Former Mayor Richard M. Daley somehow forgot everything about the Park Grill deal that enriched several relatives and allies.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley somehow forgot everything about the Park Grill deal that enriched several relatives and allies. Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

I’d like to thank Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak for reminding me what the Daley administration was really like.

Novak gave my memory a much-needed jolt when he recently broke the news of Mayor Daley’s deposition in the city’s lawsuit against the Park Grill restaurant. That’s the deposition in which the former mayor claimed
a staggering degree of amnesia regarding his role in creating Millennium Park and allowing the restaurant to operate there.

To almost every question he was asked, Daley answered, “I don’t recall,” “It’s hard to say,” “I wouldn’t know,” or the classic “I don’t know what I knew.”

Having read Daley’s deposition, I find it hard to regret that he’s out of office, even in the face of Mayor Emanuel’s ongoing cuts and closings.

You really know how to pick your mayors, Chicago.

In case you’ve forgotten, in 2001 Mayor Daley’s appointees at the Park District gave the owners of the Park Grill a 30-year concession agreement to operate at the northeast corner of Millennium Park, one of the busiest locations in downtown Chicago.

Since 2004 the restaurant has hauled in about $96 million in revenue, for which they’ve paid the Park District about $2.6 million.

I’d say it’s the sweetest deal in Chicago, except that there are so many other sweet deals around here, such as the even sweeter one that allows the White Sox to play at taxpayer-owned U.S. Cellular Field. That also came courtesy of Mayor Daley, with substantial assistance from former governor James Thompson.

Clearly, Mayor Daley’s a good guy to have as a friend.

I suspect the Park Grill would still be quietly enjoying its deal if not for a 2005 Sun-Times exposé deliciously entitled “Sex, Clout on the Menu at Millennium Park Grill.” The story revealed that Matthew O’Malley, one of the Park Grill’s owners, was the lover of Laura Foxgrover, who worked in the Park District division that negotiated leases.

Chicagoans may forget a sweetheart deal, since one follows the next like the seasons changing. But not if you add a little sex to the story. Horny bastards.

Amid the recent revelations, I might be tempted to give Mayor Emanuel a shout-out for filing the lawsuit challenging the Park Grill deal, which in turn led to the Daley deposition.

But Mayor Emanuel was actually only continuing a counterattack against the Park Grill that Mayor Daley himself started.

That’s right—the mayor who doled out the sweetheart deal was the same mayor who tried to blow it up as the first Sun-Times exposé hit the streets.

The chronology went like this:

In October 2001 the Park District chose the Park Grill—whose investors included several Daley relatives and allies—to run the restaurant, even though two other groups bid lower.

The deal was signed in February 2003. Mayor Daley attended the Park Grill’s grand opening that November.

In February 2005 the Sun-Times broke the sex-and-clout story. Mayor Daley’s corporation counsel then wrote a letter to O’Malley and his business partner, Jim Horan, seeking to renegotiate the concession agreement.

The mayor also prodded Cook County assessor Jim Houlihan into filing a lawsuit intended to strip the Park Grill of its property tax exemption.

As I see it, this is what happened: embarrassed by the Sun-Times revelations, Mayor Daley basically told O’Malley and Horan that they’d have to renegotiate the deal, if only to save his political skin.

But they basically said no way—a deal’s a deal. And so the fight was on.

In 2011, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against the assessor, O’Malley and Horan made a deal to sell the restaurant. They then asked the Park District to allow them to trade their concession agreement.

That’s when Mayor Emanuel struck. He argued that the Park District couldn’t approve the transaction because it didn’t have the legal authority to make the deal in the first place, since the city actually owns the strip of land where the restaurant operates.

On December 1, 2011, the city filed suit, arguing that the Park District “misrepresented” that it owned the parcel. The Park Grill then countersued, basically arguing that it’s preposterous to assume that the city didn’t agree to the concession.

The two cases have been joined and are now before a Cook County judge. Good luck with this one, your honor.

To prove its point, the Park Grill details Mayor Daley’s participation in the development of their restaurant, pointing out that he “met with Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Horan in his office on several occasions” and that he “personally read and approved” of their building plan.

Furthermore, Mayor Daley “toured the restaurant during the construction phase” and “reviewed renderings of the restaurant” and attended “the opening ceremony.”

The city’s response is that it “lacks the knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth” of those claims “and therefore denies them.”

Which is not the same thing as saying they aren’t true.

And so Stephen Novack, the Park Grill’s lawyer, hauled the former mayor in for a deposition to ascertain what Daley did and when he did it.

They had some great exchanges, like this:

Novack: Do you recall Mr. Horan and Mr. O’Malley coming to your office and showing you renditions of what the interior was going to look like?

Daley: They could have. I wouldn’t recall.

Novack: Do you recall asking them to move the bar from the front of the restaurant to the back of the restaurant?

Daley: I don’t recall.

Credit: Sun-Times Media

And my favorite, regarding a photo taken at the grand opening:

Novack: Do you recognize yourself in that picture?

Daley: It’s kind of blurry. I guess it’s me, if it is.

When the deposition ended, Novack said he was reserving the right to ask the judge to order that Daley be deposed again. He said there would be three purposes: “One, to order him [Daley] to answer questions he wouldn’t answer. Two, to answer without being coached by the lawyers, plural, in this room. And three, to be videotaped so the judge can watch the witness look at the lawyer before every answer.”

I think we could charge admission to watch a Daley deposition.

In the aftermath of the deposition story, Mayor Emanuel’s been pounding his chest about how he’s sticking up for the taxpayers who were, as he put it, “taken advantage of.”

Yeah, right. He went after the Park Grill owners once Daley let it be known that they were fair game.

I’d be a lot more impressed if Mayor Emanuel had fought to break up the parking meter agreement, speaking of Mayor Daley deals that hose the taxpayers.

But as O’Malley and Horan have learned, some clout is greater than others.