"Is this Robert Cooley?"
"That was one of my many, many names," said the man on the phone.
Not a good start. I never watched "The Sopranos," never romanticized the Capone era. It was brutal and bloody. There was something sad about my older colleagues who, you could tell, got a contact high from their association with gangland Chicago, basked in coining nicknames and listing aliases.
And now I've got The Man of A Thousand Faces on the line...
Since most won't remember, a quick refresher: It was Cooley who in 1986 went to the feds and began taping conversations at the Counsellors Row restaurant, an ice pick to the heart of the mobbed-up 1st Ward. This led to the Justice Department`s Operation Gambat, flipping over a rock of extortion, bribery and fixed murder cases.
A reader took issue with my describing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke as "the platinum bar of probity" and shared passages from Cooley's book, "When Corruption Was King," painting the Burkes as, well, if not quite Bonnie & Clyde, then in that direction of the moral spectrum. Active carnivores in the fetid swamp of early 1980s Chicago.
I told Cooley I was all ears.
"These things happened 20, 25 years ago," he began, shaving off a decade. "Eddie Burke and his wife Anne were very good friends of mine."
Based on our conversation, my hunch is they aren't friends any more.
Corruption is like rust. It spreads, both coming and going. When the party's on and the lights are low, lots of people wander into the dim tent to help themselves at the long tables of pie. When the lights are snapped on, those same people are caught standing there with pie on their faces. It's almost comical to see the casting call of mayoral candidates lunging for napkins to smear away Ed Burke's money, or try to. It'll be interesting to see how long that stain lingers around their mouths.
Talking to Cooley, I realized the Ed Burke extortion case will not only send shock waves through the current political scene; it also will crack open the past, and out will crawl denizens of the Mesozoic such as Robert Cooley.
Talking to him was like listening to a record. I would try to direct the conversation, ask questions. That was like lifting the needle. The music stopped. There was a silence. Then the needle was set down again and he'd continue where we left off. Nor was what he was saying a font of fascination.
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