Sam Zell was the newish owner of Tribune Company who wanted to sell Wrigley Field to help pay off the crushing debt he had saddled the company with in order to buy it. Rod Blagojevich was the embattled governor who wanted a change of tone on the Chicago Tribune's editorial page (and, allegedly, a change of personnel). The deal-making began. Sam's guy, Chicago-based sports consultant Marc Ganis, talked to Rod's guy, chief of staff John Harris. And they exchanged e-mails.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the AP obtained those e-mails and reports that several "mention the Illinois Finance Authority, which prosecutors claim Blagojevich and Harris wanted to use to provide financial assistance of $100 million or more to Tribune to get a tax break on its Wrigley sale."
Ganis also wrote in an e-mail that "now that the election has gone as we expected, the opportunities we discussed, and Rod and I talked even more about, are in front of you guys. I was going to call the Gov today to get together to continue the discussion you had us start . . . there is a real possibility these next two years could be very different than the last two for you guys. An opportunity that this election may have presented."
It's not clear how the election of Barack Obama presented opportunities to the Blagojevich administration, outside of the opportunity to appoint (and allegedly gain financially by doing so) a new U.S. senator.
Ganis told AP that he was "talking to Blagojevich and Harris about the opportunity to have President Barack Obama or his staff mediate Blagojevich's long-standing differences with legislators."
That's either naive, ignorant or simply not true because of the extreme unlikelihood that the President of the United States - especially one with Obama's demeanor and political calculus - would take the time to play peacemaker between Rod Blagojevich and Michael Madigan.
Ganis, who makes frequent appearances on such shows as Chicago Tonight and has been the media's go-to guy for quotes about the business of sports, including Chicago's Olympic bid, does not come off well elsewhere in his communiques with the governor's office.
At one point, he appeared to be lobbying for a position as "Rod's guy" on an Olympics committee - even as he was offering his assessment of the bid to various media outlets. He also "sought to discuss with Harris a wind power business, [and] bragged that his cousin is tight with Steven Spielberg and offered Blagojevich and Harris a 'direct pipeline' to the Hollywood director."
The Tribune reports that the Blagojevich administration talked to Ganis about an appointment to a state board related to energy, but Ganis "declined that since he didn't feel he could offer any expertise in that area."
Finally, a look back to the criminal complaint against Blagojevich:
"On Nov. 30, Blagojevich spoke with the president of a Chicago-area sports consulting firm, who indicated that he was working with the Cubs on matters involving Wrigley Field. Blagojevich and Sports Consultant discussed the importance of getting the IFA transaction approved at the agency’s December or January meeting because Blagojevich was contemplating leaving office in early January and his IFA appointees would still be in place to approve the deal, the charges allege."
Bear in mind that neither Ganis nor the Tribune Company has been charged with wrongdoing. But that doesn't make it right, either.