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Lois Weisberg quits as city culture czar

Lois Weisberg

Lois Weisberg

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Updated: April 5, 2011 5:18PM

Lois Weisberg, Mayor Daley’s indefatigable commissioner of the Department Cultural Affairs and the last original member of his Cabinet, announced Wednesday that she plans to retire at the end of this month.

Weisberg, who is 85, is perhaps best known for bringing the “Cows on Parade” citywide public art display to Chicago, but she also played a pivotal role in countless other projects, including creating SummerDance, the World Music Festival as well as handling programming for Millennium Park.

“If you’re a person who loves inventive, fresh ideas, she corners the market on it in this town,” said Donna LaPietra, a member of many major city charity boards and a long-time collaborator with Weisberg. “If you’re someone who really wants to have an impact and get something done, she knows how to get it done. That’s sort of an unbeatable combination.”

Weisberg could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but she issued a written statement saying she is “strongly opposed” to the recent merger of her department with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

“My intimate knowledge of the inner workings of MOSE from the time I served as its executive director during the Harold Washington administration coupled with my years as Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs makes it impossible for me to assume the leadership of this merged entity,” Weisberg said.

LaPietra described Weisberg as an “energetic” and “highly creative” woman with an extraordinary ability to connect the right people to get all sorts of projects done.

“You could call Lois at 2 a.m., and I did,” LaPietra said. “She wasn’t big on sleep. I’m not big on sleep.”

Mayor Daley appointed Weisberg to the position in 1989. Weisberg, a lifelong Chicagoan, also served as special events director under former Mayor Harold Washington. She’s also a close friend of Daley’s wife, Maggie, and the longest-serving member of Daley’s cabinet.

In recent weeks, Weisberg has been vocal in her opposition to Daley’s pan to privatize Taste of Chicago, the city’s premier lakefront festival, to help erase a record $654.7 million budget shortfall. Weisberg has said that the no private company could come in and keep the event free, which is what has made it so popular through the years.

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