Falling-out over flood
Opening Day for the White Sox is a day of South Side obligation, and the mayor and yours truly were obligated to attend services at Sox Park. But our plans changed when an underground tunnel ruptured along the Chicago River. Most Chicagoans didn't even know the tunnels were there, but they sure learned about them when the Loop was flooded and the entire central city was shut down.
A furious mayor wanted political heads on a pike.
One reluctant head belonged to Jim McTigue, a low-ranking North Side city worker, a Cubs fan and tunnel inspector. Daley held a news conference to rip on McTigue, saying McTigue didn't warn his superiors of the breach in the tunnel that led to the flood. It turned out that Daley was wrong, that McTigue had indeed warned his bosses, and they had ignored him.
"I don't want to become the Mrs. O'Leary's cow of the flood," McTigue told me.
It also turned out that Daley's friends were making a fortune off the flood. I understood the mayor wanted a fall guy and that it wasn't going to be one of his people. But what I didn't understand is why Daley wouldn't make a call and find McTigue a job in the private sector afterward.
That's what bothered me. McTigue wasn't at fault. He had a wife and kids. All Daley had to do was pick up the phone and do the right thing.
The mayor told me he didn't owe McTigue a thing. I told him, respectfully, that he should make the call anyway, to show compassion, and so that city workers who knew the real story wouldn't think the mayor was a jerk.
That's what your father would have done, I said.
His eyes narrowed. He blushed. That jaw jutted forward in anger. He walked off and that was it. We were done. We were cordial but distant from then on, and later I wrote a long piece for the Tribune magazine in which he talked honestly about his political life and his motives for revenge. But things were different between us from then on. I'd seen the other side of his face.
I didn't know McTigue. Eventually he won his lawsuit with the city, but for years he couldn't find work, because the mayor had put the mark on him, and no one would hire him. That's the sin in a city being bossed. The fear of angering City Hall can be debilitating. And McTigue's wife and kids suffered. It was a terrible thing.
There were many Jim McTigues in the city. Not just fall guys, but business owners, taxpayers, regular folks who were terrified that they'd run afoul of City Hall and get stepped on.
Jim died a few years ago. He was buried in his Cubs shirt, a pack of Camel filters in his pocket.
Daley never made amends.
Becoming the hammer
Despite the fact that we were falling out, I didn't want to be the critic, the hammer. I wanted to interpret and explain. But by the mid-1990s, Daley's hatchet men had rigged employment tests to build vast patronage armies, allowing him to control all of Cook County and become the dominant political silverback male in Illinois.
He was the strongman of the wrought-iron fist, with all those suck-ups around him, laughing at his jokes like hyenas in a children's cartoon. There was a media love fest. And I couldn't take it anymore.