Emanuel said Thursday he’s made his point with Tom Ricketts about how divisive the mayor believes it would have been for family patriarch Joe Ricketts to attack President Barack Obama by resurrecting the fiery sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor.

The mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times he has not yet returned the apologetic phone call placed by Tom Ricketts after reports of Joe Ricketts’ involvement in a conservative “super PAC” mulling the $10 million attack against Obama.

Emanuel said “the point has been made” and that he sees no need to prolong the dispute, nor will he allow the controversy to sabotage Wrigley negotiations that were rounding third and heading home before Joe Ricketts started the political fire.

“We will [talk] at the appropriate time. … At the appropriate time, they’ll represent their interests, and I’ll represent the taxpayers,” the mayor said.

Emanuel’s remark — one day after he laughed and walked out of a news conference when asked about Ricketts — fuels speculation that he plans to use the controversy to drive a harder bargain.

“We appreciate the mayor’s leadership and the great things he’s doing for the city, and we look forward to discussing great things we could do for the city in Wrigleyville,” said Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Tom Ricketts.

Last week, Emanuel condemned Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, for working with high-profile Republican strategists on a $10 million plan to resurrect the Wright controversy.

The mayor let it be known he was so angry that he had no interest in returning the call from Ricketts anytime soon.

Ricketts responded that neither he nor any member of the Ricketts family would condone such “racially insensitive” attack ads against Obama, saying, “That’s not who we are.”

He acknowledged that the anti-Obama ad campaign — since disavowed by Joe Ricketts — was a “distraction nobody wanted” during a “bad weekend to be throwing curveballs” at Emanuel and conceded that the controversy could “complicate some of our efforts on the funding side.”

Ricketts has spent the last week trying to put out the political fire started by his father that threatens to derail — or at least delay — an elusive Wrigley deal.

The Sun-Times reported this week that he’s been reaching out to black elected officials and community leaders to try and ease tensions caused by the anti-Obama campaign.

Without support from Emanuel and a majority of Chicago aldermen, the Cubs have no chance of convincing the City Council to approve a $150 million variation of the financing plan that the mayor once called a “non-starter” — forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement-tax growth.

The Cubs also need council approval to relax Wrigley’s landmark status and allow the Cubs to wring as much as $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium.

The proposed changes range from more outfield signage behind the Wrigley bleachers, possibly including a jumbotron in right field to street closings on Sheffield and Waveland every game day to make way for money-making street fairs that duplicate the festival atmosphere around Fenway Park in Boston.

Before the Joe Ricketts controversy erupted, talks with Emanuel were continuing with a “sense of urgency” to accommodate the Cubs’ desire to begin construction after the regular season ends in October.

For the

past week, City Hall sources have said they still expect a Wrigley deal to get done because it’s a job creator and because Emanuel is all about “putting points on the board,” as the mayor likes to put it. But the sources said the controversy could slow the team’s accelerated construction timetable and empower the mayor to drive a harder bargain.

The renovation would be phased in over “three or four” off-seasons to allow the Cubs to keep playing at Wrigley, just as the Boston Red Sox did while Fenway was renovated.

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