Former Mayor Richard M. Daley is expected to be the star witness in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s multi-million-dollar food fight with Millennium Park’s Park Grill restaurant.
Daley could take the witness stand next week before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Moshe Jacobius, who must decide whether Emanuel can break the so-called sweetheart deal the restaurant got more than a decade ago when Daley was mayor.
Emanuel filed suit in late 2011, seeking to break a 30-year deal that his lawyer called “a lopsided contract that cheated taxpayers” out of $8 million.
The Park Grill has grossed more than $100 million during its first nine years. But it has only paid $2.7 million in rent to the Chicago Park District, which has spent $3 million providing the restaurant with free water, natural gas and garbage collection.
The Emanuel administration argues the Park Grill’s deal is illegal because the park district let the restaurant open on land-controlled by the city without seeking permission from the City Council.
But the Park Grill — run by clout-heavy businessmen James Horan and Matthew O’Malley whose investors include many businessmen with political connections to Daley — is puzzled by City Hall’s lawsuit. They point out that Daley and his top staff members knew the park district awarded the concession agreement to O’Malley and Horan, who frequently met with Daley during the construction of the restaurant in 2003 and 2004.
Furthermore, Park Grill attorney Stephen Novack pointed out that the City Council granted the Park Grill a liquor license.
Novack blamed the lawsuit on the Chicago Sun-Times, which disclosed that O’Malley got a top park district official, Laura Foxgrover, pregnant during the restaurant negotiations.
“This dispute would have never happened had the Sun-Times not published an incorrect and salacious article in February 2004 to which the city overreacted for political purposes,” Novack said Monday during his opening statement.
Following that story, Daley’s top lawyer, Mara Georges, acknowledged the city never gave the park district permission to let the restaurant open on the site.
Daley would be a defense witness for O’Malley and Horan, who are seeking more than $12.8 million in damages after the park district wouldn’t give them permission to sell their management stake to the Levy Organization nearly three years ago.
In a deposition last August, Daley repeatedly told Novack that he didn’t remember much about the planning of Millennium Park, his crowning jewel.