Being a top aide to Daley meant having to say you’re sorry — on demand: Brown
By Mark Brown October 30, 2013 8:04PM
Mara Georges | Sun-Times files
Updated: December 2, 2013 12:20PM
During her 12 years as Chicago’s corporation counsel, Mara Georges often served as something of a human flak jacket for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
From 1999 to 2011, the able and reliable Georges was pushed out front to explain away any number of scandals and missteps by the Daley Administration.
Until now, though, we’d never heard the fairly hilarious behind-the-scenes story of how Daley caught her off guard one day by making her take the blame for something in which she says she had no involvement.
Best of all, we can tell the story in Georges’ own words, thanks to a deposition she gave this summer in connection with the city’s lawsuit against owners of the Park Grill restaurant in Millennium Park.
You know the story of the Park Grill. Guy meets girl. Guy owns a restaurant. Girl handles valuable Park District restaurant concession. Guy and girl make a baby together. Guy gets concession deal. Mayor knows nothing. Nothing! But a bunch of his pals invest in what city lawyers later call a “sweetheart deal.”
Chicago Sun-Times reporters broke that story in February 2005, and a few days later the mayor was scheduled to meet the press for the first time.
I’ll let Georges pick up the story from there.
“I was called into a mayoral press conference. I don’t recall where the press conference was. It is possible it was at police headquarters. For some reason that sticks in my mind. It was on an unrelated topic, not involving Millennium Park or the Park Grill.”
“During the press conference, he must have started getting questions about the Park Grill, and therefore, his press person contacted me saying, ‘Get to this press conference immediately.’”
“As soon as I arrived at the location of the press conference, I walked up onto the stage, stood next to the mayor, and he was asked, I believe it was by Fran Spielman, ‘Mayor, who’s to blame for this fiasco?’
“And he pointed at me and said, ‘She is.’
“And I whispered to him, ‘Mr. Mayor, they’re asking you who’s to blame for the Park Grill concession agreement.’
“And he said very loudly, ‘I heard them. You’re to blame.’”
Georges’ account apparently startled P. Andrew Fleming, the lawyer who was deposing her on behalf of the Park Grill’s owners, because he interjected: “I’m sorry. The mayor said what?”
“I heard them. You are to blame,” Georges repeated.
Georges was surprised at the time, too, but she recovered quickly enough that she was ready when reporters then asked her why she was to blame?
“I said that perhaps I should have been more aware of what the Park District was doing. I should have overseen the Park District operations better to have been aware that this lease was being entered into,” Georges told Fleming.
In truth, Georges explained in the deposition, the Park Grill concession agreement had been handled by the Park District’s lawyers, and she had only become aware of it after reporters started snooping around.
What Georges didn’t say is that finessing reporters by taking a bullet for the mayor is just one of the duties of a loyal soldier in a big city administration, and you didn’t have to watch Kelsey Grammer in “Boss” to know that.
Here’s the artful way she explained it in her sworn testimony:
“I think first of all you have understand that at the time I was talking to the press on this issue. I had been called into the press conference at the last minute and then been assigned blame for something that frankly I didn’t have anything to do with … and so I was trying to explain to the press why what the mayor was saying made sense.
“… You know, very often he would say things and there’s a certain cleanup job that goes along with it where I would end up being the one who would explain the details, what had happened, how it was going to proceed.
“And so here I was taken aback and taken by surprise by the fact that he said I was to blame, and I was explaining to the press how blame could be attributed to me and trying to come up with some way that blame was attributed to me.”
Georges told me by phone Wednesday that she wasn’t trying to mislead reporters with her answers that day.
Lest you think Georges is talking out of school, keep in mind that she is now a partner with Daley’s brother Michael in the longtime family law firm, formerly known as Daley & George and now as Daley & Georges.
That kind of loyalty is hard to find.