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All in the Game

The old team spirit seems to be lacking among Wrigley Field neighbors anxious about the expansion.

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"We need to work together," Charlotte Newfeld told a crowd of Wrigleyville neighbors that gathered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church recently to discuss the Cubs' plans for Wrigley Field. The agreement allowing the Cubs to play night games expires after the 2002 season, and the Tribune Company, which owns the team, wants to increase the annual number of such games from 18 to 30. At the same time, it's proposing an $11 million makeover for the historic ballpark, with 2,100 more seats in the outfield, 200 to 250 more box seats behind home plate, a concession area behind center field where diners can watch the game through tinted glass, and a multilevel parking garage on the west side of Clark Street.

But so far the team has released only an artist's rendering of the new Wrigley Field, and without any blueprint or hard information about the plan--reportedly being submitted to City Hall this week--the Lake View Citizens' Council (LVCC) has already begun to fragment. Newfeld, a longtime honcho of LVCC, chairs Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (CUBS), which rounded up 150 neighbors for the meeting at the church. Two weeks earlier, Jim Murphy, president of the LVCC offshoot East Lakeview Neighbors (ELN), had hosted a meeting of 500 people at LeMoyne School to talk about the expansion.

Neighbors at both meetings aired their grievances and grilled team officials, hoping for concessions. "You need to think about opening your front door and seeing somebody pissing on your lawn!" one woman at the CUBS meeting told John McDonough, the team's vice president of marketing. Her comment brought raucous cheers from the crowd, and McDonough jotted notes as speaker after speaker complained about parking problems, traffic tie-ups, drunks wandering the neighborhood after games, and even the blimps that have begun hovering over the ballpark. One speaker was especially blunt: "The truth is, we don't trust you."

Yet Charlotte Newfeld and Jim Murphy barely trust each other. Murphy, whose tavern Murphy's Bleachers is located across the street from Wrigley Field, also owns a nearby building with rooftop seating. He's president of not only ELN but also the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association (WRA), a consortium of 12 people who own buildings with rooftop seating on Sheffield and Waveland. In the old days the rooftops were a place for informal social gatherings, but they've long since become big business: the owners have sunk millions of dollars into their buildings, and customers pay a hundred dollars or more to sit on the roof and watch the ball game. The Cubs claim that the 2,100 additional bleacher seats in their plan, measuring 35 feet in height, won't obstruct the rooftops' view of the playing field, but no one has seen anything in writing.

Many in the CUBS camp think the WRA is playing footsie with the team, promising to quash neighborhood opposition to the added night games in exchange for preserving their views of the field. According to Newfeld, that's why Murphy ran for president of ELN: "In March, Jim Murphy seemed to feel that he had to stack the election meeting and take over the organization. This happened in the context of me going around and signing everybody up on our CUBS mailing list, because we knew we would be having bargaining sessions with the Tribune Company."

According to Newfeld, Murphy hired an outside firm to print and distribute flyers and to enroll a huge number of new members in the ELN. Then the WRA hired political consultant David Wilhelm, fresh from Al Gore's presidential campaign, to lobby the Cubs and City Hall for unobstructed sight lines on the rooftops and to promote the notion of rooftop baseball as a quaint old tradition. "The issue seems to be framed that everybody in the neighborhood cares about the rooftops. 'You can go on the rooftop and watch a baseball game.' But you can't unless you have 150 bucks. Now we have another major corporate power in these rooftop clubs."

"Charlotte is way wrong," says Murphy. He claims he's being demonized only because he's doing a better job leading the community than Newfeld, the power behind the previous ELN president. "They used to hold the meetings in somebody's living room," he says. "As a result, 10 or 12 people would show up. Nobody even knew the organization existed. Now, volunteers leaflet the community four days before general meetings." He says the WRA hired Wilhelm because the Cubs were talking about building "a 40-foot wall in the outfield" and taking over Waveland and Sheffield to build a concourse. "We needed a voice, so we hired a professional."

As for the charge that he'll mute neighborhood opposition to more night games, Murphy replies, "I am against expansion of night games. I didn't think they needed any night games in the first place." Both sides claim to be the standard-bearer that will force the Cubs to be better neighbors. "Surely they can do a better job cleaning up the community after games," says Murphy. "And they have to do something about public urination."

Murphy is equally suspicious of Newfeld, an "alderman wannabe" who ran against Jerome Orbach in the 46th Ward in 1983 and lost by a handful of votes. "She likes the news media. She likes to hear herself talk. When that's taken away, it bothers her." The Murphy camp is quick to note that Newfeld put up Helmut Hofer, the lover of trademark attorney Dean Olds, at her town house in the months after Olds's wife, Suzanne, was found murdered in her Wilmette home in 1993. Hofer was arrested at the town house, charged with capital murder in what Newfeld characterizes as a show trial, and unanimously acquitted. "I'm proud of protecting that brave young man," she says.

Meanwhile, the dispute over Wrigley Field renovation and the expanded night schedule agreement is shaping up as a real dogfight. "It is important for the Cubs organization to be competitive, with new revenue streams," says John McDonough. At the same time, the city has suggested that Wrigley Field be named a historic landmark, which would further inhibit any renovations. The neighbors promise to be a factor as well--if they haven't torn each other apart.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Kamba.

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