Ray Hanania fell on his sword for his newspaper last week. He resigned over a woman–a woman his paper could not comfortably champion so long as he stayed on the payroll. The gesture was not wholly noble: the editor of the Sun-Times made it clear that if Hanania didn’t quit he was fired.

Last year Hanania fell in love with Miriam Santos. She was the newly appointed city treasurer; he was a Sun-Times reporter in City Hall. Their relationship was more than an open secret. Hanania, who is voluble, made it common knowledge.

Before it really began to scorch, Hanania tells us, Mayor Daley called him in and asked him what was going on. “He said, ‘What’s this with you and Marian?’ He always called her Marian. I said, ‘We’re friends and it may develop into something. If you don’t think I’m being objective, I’ll leave the beat.’ He said, ‘I just want to know what’s going on,’ and he asked me if I could influence her to go to the community and talk to the Spanish people.”

Hanania also alerted his paper’s editor, Dennis Britton. “I said I can no longer objectively cover the city treasurer. I believe she and I have become too friendly and this relationship will develop further.”

And so it did. Avis LaVelle, the mayor’s press secretary, remembers, “I told Ray a long time ago I know affairs of the heart are difficult to control, but this was a bad idea on both of their parts. I’m no Ann Landers. I’m not going to counsel him to break up with his girlfriend. But I said this is not good from his perspective as a journalist or her perspective as a public official.”

Late last year Hanania went back to Britton. With Santos about to run for treasurer on Daley’s ticket, bad blood was already apparent between her and some of Daley’s top aides. “Whenever I wrote a story or Fran [Spielman] wrote a story, they said it must be because Miriam was leaking the information to Ray.” Hanania needed out of City Hall, and Britton moved him next door to the county building.

They broke up after the primary. Hanania was devastated. But from time to time they talked, and some of the coals eventually rekindled. Spielman, who’s still a City Hall reporter for the Sun-Times, told us, “He’d come by [the press room] and see friends and say they were seeing each other, they were having dinner, they were friends. It changed by the day.”

Just friends, says Hanania. And in these past trying weeks for Miriam Santos, he insists he’s been nothing more than a friend should be.

Last month Daley’s operatives slipped a bill through the Illinois General Assembly removing the treasurer of Chicago from the boards of a couple of municipal pension funds that control some $8 billion in investments. Santos wasn’t going to put up with this. She went public, accusing the mayor of “political greed,” accusing those aides who’d never liked her of trying to pressure her to make dubious loans from the pension funds to political allies, and asking Governor Edgar to veto Daley’s bill.

Daley and his aides were stunned and infuriated. Santos had commandeered the media. Rather than face the fact that “political greed” beat all their own explanations for the mayor’s actions, his office looked for a conspiracy. It was easy to find. Obviously someone was pulling this lady’s strings–her savvy paramour, Ray Hanania. Hadn’t Jay McMullen pulled Jane Byrne’s?

“They believed he was behind everything,” Spielman told us. “The rumors here were flying like crazy. Everything from his being the genius behind the curtain to writing her speeches and press releases.”

If one incident could be said to have triggered this paranoia, it was a press conference Santos held on October 24. She made a devastating charge: that Daley’s chief fund-raiser, developer Paul Stepan, had asked her to invest $5 million in pension funds in a South Loop hotel deal but she’d refused–and that this was one reason Daley wanted to pry the funds away from her.

Covering the press conference, Spielman remembered that Hanania had written something about this hotel deal when the developers went after county money. She asked him for background, and gave him some advice: “I told Ray to his face, I said now that she’s mentioning this, you can’t cover it anymore.”

She didn’t say this only to Hanania. She spoke to the metro editor, Steve Huntley, who called Hanania in for a talk. And Hanania is sure Spielman also spoke to her friend Avis LaVelle. Because now the “whispering campaign”–which is what everyone wants to call it–against Hanania really heated up.

Last week the Tribune’s John Kass, an old friend of Hanania’s, called the Sun-Times looking for comment on the Santos-Hanania relationship. As he would write in a long piece this past Sunday, “Hanania has been advising her on tactics, a fact that Santos, Hanania and others close to them acknowledged to a reporter.”

