Rocky Wirtz didn’t inherit his old man’s cheapness. Bill Wirtz was loathed by Chicago Blackhawks fans for keeping home games off local TV, because it might threaten the gate, and for refusing to spend the money to keep Bobby Hull, Dominik Hasek, and Jeremy Roenick. In 2004, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in pro sports. After “Dollar Bill” died, his son Rocky put home games on TV and spent the money to win the Hawks their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
But Rocky did inherit another of his father’s qualities. ESPN also named Bill Wirtz the “third greediest owner in sports.” The Wirtzes’ congenital cupidity is once again on display, now that the Illinois Appellate Court has upheld the family’s lawsuit against Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital bill. The Wirtzes built their multi-billion dollar fortune by selling firewater to Illinoisans, and they objected to the bill’s increase on the state liquor tax. The court agreed, saying the bill violated the Constitution’s ban on bills of more than one subject by combining tax increases on liquor and soft drinks, as well as legalization of video poker.
(The Wirtzes aren’t used to being treated this way by the state legislature. In 1999, they contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the passage of the Wine and Spirits Fair Dealing Act. The act was extremely fair to the family’s distributorship, Judge and Dolph, because it prevented brewers and distillers from switching distributors. Eventually, the act was declared unconstitutional, but not before the Wirtzes celebrated their new monopoly by raising prices.)
The Wirtzes’ lawsuit eliminated half the funding for the $31 billion bill, so now Quinn may have to push separate bills through the legislature. Otherwise, the state may have to cancel dozens of road-building projects -- and the recession-ending jobs that go with them.
Jim Sweeney, President of Local 150 International Union of Operating Engineers, says his members may boycott the Black Hawks in retaliation for costing the union work. That’s not a bad idea. After their championship season, the Blackhawks may not make the playoffs. They’re on the bubble right now, fighting the Sharks, the Avalanche, the Wild and the Kings for the eighth spot. Rocky brought Chicago one Stanley Cup, but now we’re watching his dad’s old team again.
That’s one good reason to boycott the Blackhawks. The Wirtz family’s generations of greed is another.