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The [Monday] Papers

I have to admit the promotions leading up to today's first installment of the Sun-Times's three-part "First Family Of Clout" series piqued my curiosity. Clearly, from the artwork, this wasn't going to be a story about the Daleys. So who?

It turns out, according to the paper, that Chicago's First Family Of Clout is the Roti clan, from the late patriarch and Al Capone-associate Bruno Roti Sr., to his infamous alderman (and made Chicago mob member) son Fred Roti, to grandson Fred Bruno Barbara, a close pal of none other than Mayor Richard M. Daley. (The family's influence extends in many directions - Frank Caruso Jr., convicted in the beating of Lenard Clark, is the grandson of Bruno Roti son-in-law Frank "Skid" Caruso, who authorities say inherited the Roti criminal empire, and the son of union leader and mob associate Frank "Toots" Caruso.)

The case the Sun-Times makes is persuasive: It seems the Rotis have been in it from the start, at the nexus of the organized crime, politics, labor, and public works that has shaped this city.

This is not just ancient history, either. The Roti family is directly linked to the scandal-ridden Hired Truck program - and to the current mayor.

"Daley is close friends with one Roti family member - longtime trucking mogul, Fred Bruno Barbara - a Bruno Roti Sr. grandson who was once charged, and found not guilty, in an organized-crime case," the paper reports. "Barbara also has been a city contractor, making a fortune off city business, including the mayor's much-criticized Blue Bag recycling program."

The paper promises that parts two and three will explore the Roti family's supervision of the city's street-paving operation as well as the case of Barbara, who "made a fortune hauling the city's garbage to landfills."

Of course, it is Barbara's relationship with Daley that lends this series particular significance.

What does the mayor have to say so far?


"The Chicago Sun-Times tried to interview Mayor Daley for this series," the paper says. "His press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, asked that questions be submitted in writing. After receiving the questions, Heard said she decided not to present them to the mayor."

Wasn't it just last week that Daley was bizarrely bragging - and not for the first time - about how accessible he was to the media?

More appalling, though, is the paper's willingness to submit its questions to the mayor in advance.

I've worked in several news organizations big and small where this simply wouldn't be allowed - including my high school and college paper. And rightly so. Where are we, Beijing?

Similarly, today's Sun-Times story "CHA Chief's Former Ward Rakes In Contractor Cash" includes this passage: "A 17th Ward official who responded to a call to [Ald. Latasha] Thomas asked that questions be e-mailed. No one responded to the e-mail."

Perhaps the Chicago media ought to go back to journalism school. I was taught to go stand outside an unwilling public official's car, house, or office to get a comment - and to shame them in the paper if one wasn't forthcoming.

But Daley, Thomas, and others in Chicago are rewarded, not punished, by toying with the press. Where is the downside for them? The press has to make it hurt. I suggest a running daily compilation, for example, of the mayor's "no comments" and non-responsive answers, including a running tote board on page one of how many days it has been since Daley said he doesn't know who hired and promoted Angelo Torres.

So submitting questions to the mayor in advance of an interview that didn't happen anyway is a disappointing demerit in the First Family Of Clout series.

But I'm still eagerly awaiting the next two parts.

CHA CHA Twist: You can read more about the link between CHA chief Terry Peterson and political contributions to his old ward organization from CHA contractors on the Residents' Journal website here. And while you're there, read the text of the speech that the Journal's publisher, Ethan Michaeli, gave at the recent Studs Terkel Media Awards.

Mission Creep
Neil Steinberg, shamelessly angling for a Billy Goat interview with President Bush, wrote today that he'd nonetheless skip Bush's speech at McCormick Place.

"It isn't as if your topic - Iraq and the War on Terror - is apt to provide any revelations. In fact, I bet I can sum up the speech right now: Iraq - getting better. War on terror - winning it. Got a long road ahead of us, sure, but terrorists? On the run. Military: strong and sure. American people: united and confident. God bless America."

If only Steinberg had been as observant three years ago when he castigated critics of the president's flyboy landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, scene of the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

"I view it differently," Steinberg wrote then. "When I saw the president take off his helmet, smile broadly and greet the assembled servicemen and women, I thought: That looks fun."

Added Steinberg: "Bush doesn't really need to underline his commander-in-chief chops - the Iraq War did that nicely. Rather, I believe, he chose to arrive on the Abraham Lincoln the way he did because it seemed like a hoot."

Condo Boomerang
This came in over the Tip Line: "You wrote: 'I wish some eyes would be on the dramatic transformation of the neighborhoods between downtown and the suburbs - you know, the place where most Chicagoans live.' Were you on vacation last Sunday, or skip the Sun-Times entirely?"

My (anonymous) correspondent is referring to the Sun-Times's examination of five changing Chicago neighborhoods.

That piece had some interesting data in it, but in my mind it utterly failed to explain the forces behind the changes and the consequences going forward (besides not being about the condo construction I was referring to in my original item).

A city newspaper - and this goes for the Tribune as well - ought to be reporting dramatic neighborhood transformations as they happen, not by dipping into census data every five years.

I found the Sun-Times report to be a starting point for exploring changes in the neighborhoods it picked out, but not a finished product.

Perhaps a better approach would be to post reporters in those neighborhoods permanently, or at the very least commit to spending the next year documenting a Chicago neighborhood whose issues best encapsulate those that residents are coping with citywide.

Papers Chase
* The [Sunday] Papers.
* The [Immigration] Papers.
* The [Dusty Baker] Papers.
* And the Papers-like Cubs Conflict: Team Blue About Tribune Coverage.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Transforming daily.


Posted on May 22, 2006

MUSIC - How Africa Adopted Jimmie Rodgers.
TV - Sinclair, ABC Light AOC On Fire.
POLITICS - SCOTUS's Border Wall Fiasco.
SPORTS - Black Athletes' Underused Trump Card.

BOOKS - The Hidden Places Of World War 2.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Wisconsin Is America's Goatland.

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