Thursday, July 26, 2012

The passing of Paul McGrath, a Chicago icon

Bookmark and Share

Cheap Classified Ads

Paul McGrath and I never really got along. Well, in the beginning, we started off as friends. In 1979, when Jane Byrne was elected Mayor, McGrath was writing a column for Chicago Magazine. About that time, Walter Jacobson was doing commentaries of substance at WBBM TV. And I was writing a lot of the things that most of the veteran City Hall reporters didn't want to write about the new mayor, Jane M. Byrne. So Byrne, naturally, singled me out for anger. She attacked me publicly. Her aides assaulted me verbally. They excluded me from press briefings and denied me the information they were giving to other reporters. That only made me write even more forcefully about the Byrne Administration.

When Byrne declared that she would refuse to speak with me, Jacobson did several TV commentaries about me, noting that my columns in the then Daily Southtown, had sent Jane Byrne into a spiraling tizzy. They were great columns of insider tidbits that by themselves could not fill up or justify a news story.  About a year after I started my City Hall insider column, Mike Sneed started hers, doing the same thing I did. (She blamed me for Byrne firing her, although in reality I had nothing to do with it.)

That's when Paul McGrath called me. He wanted to profile me in Chicago Magazine. It was fun being showcased by Jacobson on TV. It was the first time I had been put in such a high profile public spotlight And  as we all know, I've never left that fast track of high profile spotlight since. I'm still there in the apex of the spotlight, usually in the middle of some major controversy. That's my job as a media consultant. That's what I do best for clients, help them survive the toughest controversies, especially those created by the news media. That's what they pay me for.

McGrath did a nice two page profile with a large picture of me leaning into a press briefing that Byrne was giving. The headline, I believe, was "Who is Ray Hanania and Why is Everyone Mad at Him?"

That was exactly my life at that time. Everyone was mad at me. It wasn't just Jane Byrne. It was nearly every alderman and suburban mayor. But that was also a different time in journalism when I was given lots of time to do my work. Today's reporters are rushed and bias comes from cutting corners in favor of your friends.

His feature profile on me was the first one I had framed, one of many that followed.

McGrath was later hired by Jane Byrne to serve as a deputy mayor. And he was doing well, until one day his close friend Karen Connor and Byrne's Patronage Chief Frank Santoro ahd a meeting with him and they invited me to attend. McGrath was against it and I was hesitant. I liked Karen and Santoro. They were both very honest and very cordial to deal with, unlike other political types I had met at City Hall. Santoro and Connor thought they could sit with me and offer me some insights to help me "better understand" the good that Jane Byrne was trying to do.

I agreed. Why not? I had been trying for a year to get Byrne to sit down with me and talk about she was always suspicious because I came from the Southwest Side and was close to both Alderman Bill Lipinski and Rich Daley, who we all later learned was planning to topple her and take her place as mayor. Daley had been frozen out after his father's death by Mayor Michael A. Bilandic and City Hall Chief of Staff Tom Donovan, a brilliant political insider.

It was while we were all four sitting in Karen Connor's office that Jane Byrne slapped the door of her office open and looked around spotting Connor, Santoro, McGrath and me, her arch enemy in the media, sitting together. She snapped in her usual sarcastic tone a satisfying "a ha!" and then remarked, "I see you are all having a little meeting her without me." She looked around for a few minutes that seemed like years burning her eyes into the faces of each of her aides -- like they were traitors -- and then as fast as she came in, disappeared, spinning around on her three inch high stiletto heels, escorted by her two body guards, Mike Graney and another who I would later disclose were secret owners of one of ChicagoFest's most profitable concession stands, Anna's Friend Dough.

Before Byrne could storm out, McGrath was up and out of his chair screaming at me, Connor and Santoro calling us traitors and blaming them for our meeting. He chased out quickly on Bryne's jet stream.

We didn't talk much but it wasn't more than a few months before Byrne fired him and replaced him with a former City News Bureau reporter Bill Griffin, who later went on to marry Mike Sneed.

McGrath never got over his anger with me. He didn't want the meeting to take place at City Hall to begin with and wanted us to go to a restaurant in the burbs. But Santoro wouldn't leave the city's limits and Connor thought the paranoia was unjustified.

In the end and many years later, Connor and Santoro moved up to Michigan or Wisconsin where they started an antique store. I haven't heard from them in years.

But I did hear from McGrath about three months ago when he asked to be my "Friend" on Facebook. We seemed to get along until I wrote a column critical of Israel and he made some vicious comments that I felt were extremist and inappropriate. And I quickly unfriended him and even "Blocked" him from my page.

I would not tolerate intolerance.

We never did get to speak again.

Still, it is with sadness that I note that Paul McGrath died this week at age 75. (Read the Chicago Reader story by writer Mike Miner.)

Ironically, I had written a lengthy feature for the Chicago Reader on the 20th Anniversary of Jane Byrne's election, in February 1999. McGrath was writing for The Chicago Reader and had protested back then that he didn't feel I would be objective and that I would simply bash Byrne. I didn't bash Byrne at all, but merely reported on her notorious antics. In fact, I thought I was kind to Jane Byrne who clearly was mistreated by Rich Daley and the Daley administration. Byrne never did get her due as a former Chicago Mayor and the hatred between Daley and Byrne never chilled.

Regardless, Paul McGrath was a Chicago political icon and presence in Chicago politics and Chicago news. He deserves recognition for his skilled writing, his many journalism awards, and his talent as a political analyst. Whether we were or were not friends is irrelevant. I always respected him as a character in a the major theater of Chicago Politics.

As a good friend of mine and my journalism mentor would often tell me, "It's all a paper moon." Harry Golden Jr., meant that politics was just a stage and everything was not real except the people who acted on the stage of politics.

-- Ray Hanania

No comments: