Daley grilled about charity flights

March 11, 2009 4:56:38 AM PDT
The vacation is over for Mayor Richard Daley. He returned to work Tuesday. The mayor faced some tough questions from reporters about several controversial trips with his wife and the trial of his former lieutenant, Al Sanchez.

Mayor Daley spent about 35 minutes in the same room with reporters Tuesday morning. But most of that time, about 25 minutes, he stayed on topic and away from two controversial issues that made news during his vacation.

With South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in tow, the mayor faced the Chicago media for the first time in two weeks. The news conference topic was a Daley favorite: his long-running crusade to end easy access to guns and the epidemic of related violence.

"We ended smoking. Don't they want to end gun violence?" said Mayor Daley.

"Access to guns is just wide open," Tutu said.

But reporters also wanted to know what the mayor thought about recent testimony in the federal corruption trial of Daley's former Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez. Sanchez, a one-time operative in the now defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, is accused of rigging city hiring to favor pro-Daley political workers.

"Let the trial go on. He's in the trial. We cannot comment on an impending trial," Daley said.

Then there were questions about a published report that the mayor and his wife Maggie had taken dozens of flights on a jet owned by an education foundation for which Mrs. Daley consulted. That is now under investigation by the feds.

Daley, with his spokeswoman nearby, said there were nowhere near dozens of flights.

"I just--once or twice, we pointed that out and you'll get all the facts on that," said the mayor.

But what about the flight records cited in the reports?

"No, I was just on one...I don't have all the facts," Daley said.

Then Tutu scolded reporters for questioning the mayor who Tutu actually met during one of the controversial trips.

"Here is an organization that is actually seeking to do an outstanding job with young people," said Tutu.

"In Chicago, the press has to find always finding negative things. SO that's how it is," said Mayor Daley.

Then the archbishop, apparently half-joking, absolved the naughty Chicago newsies.

"I will absolve you completely and make you holy," Tutu said.

The bottom line remains that it is still unclear exactly how many trips the mayor and his wife may have taken on that private jet, or the mayor's response to the latest allegations of illegal patronage hiring by his administration.