Says Hanania, “So Britton and Huntley called me in.” Britton did all the talking. “He seemed to be upset that I was still her friend. That I had gone out to a restaurant with her. That she and I had talked as friends. Believe me, he wasn’t yelling at me, but he said I had used bad judgment and I had put the integrity of the paper at risk. He implied the paper was under serious pressure from City Hall, and I’d jeopardized the integrity of Friday’s news story and every good story the paper wanted to write about pension deals. I didn’t deny it, and I said if you have no good place to put me, I’ll resign. But please see if there’s a place to put me. Put me in features. They said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Why don’t I go home then?’ Dennis Britton said, ‘Fine, go home. We’ll call you.’

“They beeped me on the way home. Steve said, ‘I’m sorry, but we have no choice but to let you go.'”

That story whose integrity Hanania supposedly jeopardized ran on page one the morning of the day he quit: “City pension deals go sour.” Three “high-risk real estate investments by Chicago’s city employee pension funds” during the 80s had flopped, putting millions of dollars at risk. Information in the piece obviously came from Santos’s office; who would believe that Hanania had nothing to do with it? (Though he didn’t.)

And on Sunday the Sun-Times was going to run an editorial urging Edgar to veto Daley’s bill. The paper could stand up to Daley with cleaner hands once Hanania was history.

Yet what exactly did Hanania do? “Advising her on tactics,” as Kass wrote, can mean almost anything, and Hanania insists he’s given Santos nothing more than moral support. He admits to one piece of specific advice: he said she should hire Guy Chipparoni, who used to be Edgar’s press secretary, as her media strategist. It was Chipparoni, not Hanania, who helped plant “City pension deals go sour” on page one.

Months ago Santos insisted that Hanania sit in on an early meeting of her campaign committee at her home. That was a mistake. “I remember being quite taken aback that he was there,” says organizer John Kupper. “I was also working with people on the Daley campaign. I obviously was not completely confident that things I said or advised in his presence were going to go unreported.”

But what’s he done lately? Sun-Times editors refuse to discuss the matter, and the Sun-Times’s own story last Sunday was worse than uninformative. It said this: “Never before has a Daley insider aired dirty linen so publicly. Daley aides responded with a whispering campaign that ended with the resignation of Sun-Times Cook County reporter Ray Hanania on Friday.” This astonishingly wretched way of putting the matter actually invites us to infer that to mollify Daley the Sun-Times threw Hanania over the side.

We asked Avis LaVelle if she’d been whispering. “I do not have time to devote to running around doing a whispering campaign on Ray Hanania,” she said. “I had reporters whispering to me. According to what was confirmed by a reporter in this building, he was writing press releases for her, directing her media strategy.”

What reporter? LaVelle wouldn’t say. Like everyone else in City Hall, she has relationships to protect.

Did Spielman whisper to LaVelle? “I honestly blame Fran for this whole problem,” Hanania told us. “She told Avis I was managing this process.” He is doubly bitter because Spielman’s husband, Dick Stone, is a local political consultant who’s worked for high-profile candidates like James O’Grady and Stanley Kusper. But Spielman’s never been reprimanded.

“The moment he gets involved, I get uninvolved,” Spielman told us. “I am absolutely vigilant about that.”

So did you tell LaVelle anything about Hanania? we asked her.

No, she insists, nor did she have to. LaVelle was already having conniptions about the subject. “I was listening to an earful from her all the time.”

Did you run Santos’s media campaign? we asked Hanania. Did you write her releases?

He said, “Every time I’d come into the press room this past week, they’d say, ‘Hey! Your girlfriend is really kicking ass! Good advice, Ray! Great press release!’ Or they’d pull me aside and say, ‘Hey! What the fuck is she doing?’

“To suggest I would write press releases is just stupid. But I can’t say I never said anything that was advice. There’s no way you can say that about anybody you care about. But the context of my advice has always been, just be up-front, just be honest, focus yourself. And I said, ‘I know these guys. They’ll try to put words in your mouth. Just be careful.’ But I’d say that to anybody. That’s a lot different from writing press releases, developing media strategy.”

Hanania drove home last Friday numb and disconsolate. He didn’t stop feeling miserable over the weekend, but he did begin to get angry. He decided he’d been screwed. The Sun-Times could have moved him into sports or features or business. The paper is understaffed; there are openings everywhere. It had shown no cause to fire him. Hanania contacted the Newspaper Guild.

On Monday, to establish for Guild purposes that his “resignation” was involuntary, Hanania tried to go back. He entered the newsroom and asked executive editor Mark Nadler for a new assignment. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, but you don’t work here anymore.’ He was very polite.

“It was awkward for everybody. It was very painful.”