CN April 28 2016


It looks like the Tribune Publishing company may be in play once again.

Chairman Michael Ferro has said that Gannett is trying to “steal” the Tribune, But Aldertrack’s Mike Fourcher has a different take.

“Now let’s keep in mind,” he explains, “Michael Ferro only owns a little under 17% of the company. There are two large companies, Oak Tree Capital Management and Prime Capital that own 36% of the company.  They’re really the ones in the driver’s seat and they have made no mention, they have made no public statement whatsoever about what it is that they intend to do. What I would imagine, I don’t know, is that the leaders of these hedge funds are turning to Ferro and  CEO Justin Dearborn and saying, “Okay, we want to see your plan. You guys show us your plan about how you are going to increase the value of the company that’s going to be better than what it is that we have right now from Gannett, or we’re going to vote to sell.”

Oak Tree and Prime, he tells us, are really the big payers here. They invested a lot of money in Tribune, and probably see this as a remarkable opportunity to make back their investments and make some profit.

“Gannett has really hit them where it hurts,” Fourcher continues. “Which is in the wallet, and they are offering to pay good money and to relieve these companies not only of the debts, but give them a chance to make some [money].”

What remains to be seen is what Gannett would do with the big papers it purchases. What would happen to the Chicago Tribune? Would it become a kind of midwest USA Today?

“If you go look at the Indianapolis Star, the Indianapolis Star has pretty much the same design website as USA Today, same design as the Sheboygan Press, and they’ve cut a huge amount of their staff and a lot of their content comes from national publications,” says Fourcher.

But would they be able to do something like that with a paper as grand and as historic as the Tribune, we ask.

“You can do anything you want,” he concludes.

We talk briefly about the Sun-Times and the Reader. Both are being operated under a trust, the terms of which are undisclosed. But if Micharl Ferro loses the Tribune,will he come back to Wrapports and run both these papers again?

And we ask Fourcher about the petition drive some staffers at the Reader recent launched asking Wrapports head Bruce Sagan to invest more money into their paper. Fourcher says there’s a bigger question on the table: whether the Reader is even needed any more.

“You know the problem the Reader has is not really so much that the Sun Times or Bruce Sagan isn’t investing in it,” he asserts. “The problem the Reader has is that the place that it once had – independent alternative newspapers had in the media world – has been displaced, and it’s not necessarily needed anymore. It used to be that that was where you went in order to get the listings for the day. Well, it turns out there’s two other places that have listings that are pretty good. You can get them at Metro Mix and you can also get them in Time Out Chicago. Those are pretty good listing services and it used to be that it was the place where you could get the radical bomb-throwing, angry or good investigative journalism or whatever it is. There’s a bazillion places in order to find that now.”

Denny Hastert was a pretty powerful guy in Washington, but  Fourcher reminds us that he was very powerful in Kane County, too.

“Denny Hastert was really the hometown hero of Yorkville, Illinois for a very long time. And if you were to try and do business or try and do politics in Kane County or the surrounding area for dozens of years, you at some point or other have to have a reckoning with Denny Hastert. …this guy was the center of political and business activity in that part of Illinois for a very long time. And so former Illinois House minority leader Tom Cross was one of his… Tom Cross looked to Denny Hastert as a mentor, and it turns out that Tom Cross’s brother, Scott, was molested by Denny Hastert.”

A lot of people were confused yesterday when  he received only 18 months in prison after admitting to numerous sex crimes. But the sentence was for his financial crimes, the statute of limitations on the molestation having run out years ago.

Time is running out for the City to figure out whether it’s really going to rebate property taxes to people it feels were unfairly hit by the increases in this year’s budget driven by pension plans for police and fire personnel.

It wouldn’t be an exemption from taxes,as with the Homeowners Exemption. Instead, the City would write checks to people who qualified. But working with the County’s turned out to be a bureaucratic and info-tech nightmare.

