Trouble in River North: Editor Gets Deleted

A hot neighborhood deserves a hot neighborhood paper. Les Sussman and Noreen McBride gave River North the River North News.

Sussman grew up in Manhattan’s SoHo while it was still just the area south of Houston Street. Now here he was in Chicago, author of books on cats and rapists, occasional stringer for the Sunday Times of London, a scribe oft ensconced evenings among his brethren at Riccardo’s. And just beyond Riccardo’s door burgeoned a trendy, warehousy district he could call his own.

Sussman tells us, “This paper could potentially have been a gold mine.”

He says that he and McBride cooked up the News one afternoon at Riccardo’s. She, with her knack of laying her hands on money, would publish it; he, without that knack, would be its editor. In March of ’86 their chatty biweekly was born. One article they wrote together sticks out in our memory; it was a saga of great barroom brawls, at the end of which Sussman was pleased to recall the time he and McBride were bothered “at a Rush Street restaurant” and he “popped the chap into booth one.”

Noreen McBride is the sort of someone who knows everyone. Says Alan Zwick, who runs Video Schmideo on State Street, “I spent a Saint Pat’s with her and Hal Murphy at Arnie’s. There wasn’t one politician–Daley, Ed Kelly–who stopped in for lunch who didn’t say ‘Hi, Noreen,’ run up, and kiss her. She has more connections than a plumber.”

If you don’t know Noreen McBride, the name might ring a bell anyway. In 1983, Mayor Jane Byrne gave her a $35,000-a-year job as city chief of etiquette. Chicago was captivated not merely by the notion such a post needed to be filled, but by McBride’s visible credential for filling it, which was an etiquette school she operated weekends from her apartment. So vague was this institution that McBride drew unemployment insurance at the same time.

McBride resigned after 11 days.

“I had heard stories about her, I’d heard all kind of stories,” says Les Sussman, “but I tended to ignore them. I liked her. I trusted her. And I got burned.”

We pause a moment. One voice is blatantly absent from the following discussion. Noreen McBride gives as good as she gets, but she refuses to discuss any of this on the record. Trust us, that’s too bad.

Les Sussman never put a dime into the River North News, though he speaks urgently of “20,000 hours” of unpaid toil. McBride rounded up the seed money, handled the books, and tided the News over the occasional cash-flow problem. And last September, says Sussman, McBride told him the News was $5,000 or $6,000 in the red; if he didn’t help out with some money, he could pack up and leave.

A few weeks later, at a party kicking off Harry Caray’s joint on Kinzie, Sussman spotted a new issue of the River North News that he didn’t even know was coming out. He was no longer listed as editor.

Sussman was stunned. She couldn’t dismiss him! He was her partner!

The next day Sussman, accompanied by one Alan Grossman, boiled into the Cosmopolitan National Bank demanding records of the River North News account he’d opened with McBride. It was nearly empty! And two weeks earlier, McBride had opened a new account under the name of River North News, Inc.!

Sussman asked the bank to freeze the old account and be sure that no checks made out to it wound up in McBride’s new account. That night he fired off a letter to the bank putting everything in writing; he added, “I am still discussing with my attorney, Alan Grossman, what further steps to pursue.”

The next step turned out to be calling the Secretary of State’s office to find out when McBride had reserved her corporate name. She hadn’t! So Sussman reserved it himself.

These moves tied up the . . . Inc. account for two or three weeks. McBride, Allen Zwick tells us, was furious. What business of Sussman’s was it what money she took out of the bank? He’d never put a penny of his own into it! As for Alan Grossman . . .

Alan Grossman, who happens to be Sussman’s roommate, is a one-time New York lawyer who says he came to Chicago to write. In happier days, he and Sussman and McBride all delivered the River North News together. McBride led a criminal complaint charging Grossman with posing as an Illinois lawyer when he didn’t have a license.

Circuit court Judge Sheldon Garber remembers the case. It went to trial in misdemeanor court last December and ended when the judge decided there was no case. “This was a personal vendetta as I saw it,” Garber told us. “There was very bad blood that I could see.”

