There are politicians who look better and better with time.
The further away they are in the rear view mirror, the more likely it is that the bad stuff settles and we think back on them fondly.
Bill Clinton went from impeached philanderer who was mocked for asking for the definition of “is” in a legal deposition, to now nabbing millions of dollars in speaking fees around the nation.
“Times were good under Clinton,” we say.
When it comes to the city of Chicago and Mayor Richard M. Daley, however, pretty much the opposite is true.
The Koschman controversy, the parking meter debacle, the city’s pension crises, the millions of dollars spent because of patronage hiring under him, the prospect of higher property taxes to pay unpaid bills — they’re just some of the problems left over from the Daley reign.
Enter the Park Grill case in Cook County Circuit Court. This deal, negotiated under Daley at his flagship Millennium Park, was so bad for taxpayers, the city is in court trying to untangle the mess. It was dubbed “Clout Cafe” by the Sun-Times back when the deal was hatched.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a lawsuit against the Park Grill three years ago, calling the 30-year deal “a lopsided contract that cheated taxpayers” out of $8 million in revenue since the restaurant opened in 2004.
While the park district was negotiating the deal, one of the Park Grill’s operators, the clout-heavy Matthew O’Malley, had an affair with a top park district official, Laura Foxgrover, who became pregnant.
The Grill does not pay property taxes because it’s on Park District property and operates as a “concession.” It does not pay for water, gas, maintenance or garbage pickup.
So now that the mess is in court, of course Daley would take the witness stand.
Daley, 72, who suffered a stroke in January on the same day his nephew R.J. Vanecko pleaded guilty to punching David Koschman, would suffer a “medical hardship” to testify at the ongoing trial, his lawyers are arguing. Circuit Court Judge Moshe Jacobius rightly demanded more details and then will rule.
Jacobius would be wise to consider: A year ago, before Daley suffered the stroke, the former mayor didn’t come clean on the Park Grill when he was forced to submit to a sworn deposition.
“I don’t know what I knew,” was Daley’s most memorable line. He hedged throughout the contentious questioning; he didn’t know, he wouldn’t know, he didn’t remember.
At one point he was asked if he recognized himself in a photo.
“It’s kind of blurry. I guess it’s me, if it is,” Daley responded.
It was Daley’s responses that were “kind of blurry.”
Taxpayers deserve better. This debacle falls squarely onto the former mayor’s lap. He should be compelled to raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth, then before a judge, explain what happened. No more I don’t knows.
This isn’t the first time Daley has gone to great lengths to avoid court testimony.
For years in federal court, plaintiffs’ attorneys attempted to have Daley deposed to talk about what he knew with regard to torture of murder suspects at the hands of the now-imprisoned former Area 2 Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Taxpayer-funded city attorneys fought those tooth and nail.
In 2011, a federal judge ordered that Daley should sit for a deposition in the wrongful prosecution case of Michael Tillman. The city, under Emanuel, then settled the case, allowing Daley to avoid sworn testimony.
Now in the Park Grill case, his lawyers say Daley is in bad health.
The former mayor’s brother, though, begged to differ.
“He’s doing fine. He’s in excellent health and traveling,” John Daley said when asked about his brother following a City Club public affairs luncheon. “He was down in Texas last week at the mayor’s conference, and he’s in good health and doing well. Thank you very much for asking.”
Those are two dramatically different takeaways from what boils down to a simple question: How is former Mayor Daley’s health?
Unless, of course, someone just forgot what the definition of “is” is.