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Rick Rice, former city Water Management Commissioner turned fall guy in hired truck scandal, dies at 53

Water Commisioner Rick Rice (left) Chicago Fire Commisioner James Joyce 2001

Water Commisioner Rick Rice (left) and Chicago Fire Commisioner James Joyce in 2001

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Updated: January 20, 2013 6:25AM

Last spring, 900 politicians and City Hall bureaucrats jammed into a Merrionette Park banquet hall for a heart-wrenching fund-raiser for one of their own.

Rick Rice — a former Water Management commissioner-turned fall guy for the Hired Truck scandal that tarnished the 22-year-reign of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley — was dying of brain cancer.

Mr. Rice’s former co-workers wanted to help their friend with his mounting medical bills. Fearing the end was near, they wanted to say goodbye. They were united in their belief that Mr. Rice got a raw deal from Daley.

“He shed a few tears that night. There were so many old faces. He was amazed at how many people showed up,” said Kevin Rice, the former commissioner’s son.

“Before it started, he joked there would be us and [former deputy budget director] Russ Carlson there. It didn’t turn out that way.”

A career bureaucrat and well-respected budget analyst, Rick Rice died of brain cancer last Saturday. He was 53.

In 2005, a housecleaning in the

department at the center of the Hired Truck scandal swept out then-Water Management Commissioner Rick Rice and nine politically connected underlings accused of participating in a payroll scam.

The brother-in-law of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and the relative of a key Hired Truck figure were among those purged for allegedly falsifying attendance records over a two-month period — maybe longer — by swiping each other in and out.

Most aldermen rallied to Mr. Rice’s defense. They argued that the ousted commissioner was “frustrated from Day One” about convicted First Deputy Donald Tomczak’s “rogue army” of political workers, but powerless to stop it because Tomczak was “perceived as untouchable.”

Daley coldly defended his decision to target Mr. Rice, arguing that the ousted commissioner could have fired Tomczak if he wanted to.

“Everybody has responsibilities. I put somebody on the dance floor. They have to dance,” Daley said at the time.

Pressed on whether Mr. Rice could have ousted Tomczak, Daley said, “He could get rid of anyone.”

Kevin Rice couldn’t disagree more. Although his father went on to become a consultant after the heartbreaking end to his 23-year career at City Hall, the Rice children never got over how their father was treated.

“My dad was probably the straightest arrow I knew,” Kevin Rice said.

“An election was coming up. He was a fall guy. He got a bad shake. . . . If it was up to him, he’d still be working for the city.”

Mr. Rice was a graduate of Stagg High School in Palos Hills. He went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Elmhurst College and a master’s from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In addition to his son Kevin, 28, Rick Rice is survived by his wife Madonna, and other sons Brendan, 26, and Colin, 22; daughter Eileen, 19; parents Kenneth and Elizabeth, and brothers Ken, Bob, John, Bill and Scott.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Queen of Martyrs Church, 10233 S. Central Park Ave. in Evergreen Park. Burial will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

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