“Literally what happens is that the accessor runs a number of things and they put it on a tape,” Fourcher tells us. “Yeah, remember those old-timey tapes? So then they carry them over and then they put it on to the other mainframe for the treasurer and the treasurer runs that and then when she’s done with their stuff they then take it over to the clerk who has another system, another tape. So this is some real old timey stuff and it hasn’t been upgraded in a long time and it’s a huge mess and they are all using Fortran and COBOL programming languages from the 70s, which is scary. This is something a lot of people in city government didn’t understand. They didn’t know. Oh my gosh, this is actually how it’s being done.”

Mayor Emanuel claims he has lots of support for his revised plan to build the Lucas Museum over the foundation of McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center. He even has George Lucas’ support. The support he doesn’t have, though, is Bruce Rauner’s, and state legislation would be needed to move things along. Turns out McPier, which operates McCormick Place, still needs Lakeside Center for its big shows.

“McPier counts on the money from those shows in order to be able to cover the debt,” explains Fourcher. “And the land that the Lakeside Center is on is owned by the Park District and McPier pays the Park District rent for that land. If the Lucas Museum goes on that land they won’t likely get any more rent. So there’s a bunch of people that lose out on long-term cash flows on this.”

So the deal’s far from done, and if it succeeds, taxes on hotel stays, and, ultimately all of us taxpayers, will be extended for decades into the future.

“And there’s a really good argument that’s made by the Chicago Teacher’s Union,” Fourcher says, “which is how come you can find hundreds of millions of dollars in order to build this museum and you can’t use it in order to pay for the schools.”

Troy La Raviere, principal of Blaine Elementary, is in the news again, having been “reassigned” from his school. Mayor Emanuel says he had nothing to do with deposing one of his harshest critics. Fourcher says the argument is plausible.

“I do believe the Mayor had no fingerprints on it. I think that everyone in CPS understands that Troy LaRaviere is not in the Mayor’s good graces and that’s the way that Chicago City government has operated for a long time. There’s a message that’s sent – I’m not crazy about this person or this project – and then people kind of line up to make sure that that project gets either the good treatment or the bad treatment.

Aldertrack found itself in the middle of a tussle with the Police Department last week when it learned that a new dash-cam tape, involving the arrest and shooting of Tiffany Jacobs on May 25, 2011, had surfaced.

The admitted armed robber, who’s now serving time for holding up a McDonald’s earlier that day, pulled into a gas station where she was confronted with many police officers.  She began to drive toward an officer, who shot her through her windshield because he thought she was trying to hit him. She briefly gets away, is pursued, and is apprehended. That’s where the dash-cam video (without sound) kicks in, according to Fourcher.

“She’s already shot and she steps out of the car and doesn’t have her hands up, but clearly has her hands down at rest. A police officer runs up to her, grabs her and it’s hard to tell if he grabs her by the jacket or by her hair and then pulls her backwards and slams her to the ground, and another police officer comes up and they taze her while she’s on the ground and then they handcuff her. This is pretty violent. But it’s also pretty clear that she was no innocent and there was something going on and the police officers were charged up. They were concerned about their safety.”

Aldertrack requested the tape, and the CPD and City stalled on the request for days, finally releasing in early that Friday evening in what can only be interpreted as an effort to bury it in  the news cycle.

“Why couldn’t they be upfront?” Fourcher asks. “And even more questionable is – this wasn’t a horrible video and it really didn’t necessarily put the police in a bad light. Yes, they arrested her in a bad way, but it wasn’t really outrageous, totally outrageous. Why weren’t they more upfront about this?”

Equally befuddling is the indication that the video resurfaced because new superintendent Eddie Johnson is said to have initiated the review himself, and has stripped two of the officers of their police powers because their actions in the idea were “concerning”.

“They could have pulled us aside and said, “Look, off the record, Aldertrack, what we want you to know is yes the video exists and we’re going to release it later, but we want to go through a process where we’ve talked to people in the community.”

You can read a full transcript of the show as a Word document here:  CN Transcript April 24 2016


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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