THE WATCHDOGS: Daley on Park Grill deal: ‘Don’t know what I knew’

SHARE THE WATCHDOGS: Daley on Park Grill deal: ‘Don’t know what I knew’

Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley attends the grand opening of the Park Grill in November 2003 with the restaurant’s two operators, James Horan and Matthew A. O’Malley. Daley now says he doesn’t remember being there. | Sun-Times file photo

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley says he doesn’t remember much about the planning of Millennium Park, his wildly over-budget project that has become one of Chicago’s civic treasures.

The sprawling downtown park, with its gleaming stainless-steel sculpture known as “The Bean,” is seen as one of his crowning achievements. Daley, though, shrugs it off.

He says it wasn’t even his idea to build the $475 million park, instead crediting Daniel Burnham, the legendary planner who created Chicago’s master plan more than a century ago.

As Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, Daley had a reputation as a micromanager and stickler for details. But he recalls little about the many meetings he attended to plan the park and not much either about its controverisal restaurant, the Park Grill, according to a transcript of an often-contentious deposition the former mayor gave Aug. 29 at the law offices of his attorney Terrence Burns.

Daley is one of several former city officials who have given sworn, pretrial testimony in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2-year-old lawsuit to break the “sweetheart” deal that Daley relatives, friends and associates got in 2003 to operate the restaurant for 30 years.

Emanuel’s lawsuit says the “commercially unreasonable” deal has cost taxpayers more than $5 million because it gives Park Grill free natural gas, water and garbage collection while the restaurant on Michigan Avenue has paid the park district just $2.6 million from January 2004 through last July.

In his deposition, Daley says he doesn’t recall whether clout helped the Park Grill’s investors — including his cousin Theresa Mintle, who was Emanuel’s first chief of staff — win the restaurant deal over two other bidders, one of them a group that included venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, an Emanuel friend now running for governor.

The Park Grill sits on land owned by the park district and land owned by the city, but the Chicago City Council never was asked to approve the restaurant, which City Hall now says nullifies the deal.

Daley also says in the deposition he doesn’t remember the powerful Pritzker family balking at the original plans for a concert pavilion at Millennium Park until he agreed to a more lavish design by architect Frank Gehry.

Nor, he says, did he know in advance about Anish Kapoor’s popular Bean sculpture.

And he doesn’t remember attending the restaurant’s grand opening — not even after being shown a photograph of him there with the restaurant’s operators, James Horan and Matthew O’Malley. O’Malley impregnated a top park district official, Laura Foxgrover, while negotiations for the restaurant deal were ongoing – another issue in the lawsuit that Daley was asked about.

The deposition ended with Park Grill attorney Stephen Novack accusing the former mayor of ducking questions or answering only after being coached on what to say by his attorney or a lawyer for City Hall, according to a 162-page transcript the Chicago Sun-Times obtained from City Hall under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

What follows are excerpts from the deposition, one of “five or six” the former mayor says he has ever given.

Daley on being mayor

Novack: How long were you mayor of Chicago?

Daley: Twenty-two years. I don’t know about the – maybe the hours. Maybe more than 22 years. Yeah, I don’t know what the hours were.

Novack: Were you ever asked in the 22 years that you were mayor whether the city should enter into a particular contract?

Daley: I don’t recall.

Daley on Millennium Park

Novack: Was there ever a situation while you were mayor that the park district was doing a particular something that you didn’t like?

Daley: I wouldn’t recall. I don’t recall that.

Novack: OK. And having a park at Millennium Park was your idea, sir, wasn’t it?

Daley: No. It was Daniel Burnham’s.

Novack: Did you work on the concept of “The Bean?” Were you involved in that?

Burns (to Daley): Did you develop the concept of having — what do they call it, “The Cloud” or “The Bean” over in the park?

The Bean was vandalized

The city of Chicago is reflected on Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture, known as The Bean, during dedication ceremonies May 15, 2006. | AP file photo

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Novack: “The Bean.” Let’s start with “The Bean.”

Daley: No. I could never — no.

Novack: Did you know there was going to be a Bean?

Daley: No.

Novack: At the park?

Daley: No.

Novack: One day, you saw it, and that was the first time you knew about it?

Daley: I don’t even remember. I never knew it was coming.

Novack: So you were involved in some of the details at least?

Daley: Trees, size of trees, just making sure that the facility would be up-to-date. Trees. I’m a tree lover. Put that on the record.

Novack: Did you consider the park in any way to be one of your legacies as mayor of the city?

Daley: Well, it’s hard to say what a legacy is.

Novack: You don’t want to be associated with Millennium Park?

Daley: I would rather be associated with building a school.

Novack: As the park was being developed, it’s true, isn’t it, that you had regular briefings about the park?

Daley: I don’t recall. I could have had some briefings, but I don’t recall.

Daley on Park Grill

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. They could have.

Novack: Do you recall asking them to move the bar from the front of the restaurant to the back of the restaurant because you thought that would be more family-friendly?

Daley: I don’t recall.

Novack: Do you recall that you actually attended the announcement of the opening of the restaurant?

Daley: I don’t recall if I did or not.

Novack: OK. I’ll show you . . . a picture of a bunch of people standing in front of some buildings. Do you recognize yourself in that picture?

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

Novack: And you are there, aren’t you, for the opening of the ice rink . . . and the restaurant being open for the first time?

Daley: I don’t know what it was for, but — I don’t recall.

Novack: In other words, is it your testimony that the first time you knew that they [Horan and O’Malley] were associated with the restaurant was that day?

Daley: I don’t know what I knew.

Daley on Foxgrover

Novack: Do you recall going over to Laura and hugging her and saying, “Everything is going to be OK?”

Daley: About what?


Novack: About what was said in this newspaper article [a Sun-Times story that reported Foxgrover had an affair with O’Malley and became pregnant during the restaurant negotiations].

Daley: No, I don’t recall that.

Novack: I don’t mean a romantic hug, sir. You know that. I’m talking about a friendship hug.

Daley: Oh. I know Laura Foxgrover. Very nice woman, very nice.

Novack: Do you remember saying to [Vince Gavin, Navy Pier’s security chief], “This is crazy what the Sun-Times is doing to Laura and Matt?”

Daley: I don’t recall that.

Daley on investors’ clout

Novack: Do you recall that there was an article that came out in the Chicago Sun-Times that accused — asserted that there was clout – political clout used by friends of you, Mr. Daley, for Park Grill to have gotten the restaurant concession at Millennium Park?

Daley: No, I don’t recall.

Novack: Do you believe — have you ever believed that they got the contract through political clout, yes or no?

Daley: I don’t — I don’t know.

Novack: Do you think there was anything improper about how the Park Grill got this contract?

Daley: I wouldn’t know.

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