By John Kass
A Daley was on trial this week on federal tax fraud charges, but as it began, I wasn’t thinking about the Daleys.
I was busy in a political meeting, talking with DuPage County Republicans about DuPage politics, and enjoying a late breakfast of Jimmy Banakis’ superb spicy shrimp and grits (half order) at his Juicy-O in Downers Grove.
Just then a guy wearing a mask came up to our table. He was thinking about the Daleys. He wanted to ask a question about them.
He was wearing one of those flimsy masks that don’t protect anyone from Covid. He said he was a city worker from Chicago, from the Daley family’s hereditary lands of the 11th Ward. He was keeping the mask on so no one would see his face as he talked to me. Yes, he’s paranoid but with reason. He’s from the 11th Ward, “Bridgeport born and raised,” he said.
“You’re John Kass, right? Mind if I ask you a question about this trial, about the Daleys?”
You can take your mask off, I said.
“I’ve been around, I’m keeping my mask on because I don’t want anybody seeing my face. I’ve got six months before retirement. Then I’m out”
Ok masked man, I said, ask. Just as long as I can see your hands. We both laughed.
“What about Daley and the feds?”
He was referring to 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson.
The alderman is the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley who treated the city as a toy he could break. He is also the grandson of the real boss, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley who loved Chicago with all his soul. The alderman looks like the grandfather, and wears an old man fedora, perhaps in a search for gravitas.
If Ald. Daley Thompson wasn’t a Daley, if he didn’t look like his grandfather, if he didn’t wear a fedora, he never would have become 11th Ward alderman.
He is on trial for federal tax fraud, and for lying to federal agents about a line of credit he received from a kinky Bridgeport bank, now closed, the Washington Federal Bank for Savings. You want to follow the trial? Here’s a pro tip:
Follow the Twitter feed of the Tribune’s Jason Meisner. In my opinion, he’s the best federal beat reporter around. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmetr22b
Meisner has been extremely busy on the beat. As trial testimony continued, Fast Eddie (former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak 10th), once the prince of the city, was trying to get out of prison. And Slow Eddie, the indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was trying to stay out of prison. Meisner also reported that federal prosecutors sought a three-month extension of a confidentiality order to protect “the secrecy and integrity” of their bribery investigation into Commonwealth Edison and former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
What happens to old wolves who lose their teeth? You know what happens. It’s not pretty.
“One by one, our old friends are gone. Death, natural or not, prison, deported..,” said the sad Johnny Ola in “The Godfather,” a film about Italian gangsters from New York, not Irish politicians from Chicago.
What about that kinky Bridgeport bank where Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson operated? The CEO of the bank, John Gembara, was found dead at the home of bank investor. The investor is under investigation in another federal case, about how tens of millions of dollars disappeared from the bank.
A green rope was used in what is considered a suicide. A green rope used by a Polish banker with all that federal heat on him? Hmm. It wasn’t even St. Patrick’s Day.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson is not implicated in the Gembara green rope strangling. But it does add to the flavor and intrigue around this strange case. The guy with the mask at Jimmy’s place knew about the green rope. But he wasn’t interested in rope.
“You think the feds will get this Daley?” he asked.
There was a long pause. I shrugged.
“I never thought I’d see this day. Never in my life,” he said. “Jesus. A Daley on trial?”
Jesus. A Daley on trial.
That sounds like a perfect headline, or the title of a book of poetry I’ll never write, about how Chicago began dying long before the disastrously weak Mayor Lightfoot caved to BLM rioters who looted the city, long before Lightfoot endorsed Soros-backed Cook State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for re-election. The city by the lake, the city that once worked, was knocked to the ground before it was stabbed in the heart.
But the rot really began under the new Mayor Daley, when the bi-partisan power elite of Illinois got on their knees, terrified of Richard M., and puckered their lips to kiss Daley’s behind, clapping like circus seals as he spent the city into fiscal oblivion.
The media for the most part kissed his behind too, because big corporate Chicago wanted an end to political infighting of Council Wars. The Wall Street Journal had called Chicago “Beirut on the Lake” and big corporate and corporate legacy media didn’t like that. And so Richard M. Daley’s power, and arrogance, grew.
Years ago, Michael Kinsley, the left leaning but intellectually honest journalist offered this about corruption that applied to Chicago.
“I have a saying,” said Kinsley. “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal. The scandal is what’s legal.”
And that’s how Chicago rolled.
The feds never touched Rich Daley or his posse of insiders. When Daleys pals, the Outfit- connected Duffs were caught by the Tribune winning a $100 million “minority business enterprise” contract, though they weren’t black or brown, but pink as Easter Ham.
It was the Duffs who took the fall. Daley’s City Hall was portrayed by the Department of Justice as the hapless victim of the Duffs, not their enabler.
When the feds became interested in Chicago, Daley lost his memory and suffered from Fedzheimer’s and didn’t know or couldn’t remember a thing, When the feds weren’t interested, the Fedzheimer’s disappeared. It was a miracle.
