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Both Mayor Daleys got ‘scrootened’ by the ‘Dean’

Bill Cameron | Mark Konkol~Sun-Times

Highlights from Mayor Daley's Greatest Hits with Bill Cameron

Part I: Mayor Daley's Greatest Hits with Bill Cameron
Part II: Mayor Daley's Greatest Hits with Bill Cameron

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:09AM

Bill Cameron has been sticking his microphone in the face of Chicago mayors since he was a cub reporter lugging a reel-to-reel recorder around town.

“Came on the beat in 1970,” the WLS 890AM newsman says.

“I was negative three years old,” a pressroom smart aleck replies. Cameron laughs.

“Been a long time but it doesn’t seem that way, and it’s still fun to come to work and see all the farce and corruption,” Cameron says. “I guess the trick, like Old Man Daley said, is to never retire.”

Besides grilling powerful politicians, the best part of Cameron’s job has been capturing those rare funny moments in the often-humorless world of big city government.

And after 42 years of running tape at City Hall, nobody has provided Cameron with more hilarious on-the-record radio moments than a couple of guys from Bridgeport named Daley — the mayors “who couldn’t speak straight.”

In 1979, three years after Richard J. Daley died in office, Cameron produced a vinyl LP of the original Chicago Boss’ most notable on-tape rants including the notorious “the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

This week Cameron, 65, dean of the City Hall press corps, released a digital recording of the finest half-hour of the younger Daley’s mush-mouth mumblings, mispronunciations and misspeaks just in-time for the younger Daley’s 70th birthday on Tuesday. All the recorded clips except from the 1968 Democratic National Convention were recorded by Cameron.

“Mayor Daley’s Greatest Hits with Bill Cameron” isn’t just a laugh at Chicago’s longest serving mayor. The recordings capture the Mayor Daley’s essence — he’s a regular guy who isn’t afraid to show his emotions, or his Bridgeport temper for that matter.

Sure, you hear Daley scream, stammer and butcher the English language when reporters ticked him off with their tough questions. But there’s also tape of Daley sobbing about the troubles of son Patrick and the struggles of his late wife, Maggie, who last year lost her battle against cancer.

Cameron’s recordings also offer a rare chance to hear the similarities — and differences — of the father and son who became Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors.

“Richie didn’t fall far from the tree, did he,” Cameron says. “They can’t talk. The line I used in both projects — the old man and the kid — is ‘you don’t often understand what he said, but you always knew what he meant. It’s classic Chicago.’”

The stuff Richard M. Daley said — and Cameron saved in his audio archives — is bleeping golden, to paraphrase an incarcerated governor Daley once described as “cuckoo.”

Here’s a taste of Daley on:

■ Lawyers: “Throw a nickel out on the corner and you’ll get 500 lawyers.”

■ Gun control: [Daley holding a rifle] “If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective it was.”

■ Education reform: “There are no excuses for children to learn.”

■ City workers: “They’re not customer related. They’re gonna leave at 5 o’clock … they walk out.”

■ Death penalty: “I’m pro death.”

■ Trees: “I’m a tree hugger.”

■ Winter parking dibs: “That’s Chicago style. I put a chair there, and I dug that out in front of my house, you better not park there.”

■ Food safety: “You don’t want a mouse in your sandwich, do ya.”

The recordings also offer an audio glimpse of what it was like to cover the most powerful mayors in American history.

“We just have to take whatever abuse we need to take,” Cameron said. “You hear Frannie [Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman]. She so often got under the mayor’s skin by being such a good reporter who will not be denied.”

Credit old-school dogged questioning for prompting this Daley gem: “Scrutiny? … Do you want to take my shorts?” Daley ranted and Cameron recorded. “Give me a break. … Go scrutinize yourself! I get scrootened every day.”

In the background you can hear Cameron’s deep belly laugh.

“This job is fun. I get up every day excited to get here,” Cameron says. “ It’s like someone said, ‘Figure out what’s fun in life and get some one to pay you to do it.’ That’s what I did.”

And Cameron says he’ll never retire — even if his decision gets scrootened every day.

Listen to highlights of “Mayor Daley’s Greatest hits with Bill Cameron” on Part of the Best of Daley will be broadcasted on Cameron’s show “Connected to Chicago” Sunday at 6 a.m. on WLS 890AM. Eventually, Cameron expects the entire recording to be available as a download on the radio station’s website.

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