By now the bank had gone ahead and released the . . . Inc. funds to McBride and she’d moved them into a third account under the name River North Publishing. Her masterstroke was individually registering the name “River North News.” This she turned around and sold over the winter to businessman William Petacque, who’s the son of Sun-Times mob reporter Art Petacque, and PR man Tom Leach. The new owners brought out their first issue April 5.

Sussman is fit to be tied. He wants a fair share of whatever McBride wound up making on the News (McBride’s attorney, Marc Doty, and William Petacque’s attorney, who’s his uncle Jerry Petacque, both say she sold the name for a song). And he wants satisfaction. He wants to hold his head up high where it counts. “She ruined a beautiful paper,” he says. “I was embarrassed to walk into Riccardo’s. People said, what is this piece of shit?–it used to be such a nice paper.”

Sussman’s present attorney, Sandra Andina, who is licensed to practice in Illinois, must try to prove Sussman and McBride were actually partners. She says Sussman can produce the old bank account with both names on it and their “application of an assumed name,” on file with the county clerk. Also, says Andina, Sussman will present some helpful witnesses. We don’t know who they are but we called around looking for our own.

“Noreen McBride and Les Sussman were previously the owners,” we were told by Louise Wakem, executive director of the River North Association. We asked her how she knew that. Wakem thought a bit and said it’s what Les Sussman had told her.

Father Hal Murphy, the parish priest at Saint Timothy’s, is a buddy of Noreen McBride’s who reviewed restaurants for the paper. “Originally Les Sussman and Noreen McBride founded the paper, and there was a kind of disagreement over internal matters, and Les was kind of dropped,” Father Murphy said. “It wasn’t really the kind of partnership where Noreen would not have the legal right to dispose of the paper.”

“As I size up the situation, maybe Les did own a percentage of the paper,” said Allen Zwick. “She admitted to me, now that I recall, yes he does, he had an interest. Otherwise he could not have tied up that [bank] account. . . . There have been fights over less–no pun intended.”

Screwed by the Tribune, Part 2

When the Tribune sent its independent distributors packing this month in favor of hired agents delivering the morning paper, it vanished from the doorsteps of untold numbers of subscribers–hundreds, for sure, and we’d bet the number reached the thousands.

The Tribune spokesman we talked to blamed the situation on the distributors themselves, for not turning over complete subscriber lists when the Tribune requested them. “It’s relatively straightforward delivering a newspaper,” the spokesman added, “and the people have been well trained.”

Predictably, the distributors responded in lively fashion. “That’s totally incorrect! That’s BS! That’s a way for them to cover their butts,” said Pat Dougherty, who’s chairman of the Midwest Independent Dealers Association. “The problem is, these people don’t know what they’re doing. You can’t take people off the streets and teach them the business. It’s a much more complex business than they ever imagined!”

It didn’t seem that tricky when we were ten, but everything is more recondite now. For example, the Tribune already had a pretty complete list of subscribers in its computer; but it was there for promotional purposes, so direct-mail subscription campaigns could be aimed precisely at the people who weren’t on it. For legal reasons, apparently, the Tribune couldn’t use this list of subscribers to help get the paper to them.

Anyway, ten days under the new system came and went and the Tribune had yet to make it to our home. On the 11th day, a letter arrived from Howard Hay, vice president for circulation. It began–“Dear Subscriber: I hope your initial days of service by our independent delivery agent system have been pleasant. We did encounter some initial delays in delivery, and one or two ‘bugs’ in our customer service telephone system, which have been corrected . . .”

Now that we knew for sure that they knew we were out here, we dialed 1-800-TRIBUNE. Then we called another Tribune number and asked why they could get a letter to us but not the home edition. “Your guess is as good as mine,” said the same spokesman.

Two days later the Saturday paper came. This week’s Tribunes also are arriving. But the Sunday paper we had to buy at the drugstore. Your new system is shaping up, Mr. Hay, but we are not yet ready to call it pleasant.

We don’t know who is responsible now for putting the Tribune on the front porches of our neighborhood. We do know they took over from the Murray brothers, who had been delivering it reliably for 44 years.

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