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More memory lapses from a Park Grill witness

Updated: August 11, 2014 1:42PM



Laura Foxgrover, cast as the femme fatale in a titillating sweetheart contract scandal at former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Park District, reluctantly took the stage Wednesday.

Testifying as a “hostile witness” in the Emanuel Administration’s lawsuit against the owners of the Park Grill restaurant, the 45-year-old Foxgrover proved nearly as memory-challenged as the 72-year-old Daley about the events surrounding the Millennium Park deal.

“I don’t recall,” the dark-haired Beverly native told Cook County Circuit Court Judge Moshe Jacobius time after time in response to questions from city lawyers inquiring into what they allege was her role in steering the 30-year concession agreement to the father of her child.

You may recall that’s exactly how Daley answered more than 100 questions in his own deposition in this case, which his lawyers are now citing along with recent health problems in an effort to keep him from testifying at the trial.

The big difference is that Daley was called as a witness by defense lawyers who for some reason believe the most powerful man in Chicago had more to do with who got that contract at his signature park than a mid-level Park District bureaucrat—no matter her romantic entanglement.

Actually, “romantic” may be the wrong word, as Foxgrover strongly objected to that characterization of her relationship with restaurateur Matthew O’Malley, for whom she had worked immediately prior to joining the Park District in 2001.

“It was a very on and off thing,” she said when a city lawyer tried to pin her down about the particulars of the affair, which had started when she was working for O’Malley.

Foxgrover became pregnant with O’Malley’s child during the contract negotiations and gave birth in 2002. Both were married to other people when their relationship began, but last year Foxgrover and O’Malley got hitched. She said she now goes by Laura O’Malley, but I’m sticking with Foxgrover for today to keep it simple.

The extent of Foxgrover’s involvement in those negotiations and in the selection process that led up to O’Malley’s group winning the rights to operate the restaurant is a major point of contention in the city’s lawsuit seeking to void the deal.

I give Mayor Rahm Emanuel credit for taking on the case, given how Chicago taxpayers are given short shrift by the terms of the restaurant deal. The city contends the “lopsided” deal has “cheated taxpayers” out of $8 million in revenue since the restaurant opened in 2004.

But I still think the legal theory that tries to put all the blame on Foxgrover as a sort of one-woman sleeper cell inside the Park District scheming on behalf of her baby-daddy is a bit of stretch.

City lawyers seem determined to keep the heat off Daley, who everyone knows took a very hands-on approach to Millennium Park.

It was not a big surprise when the contract just happened to go to O’Malley’s group at a time he had emerged as a fair-haired boy at City Hall as the owner of the mayor’s favored Chicago Firehouse restaurant in his new neighborhood. Then it later turned out that many of O’Malley’s unseen partners were friends or relatives of the mayor.

Foxgrover, the daughter of a Cook County judge convicted on corruption charges in 1992, was tense but composed on the witness stand, and not nearly as combative as I was expecting. Still, she managed to exude a bit of South Side toughness.

Tan and wearing a simple black dress, she nervously fiddled with her rings during questioning, pulling them on and off.

If I were a poker player, I might have identified that as a tell, but more telling were all the emails, memos and meeting notes showing her extensive involvement in the restaurant contract that she matter-of-factly professed not to remember, even when shown documentation she ostensibly prepared.

In courthouse parlance, nothing could help “refresh her recollection,” although neither was she caught in any major contradictions.

Still, I’m not buying that she pulled this off by herself by feeding inside information to O’Malley, as if nobody else would have.

It’s interesting that Foxgrover seems to have landed her job at the Park District without going through the normal hiring channels.

Did anyone make calls of recommendation on her behalf, she was asked.

“Not that I was aware of,” she said.

Of course not.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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