As Outfit killer Nick Calabrese was testifying Wednesday about murders, about the killings of gangsters Tony and Michael Spilotro, about Tony asking to say a prayer before dying and about holy pictures burning in Nick's cupped hands during an Outfit "making" ceremony, someone else was burning, too.
The mayor of Chicago was burning. Not literally. It was more like fuming. He was upset with reporters daring to ask questions about his friend, campaign donor, fashionista, multimillionaire city contractor and neighborhood guy Fred Barbara."I think it's ridiculous," Daley said. "That's all I gotta say."
They asked Daley about Calabrese's testimony from the day before, from the federal witness stand in the Operation Family Secrets trial. Calabrese testified that Fred Barbara went on a bombing run with Chinatown crew boss Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra in Elmwood Park in the early 1980s.
Barbara was not charged with a crime. But the Calabrese testimony resurrects old questions about Barbara's relationship with the mayor and the mayor's political brain, Tim Degnan, who has been heating up all on his own over the controversial Bridgeport Village development run by another Bridgeport heavyweight, developer Tommy DiPiazza.
We called Barbara yesterday, and I'm still waiting for him to call me back and have a sit-down interview at Tavern on Rush or Stefani's. Dinner's on me, Fred.
In the meantime, it was nice to know that print reporters ask questions. The 30-second mayoral fumefest was as hot as a Chinatown wok frying up some veal cutlets.
Fran Spielman: It doesn't jibe with the Freddie Barbara, you know?
Daley: I said it's ridiculous. Just another headline you provide. Any other questions?
Gary Washburn: Mayor, this came out in federal court, though, in testimony, do you discount the possibility that it is true?
Daley: But I said, it's ridiculous to basicky [sic] place me in that position. That's how you do it, so I understand that. Any other questions?
Fran: Isn't he a friend of yours?
Daley: Any other questions?
Radio reporter in the back of the room: Is Barbara a mobster?
Daley: Any other questions?
Fran: But what is your relationship?
Daley: I said [voice raising] any other questions?
He never answered, but at least they asked. That's how you get an education. By asking.
Daley is the green mayor, growing grass on rooftops, adding bike lanes, praised by artists and designers. But when he needed political cash for a last-minute election push for his aldermanic candidates a few months ago, who came running? Al Gore? Michael Moore? Lord Wedgwood?
No, it was Fred Barbara and Tommy DiPiazza and Tim Degnan who forked over the emergency cash. Barbara sent in almost $30,000.
Daley isn't the first mayor to know guys who know guys. What Calabrese's testimony shows -- except to those who have eyes but don't wish to see -- is that the connections between organized crime and their servants in the police and politics is a Chicago thing. It didn't end when Paul "The Waiter" Ricca allowed Hollywood to spin the Outfit bedtime story that Capone was the boss around here, not Ricca.
Yet back in 1983, when he was campaigning for the job of mayor, then Cook County State's Atty. Richard Daley was cast as the law-and-order reform candidate, while incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne was tagged as the Outfit's den mother.
Daley did something amazing. He indicted the Outfit's Tony Spilotro for the executions of two maniac street thugs who committed other torture murders. The indictment came a few days after the sensational Outfit slaying of Teamster boss Allen Dorfman (played by Alan King in "Casino") in a hotel parking lot.
"Allen Dorfman's killing clearly shows that organized crime is still very active in Chicago," State's Atty. Daley said.
Daley's prosecution of Spilotro was doomed. Judge Thomas Maloney tossed out the case for lack of evidence. In 1994, Maloney was sentenced to federal prison for taking bribes for fixing three murder trials. He wasn't convicted of playing games in the Spilotro case, though there are suspicions.
Eventually, the Spilotro brothers, Tony and Mike, found their way to a basement in Bensenville, where Michael thought he was going to have his own Outfit-making ceremony. On Wednesday, Nick Calabrese testified that once Michael entered the room, Calabrese tackled him and Outfit leaders began beating him to death.
Tony figured things out on the way downstairs, and asked, "Can I say a prayer?"
With Nick still talking, and with more to come, you've got to figure that there are a few guys in Chicago saying the same thing right about now.