Laura O'Malley. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
Updated: August 11, 2014 1:42PM
You won’t find “Chicago juice” on the menu at the Park Grill restaurant in Millennium Park.
But even as Laura O’Malley, a former top park district official, was spending a long afternoon Wednesday on the witness stand talking about the Park Grill, it was clear that Chicago juice — insider influence — was a big part of why the restaurant got what Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls a “lopsided contract” that cost taxpayers an unnecessary $8 million. O’Malley was far from the only player in this smelly deal.
The Emanuel administration is seeking to break the 2003 sweetheart deal inked under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. O’Malley is the former top Park District official who was having an affair with one of the operators of the Millennium Park restaurant before and during negotiations over the restaurant’s 30-year concession agreement with the Park District.
Testifying in front of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Moshe Jacobius, O’Malley did little to undo the impression that she exercised, at a minimum, extremely poor judgment by keeping her relationship with the restaurant operator, Matthew O’Malley, a secret. She ultimately recused herself, though the Sun-Times has reported that she remained involved with the development of the restaurant long after her recusal. She became pregnant with his child during the negotiations, and the two are now married. A Park District ethics officer in 2005 found that Mrs. O’Malley had not violated the Park District’s ethics ordinance.
The city’s lawyer plumbed the depths of their relationship — when it began, how long they knew each other — often challenging her vague answers by reading aloud more detailed answers she’d given previously. It was compelling stuff, but at the end of the day, not the real heart of this case.
O’Malley is but one small fish in a pond that was controlled by Daley. Even if O’Malley greased the wheels for her lover, Daley was the one who ultimately called the shots.
That’s why it is important that Daley testify. We say this not knowing why his lawyers say he has a medical condition that should excuse him from testifying. We sincerely wish him well and trust Jacobius will make the right call when lawyers debate that issue July 23. We would hope that a man who managed within the last few weeks to attend a conference in Texas, and whose own brother says is in good health, is fit enough to sit in a chair and answer some questions.
If Daley testifies, he will likely just say what he said earlier in a deposition — that he remembers almost nothing of consequence or substance. But it’s important that he testify on the record in court, for the integrity of this proceeding. In court, he can be assessed on how forthright he is. If Daley wants to undermine his credibility with 139 more “I don’t recalls” on top of the 139 from his deposition, that’s his decision.
The Park Grill lawyers want Daley on the stand to support their argument that their deal was made openly with the Park District and remains valid, no matter how unhappy City Hall might be. They argue the deal was good for the city back in 2003, when economic conditions were iffy just two years after 9/11, and that the city is just trying to rewrite itself a better deal.
But the people who really deserved a fair deal were the taxpayers. The more we see of how this deal went down, the less we see fairness anywhere.