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04/27/2009

The Daley Interview: A "Good Get"?

  Lots of people approached me over the weekend and early this week to congratulate me on ABC-7's exclusive interview with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.  I used the 20th anniversary of the Mayor's first swearing-in (April 24, 1989) as a "hook" and worked with his press office during the preceding two weeks arranging the time and place for the 30 minute session last Wednesday afternoon.

  Then, on Wednesday morning I'm on my way to work when I hear the much-too-familiar sound of my Blackberry.  Its my office forwarding a press release from city hall announcing that the Mayor has accompanied his wife, Maggie, to Northwestern Hospital where she would undergo a biopsy to determine, essentially, whether her cancer has recurred.  The release also said the Mayor was "at her side".  I immediately e-mailed the assistant press secretary with whom I had made arrangements to let her know that I assumed the interview would be postponed and that my prayers and thoughts were with the Mayor and his family.

  But the assistant e-mailed me and said that since she had not heard otherwise, I should proceed as though the interview would happen as scheduled at 3:00pm.  However, she did warn that things could change depending on developments at the hospital.

  Crewmembers Rich Hillengas and Jackie Denn and myself had no idea what to expect while waiting in the 5th floor conference room outside the Mayor's office.  Then at 3:05pm, the door opened and a surprisingly relaxed-looking Richard M. Daley walked in and took his seat opposite mine.   While he was being miked, I expressed my hopes for his wife's well-being and mentioned that I had offerred to postpone the interview.  He said not to worry.   But at the single mention of her name, the look of concern in his eyes was recognized immediately by the husband sitting across from him.   I could sense an agreement between us that would set the tone for the next 30 minutes.

  Those "issues facing the city" I had listed on the notepad in my lap meant nothing compared to the struggle that Richard and Maggie Daley and their family had waged for the past seven years.   This was NOT the afternoon to confront the Mayor on abused affirmative action programs, Meigs Field, patronage scandals, privatization, homicide rates, police unrest, etc., etc..  Instead, I wanted to give Chicagoans a glimpse of the husband and family man who has shared an incredible love story with the great city he has led from one century into another.

  When he took us on a brief tour of his inner office he only talked about his family.  There literally were hundreds of mementos and souvenirs from around the world including pictures of Daley posing with Presidents, Kings, Queens and assorted Potentates I could never recognize.  But the only photos and mementos he picked up to show me were those related to his beloved wife and family.  His grandfather "Big Mike" ( only 5'5" tall but obviously the giant in the Mayor's upbringing), a handwritten election day note from his late mother, "Sis" Daley, and a photo of Kevin, the three-year-old son who died from complications caused by spina bifida in 1981. 

   In the news business, we call an exclusive interview with a newsmaker "a good get".  The timing of last weeks encounter was such that this reporter cared more about the physical, emotional and spiritual health of Mayor Daley and his family than making sensational news.  To use baseball lingo, I admit pitching the Mayor a few more 80 mile per hour, centercut fastballs than I had planned.  And on that difficult day, he deserved to hit most of them out of the park.

  But then, the healthy, six-times-elected, 67 year old Daley also told me that he has no plans to retire any time in the near future.  So who knows, maybe he'll sit down again exclusively at the next milestone, when he tops his father's terms in office in December of 2010.

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