My first tangle with City Hall took place after the Beatles concert. I got a call from Col. Jack Reilly, who was Daley’s special events director, jack of all trades, the guy who made the river turn green on St. Patrick’s day. For the City Hall milieu, he was very sophisticated. He was married to a ballet dancer. The “Colonel” part was for real, I understood; he may have served with the CIA. He was a very smart hatchet man. He called and wanted to have lunch with me, and he showed me this leaflet that the city had put out. It practically directed City Hall employees to go out to Arlington Racetrack. And since Arlington Racetrack was outside the city, there was very little justification why the city’s ofhce of special events should be instructing city employees to go out to Arlington.
Marge Evert had somehow gotten control of the track from her brothers and sisters. She was the adopted daughter of Ben Lindheimer, who had founded Washington and Arlington racetracks and was the committeeman in the 5th ward. I already knew something of her reputation: she was considered a piranha. I also knew she was represented by the mayor‘s law firm. I went out there and had lunch with her, and she was at her charming best, which was not saying much. Between the time we left for lunch at the hotel (which the track owned at the time) and arrived, she fired one elevator operator, a young girl. I remember the lunch because she inquired about my wife and children, and insisted on ordering four pastries from her bakery for my three kids and my wife.
But she was trying to ingratiate herself with me, and suggesting that Arlington Park would be a great venue. And to the extent that any racetrack could be a good place for concerts, Arlington Park was. It was located in the suburbs. Certainly for square, middle of the road acts it would have been perfect. The problem was, a racetrack is a racetrack and you can’t make it into an outdoor concert hall overnight. But I thought it was worth a shot.
I talked to Herb Alpert’s people and they agreed to do it. And we set up the stage on the track and we were in business.
It never got better. We made a deal and I kept writing her confirming the deal, because I had some idea of who I was dealing with. I had lunch with her a second time to confirm things and this time I only got one sweet roll for Francoise. That should have let me know what was coming.
About five days before the event I got a contract that directly contradicted everything we’d talked about, and contradicted my letters. I called her lawyer up and he in essence said, there’s nothing I can do, sue if you want… sue the City of Chicago, that is. So we just went ahead with it. I remember we did $72,000. Alpert did fine. I lost $3000, which to me was like making $50, because it could have been much worse. I figured it was just a lesson to get the hell out.