Snagging an interview with Richard M. Daley, as Chicago News Cooperative columnist James Warren did recently, is like winning a big stuffed bear at a carnival shooting gallery. It's an exhilarating feat, but soon you realize that winning the bear is more thrilling than having it.
Hizformer is clearly a deep thinker, but he's not the kind to put on airs by expressing his thoughts comprehensibly. He also tends not to wax poetic or philosophic. His idea of expanding on a comment is repeating it. As the old joke goes, first prize would be 10 minutes with Daley, second prize, 20 minutes.
Now, this could simply be Daley’s manner with reporters. Perhaps in a private setting he’s witty and eloquent and lyrical. I'm guessing, though, that while he might turn out to be engaging company at dinner, you’d bring along something to read.
As Warren realizes, a columnist usually doesn’t win an audience with a VIP like Daley by being tough on him. You either kiss ass, or you kiss your access goodbye. Warren has taken a few token swings at Daley in the last year, none of which has left knuckleprints on Daley’s chin. In return for this kindness, and because no good deed goes unpunished, Hizformer granted Warren the interview. And if you read his column in Sunday’s New York Times, you saw how much Warren teased out of his subject.
Warren asked Daley how he hooked up with the law firm he just joined, Katten Muchin Rosenman. This is the firm that got $822,000 for negotiating several Daley privatization agreements, including the notorious parking meter lease deal, which Warren graciously omitted from his column. “I talked to different firms,” Daley said. “I didn’t solicit anybody. Meeting these guys, it was a comfortable fit.”
Daley wouldn’t say how comfortable—that is, how much the firm will pay him. So Warren told Hizformer he was stunned to learn that brother Bill had made $20 million at JP Morgan Chase last year—so stunned, Warren said, his own response was “Huh?!” That disclosure by Warren coaxed this illuminating reaction from Daley: “I said the same thing!”
Warren tried to get Daley to comment on Mayor Emanuel’s backing of gaming legislation, but Hizformer was unwilling. "I’m not going to say anything about it,” he said. Then he elaborated. “I won’t comment. It would be unfair to him. I have respect for the office.”
If Hizformer wouldn’t talk politics, maybe he’d ruminate on life out of the limelight? Warren inquired about “the psychological and emotional impact of not being the center of the local universe.” Daley’s complete reply: “People thought I’d be walking around City Hall and going, ‘This is my place!’” So now you have a sense of the psychological and emotional impact of being Hizformer.
Finally, Warren asked for Daley’s thoughts on the former governor who was on trial in the Dirksen Building. Daley at last pontificated. “Cuckoo,” he said.
Sometimes it’s better to leave the carnival empty-handed.