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Kapos: Rick Bayless celebrating special Beard Award

Rick Bayless

Chef Rick Bayless' Topolobampo restaurant took home top honors at the James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday night. | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

Rick Bayless wore an ear-to-ear grin after his Topolobampo restaurant took home top honors at the James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday night.

He’s been honored with Beard awards before, but this was special, he told me in an exclusive interview after the event.

“I do my work because I love doing my work. I don’t do it just to get awards. I love being able to share my passion with a lot of people, and people respond to it. So it feels like a feather in the cap to get this award,” Bayless said. The award isn’t “what I’ve been living for. I’ve been living to see really great smiles on everyone’s faces when they’re in our restaurants.”

Bayless spoke during an after-party at Leña Brava, another one of the restaurants he runs with his wife, Deann, who choked up on stage as she said thanks for the award.

“You can’t help but be emotional because this is the peer award,” her husband said. “This is the thing that means the most. When one critic gives you four stars or five stars or three stars or no stars, that’s one critic. But this is thousands of people who are voting and we won it. And that gives you the sense that the people who do this every day, they like what we’re doing.”

Ron Gidwitz, law firm face off over $6.4M legal bill

Businessman and political fundraiser Ron Gidwitz was on the witness stand for a second day Tuesday in a legal battle against the law firm that once represented him.

Ron Gidwitz

Ron Gidwitz | Shia Kapos/Sun-Times

Nixon Peabody is suing Gidwitz for $6.4 million in fees. The firm says he racked up the bill while fighting the city of Joliet over the Evergreen Terrace low-income housing development owned by his family. Back then, the law firm was known as Ungaretti & Harris.

Gidwitz, the former CEO of Helene Curtis, is a big name in Republican circles, having raised money for President Donald Trump and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

In the early 2000s, the housing project made headlines for its poor conditions. Evergreen Terrace was rife with broken windows and the smell of urine. A child died after falling out the window. Crime was rampant.

Joliet wanted to take over the development. The Gidwitzes fought the plan, believing that if they could just get federal funding, they could improve the maintenance and security problems.

All this transpired as Gidwitz was ready to make a run for governor. The legal disagreements became more politically motivated, Gidwitz testified. Joliet called him a slumlord, and Gidwitz accused the city of racism, since most residents were African-Americans. The legal battle was lengthy with a few appeals before Gidwitz ultimately lost. Joliet took over the complex in 2016.

That brings us to the case now before before Cook County Circuit Judge Patrick Lustig.

At issue: Were Ungaretti & Harris attorneys careless in billing Gidwitz? Did he ignore his attorneys’ warnings that he’d lose his legal case against Joliet and have to pay additional fees?

Gidwitz has been put in the uncomfortable position of having to revisit the derelict conditions of the housing project that got him into court in the first place.

Joe Power, the attorney for Nixon Peabody pressed Gidwitz, who acknowledged that yes, air-conditioning didn’t work, windows didn’t always have screens and a child died.

Big names are being dropped too. Gidwitz blamed Joliet and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and former U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Peter Fitzgerald for keeping the family from getting federal funding needed to make improvements.

Guy Chipparoni, CEO of the Res Publica Group public relations firm, is mentioned again and again as working for Gidwitz.

Gidwitz’s attorney is Ted Tetzlaff, a former Ungaretti partner.

And through each day of trial, which began last week, Unagretti & Harris co-founder Richard Ungaretti is present, seated just a few feet from the witness stand. The case continues through the week.

Treasure(r) trove of connections

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers

Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers took gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker to meet a few friends, including some connected to late Mayor Harold Washington’s administration. | Sun-Times file photo

It’s too early to know if Kurt Summers can sway African-Americans to vote for J.B. Pritzker in the Democratic gubernatorial race. But the Chicago city treasurer is already opening doors.

Just hours after announcing he’d endorse Pritzker, Summers took the Chicago billionaire to meet a few friends, including some connected to the administration of the late Mayor Harold Washington.

In attendance: Edward Hamb Jr. and his father, former Washington aide Edward Hamb Sr.; attorney Bill Lowry, whose father is Bill Lowry of the Chicago Community Trust; Ald. Michael Scott Jr., whose father was school board chief Michael Scott Sr.; and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, whose father was former Mayor Eugene Sawyer).

Summers is a grandson of the late Sam Patch, a political strategist who guided strategy to help Washington win the mayor’s office.

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.