Millennium Park trial and the paradoxes of Daley’s Chicago: Brown

Written By By MARK BROWN Posted: 04/29/2014, 02:14am

If former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deposition in the city’s lawsuit against the Park Grill restaurant had a topsy-turvy Alice in Wonderland quality, as I previously observed, then Monday’s start to the actual trial was a return trip Through the Looking-Glass.

There’s no getting around the up-is-down, in-is-out aspect to a case in which Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is seeking to undo one of the hallmark deals of the Daley years — and trying to pull it off without being critical of Daley.

Throwing around words like “corrupt,” “rigged” and “sweetheart contract,” city lawyers on Monday asked a Cook County judge to declare void the arrangement that allowed owners of the Park Grill to construct a restaurant in Millennium Park—and to operate it these past 10 years.

Their reasoning? The Chicago Park District never had authority to grant the concession agreement because the City of Chicago legally controlled the property.

Or in other words, the Daley-controlled Park District didn’t get proper permission from Daley’s city government.

And, the judge was told, none of the sweethearts in this sweetheart deal were named Daley, but rather former Park District official Laura Foxgrover, who allegedly steered the contract to Park Grill managing partner Matthew O’Malley’s group while secretly pregnant with his child.

Setting aside for a moment the legitimate concerns about the Foxgrover-O’Malley machinations, the city’s position requires the legalities of the situation to ignore what Park Grill lawyers called the “realities.”

By law, the Park District is a separate entity from the City of Chicago, empowered to govern itself. By law, only the City Council can take legal action on behalf of its citizens, not the mayor.

But in reality, as any good Chicagoan knows, the mayor calls the shots, as was particularly true under Daley. He ran the Park District. He ran Chicago Public Schools. He ran the CTA.

And if Daley said he wanted a restaurant in Millennium Park, there was going to be a restaurant. And if he wanted that restaurant to go to a particular group, it would have gone to that group.

And if Daley walked into that restaurant one day during construction and told the owners he’d prefer they move the bar to the rear to make the place more family friendly, the bar would be moved to the rear, which Stephen Novack, the restaurant’s lawyer, said is exactly what happened.

Daley probably doesn’t remember that. I believe that’s among the inquiries that prompted him to answer, “I don’t recall,” 139 times during his deposition in this case.

Daley not only didn’t know what he knew. He couldn’t remember what he forgot.

Daley is expected to be called as a witness in this trial, although it’s unclear what he will actually be able to contribute to sorting out what really happened.

It seems pretty clear to me there should have been some kind of intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Park District to make it all nice and legal.

Why there wasn’t one remains a mystery.

William McErlean, representing the city, told Judge Moshe Jacobius that those involved in negotiating the deal didn’t want it to be brought before the City Council where it could be scrutinized by the aldermen and the public.

My problem with that is Daley was used to being “scrootened,” as he once put it, and didn’t much care what anybody thought at that point in his reign. And honestly, the scrutiny wasn’t always what it should have been during that time.

It’s also a little hard to believe the proper remedy for everyone’s failure to complete the proper legal paperwork is to give the boot to the folks with the contract, much as I might agree that the favorable deal they received doesn’t pass the smell test.

While I appreciate the Emanuel administration taking a hard-line attitude toward protecting the taxpayers in the Park Grill deal, I’m not sure they’ve really gotten to the bottom of how it went down, especially if they’re determined to hold Daley harmless.

On Monday afternoon, the mayor’s office tweeted out an alert for some of the swell stuff the city is doing this year to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2004 opening of Millennium Park.

There was no mention of the Park Grill trial, which is expected to be in action each afternoon for the next two weeks in Room 2403 of the Daley Center.

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