Chicago is celebrated as a city of many neighborhoods, but really there are only two: the skyboxes and the bleachers. Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, watches life roll by from a skybox. Founder of the discount brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, Ricketts divides his time between a 17,000-square-foot mansion in Omaha and a palatial ranch in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming, using his $2.1 billion fortune to market bison meat, fund political initiatives against federal spending, and hold forth on his blog about the importance of free markets, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance. In 2016, Ricketts spent at least $1 million (and his son, Todd, raised another $24 million) to elect Donald Trump, who never tires of trashing Chicago even as he stamps his name on the skyline. Joe’s investment will pay off big time if the GOP passes its proposed tax bill, which slashes the corporate rate and the estate tax: according to a study by the Tax Policy Center cited in the Washington Post, the top 1 percent of Americans can look forward to a tax reduction of 62 percent over the next decade.
Like many men who’ve risen from modest beginnings to spectacular wealth, Ricketts can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t just do the same. Six weeks ago, he pulled the plug on his DNAinfo network of local news sites—including the invaluable DNAinfo Chicago and its affiliated blog, Chicagoist—and threw 115 journalists out of work. The timing was conspicuous: only a week earlier, his New York staff had voted to unionize. “Unions promote a corrosive us-against-them mentality that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed,” Ricketts wrote on his blog in September. “The type of company that interests me is one where ownership and the employees are truly in it together, without interference from a third-party union that has its own agenda and priorities.” That’s the kind of company that interests many people, but it’s pretty hard to find in our modern economy of stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, contract employment, and a ragged social safety net.
Ricketts may champion a balanced federal budget, but he and his son Tom, chairman of the Cubs, have gone after plenty of public money to implement the family’s five-year, $575 million “1060 Plan” to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the surrounding area. As my colleague Ryan Smith reported last April, the Cubs lobbied Mayor Emanuel for a $200 million contribution from the city amusement tax in 2012 and stand to collect $75 million in federal historic preservation tax credits from the National Park Service. As part of the plan, a giant boutique hotel is going up next to the park, and with the 2017 season complete, construction is under way for the American Airlines 1914 Club, the first of four top-dollar luxury clubs to be located inside the ballpark. Meanwhile, just to show Chicagoans that we’re truly in it together, the Cubs have raised ticket prices 19.5 percent; according to the ticket resale site TickPick, the team now has the most expensive tickets in baseball, averaging $150 apiece. To Skybox Joe, even the bleachers are too good for us bums. v