Monday, July 23, 2007

Daley Refuses to Answer Questions on Pal's Mob Connections

Friends of mine: Fred Barbara

'Journalists don't carry guns . . . no, they carry the ink, the ink,'' railed Daley last Thursday at a City Hall news conference.

Hizzoner has been on a tear, ripping the local news media with the fury of a hurricane hitting the coast.

The mayor can be a bully at times.

Nobody wants to say it in so many words, but every department head at City Hall, certainly his 10 previous chiefs of staff who have been put through the mayoral wringer and spun out City Hall's revolving door, know what it's like to be in the woodshed. When they leave, their tongues have been torn out. Not one has ever publicly spoken of what it's like to work for Daley, understanding that it is best never to talk of he-who-shall-not-be-named.

The mayor's wrath was on full display last week. Part Jack Nicholson, part Richard Nixon, Daley roared like a blast furnace, lashed out like a wounded lion, fulminating when reporters dared to inquire about his relationship to Fred Barbara.

''I think it's ridiculous,'' fumed the mayor, refusing to answer, barking back at reporters, ''Any other questions?''

Barbara is a millionaire many times over thanks to lucrative connections to city waste hauling contracts, his wife's now-defunct trucking firm tied to the city's scandal-scarred Hired Truck program, and his ongoing banking business in partnership with well-connected politicians. But many years ago, long before he ever golfed or dined with the mayor or contributed thousands of dollars to Daley-backed candidates, Barbara had caught the eye of the feds. They believed he was mobbed up and indicted him in 1982 in a gambling and juice operation. Barbara was acquitted, never convicted of that or any other crime.

Suddenly, last Tuesday, Barbara's name was vaulted back into public view thanks to the massive Family Secrets mob trial playing out at the federal building. Nick Calabrese, aging hit man-turned-government-witness, told a spellbound courtroom about all manner of mob horrors, including how the Chicago Outfit blew up or burned down certain unlucky suburban restaurants. Fred Barbara, according to Calabrese, was a member of one of the mob's bombing crews back in the 1980s. Barbara didn't respond to my phone calls.

The front page Sun-Times headline the next day read, "Hit man: Daley pal in on mob bombing.''

For Daley, the ink hit the fan. The mayor was apoplectic. For two days, he lashed out at reporters.

''You have the power of the pen, you have a lot of power,'' he declared. ''We don't even know who you are.''

And yet he seems to know where we grew up.

''Most of you never grew up in Chicago,'' said the Baron of Bridgeport.

The problem is the mayor thinks everything is unfair these days. Just about any question, let alone criticism, rankles him. City Hall reporters take the brunt of the mayoral battering as the mayor castigates some of them for living in the suburbs, suggesting they don't really know or care about the city he loves.

He wags his finger, reminding the press of its own dirty laundry, like recently convicted Sun-Times press boss Conrad Black and his creepy, crooked right-hand man, David Radler.

''Look at all the scandals you have received as journalists, every day there is another article, I mean, c'mon, every day there's an article,'' said Daley. ''Every day there's someone, you know, doing some misconduct."

And then he lectures us on our cold hearts and callousness.

''You report a gun killing on Page 25," the mayor jabs triumphantly. ''How about that one? Because it's not your son or daughter. They're not poor. You have a lot of power, don't you realize that?''

We do.

Then again, so does the 19-year occupant of the City Hall's fifth floor.

Mayor Daley has a difficult job that he performs with passion and skill. And we in the press are no shrinking violets. We can take the bullying and the bluster. But at the end of the day, it wouldn't hurt, along with the journalism lecture, to just answer the question.

Thanks to Carol Marin

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