At this week’s federal criminal trial of a Daley, the first Daley ever to stand trial, the defense team will want to confuse the jury with numbers and more numbers, and bore them to death while establishing a defense that their client didn’t know what he was doing in business, and that the alderman of the 11th Ward is just too stupid to be a criminal.
The defense argument is that Ald. Patrick Thompson Daley is just too “scatterbrained” didn’t remember what he said or to whom. It’s just Daley Fedzheimer’s 2.0.
But I do agree with the masked man in that I, too, never thought I’d see a Daley in a federal criminal trial. The Daleys once dictated to the U.S. Attorney’s office, not the other way around. Four Illinois governors have been convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. But a Chicago mayor has never been indicted, not even those with Outfit pals. It must be all that magic anti-corruption fairy dust up on the 5th floor.
My beef isn’t personal. I know some of you want to think that, but you’d be wrong. My beef hasn’t been with the Daley family as much it has been with the arrogance of all those hangers on and suck ups around them, an entire city full of suck ups once, a Lord of the Flies Chicago. And many of them were influential, in business, the media, the law, politics, universities, law enforcement and the courts. Power does corrupt absolutely. And when the arrogant hold that government hammer in their hands, the suck ups multiply all the way, to the far horizon. And they think all we’re all a bunch of chumbolones.
The real Mayor Daley, Richard J., loved his city. He went to mass every morning. He prayed on his knees. Was he a humble man? I didn’t know him, but I do know that he didn’t cut in line at wakes and could act humbly when necessary.
His son Richard M. was much different. He was never the smartest Daley brother, the most reasonable of them was Bill and the smartest brother by far was Michael. As Richard J. was dying, he called only Michael.
Rich was insecure always, and when he got power and the suck ups began sucking up, it all went to his head and the arrogance bloomed.
The Duffs, the midnight destruction of Meigs Field, the downtown’s jewel of an airport, the mayor bragging that he could stick a rifle up a reporter’s behind. The Hired Truck scandals. The wrought iron fence deals. All that asphalt poured and repoured. The blaming of lowly city worker James McTigue for the downtown flood, though it wasn’t McTigue’s fault. Chicago needed a wet (or was that a white) mayor. The Hispanic Daley Organization. The pension holidays for the public (government) unions. The parking meter scam. The selling off of valuable city infrastructure. Those ridiculous rain blockers. The 2016 Olympic Games fail. There are volumes full.
For all my life, Daley family clout was supreme in Illinois, just up to a few years ago. And not even a homicide and allegations of a cover-up could dent that Daley clout armor.
Or have you forgotten April 25, 2004, when little David Koschman, who just turned 21, was a little guy, a kid, 5 feet 4 inches tall and 125 pounds. He was drunk on Division Street for his birthday, his first legal night at the bars with friends. They ran into a group on the street with supreme clout. Words were exchanged, and Koschman was killed after a punch from a Daley, the hulking mayoral nephew and mayoral grandson R.J. Vanecko, then a 235-pound weightlifter. Everybody who counted knew that his uncle was the mayor.
Every city worker, every cop, every lawyer and every judge knew it.
Koschman hit his head on the ground they said. But first, his head was hit by a big fist with a lot of muscle behind it. He was kept on life-support for days. And because Koschman was on life-support, police didn’t run a homicide investigation. Days later, by the time Koschman was taken off life support and died, all those involved had been given ample time to get their stories straight.
I remember sitting alone with Koschman’s mother, Nanci in their Mount Prospect home. She was weeping. A mother’s sobs echoing in an empty house. The sound of her cries haunt me still.
This was a Chicago Way case. The witnesses saw nothing. The cops knew nothing. Division Street, which knew everything then, knew nothing about how little David Koschman was killed. Prosecutors wouldn’t prosecute. Nobody knew nothing. Everybody knew R.J. Vanecko, named after his grandfather, was the nephew of then Mayor Richard M. Daley. And so, the case went nowhere.
But Chicago Sun Times reporter Tim Novak kept digging. Novak is one of the best reporters in town. It took 8 years and 7 months, but finally, after Novak’s Sun Times investigation, a special prosecutor was appointed, and R.J. Vaneko was charged with involuntary manslaughter and pleaded guilty.
Vanecko served 60 days in the McHenry County jail. That was the deal. The special prosecutor was Dan Webb, the whitewash specialist. It is the same Webb who investigated the ethically challenged Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for her bizarre handling of the Jussie Smollett hate crime case. Foxx is still practicing law.
After the Grand Jury finished its work in the Koschman case, Webb did something amazing. He asked that testimony from Richard M. Daley be sealed.
It worked out for the Daleys, but not for David Koschman, not for his mother, not for justice. The Illinois Supreme Court, dominated by Democrats, agreed with the seal order. What Rich Daley knew then, who he talked to, what was said, what other Daleys knew, it’s all buried and locked away.
But this week something happened that I never thought possible.
A Daley on trial.
(Copyright 2022 John Kass)