John Lott: My Scary Encounter With Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley

by John Lott

Chicago-style politics is infamous for kickbacks, dead people voting, and thuggery. Alas, it is not just a relic of the past. In fact, witness recent stories of Chicago city workers being hired or promoted based on how well they got voters to the polls and not how well they did their official jobs, children getting admitted to prestigious city schools based on political connections, and the granting of city contracts.

Unfortunately, I know first hand more than I would like about Chicago politics. A decade ago, I was working at the University of Chicago Law School as an Olin Fellow, doing research and some teaching, when I happened to cross paths with Mayor Richard Daley. As he is now about to retire from office, it is time for the facts to come out.

As the author of the book "More Guns, Less Crime" and someone living and working on Daley's home turf in Chicago, I was not one of his favorite people.

Daley has long been one of the nation's strongest gun control proponents, and his behavior has sometimes bordered on the irrational.

This past spring he attacked a reporter who asked: "since guns are readily available in Chicago even with a ban in place, do you really think it’s been effective?" Daley shouted in front of stunned reporters: “Oh, it's been very effective. If I put this up your butt, you’ll find out how effective it is.”

The University of Chicago is one of the nation's top private universities, and, despite its name, it does not have any formal links with the city of Chicago or any other government entity. Yet, one day, I was suddenly faced with immediate removal from my position at the university. What had happened?

On December 15, 1998, I learned from Dan Fischel, the law school's Dean, that Mayor Daley had called up the president of the University of Chicago, Hugo Sonnenschein. Mayor Daley reportedly had told Sonnenschein that he had great plans for the relationship between the city and the school but that my continued presence at the university was going to do “irreparable harm” to that relationship.

I was then faced with two different termination options: immediately resign from the university or stay until July and promise not to talk to the press any more while I was there.

What had I done? On December 10, 1998, Daley had organized a conference with four other mayors to discuss suing the gun makers. Because of my book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” which argued that Daley’s gun laws did more harm than good, reporters from the local CBS and Fox stations who were already at the conference asked me to meet them to talk about the lawsuits.

I had originally planned to arrive after the mayors had made their presentations, but when I arrived, the mayors were behind schedule. I met then CBS reporter Mike Flannery outside the auditorium where the mayors' presentation was about to take place, and he suggested that I attend the meeting so that I could better answer any questions that he might have. Mayor Daley went first and then other mayors made statements.

When the audience started yelling questions, I raised my hand in an attempt to get called on. At that point a woman walked over to me and asked me if I was John Lott from the University of Chicago. I said that I was, and she informed me that I was not allowed to ask any questions -- no additional explanation was offered.

This appeared awfully strange, and it bothered me that someone would be singled out in the entire crowd. So after about 10 minutes, I decided to raise my hand again to ask a question. The same woman reappeared, this time signaling to two plainclothes men to come up behind me where I was seated. The woman stated that only the press were allowed to ask questions and that I would have to leave. While she was speaking to me, one of the men gave me a couple of solid hits in my back and then pushed me hard on my shoulder, almost knocking me out of my chair. I told her that I wasn't leaving, but that I wouldn't raise my hand again.

Some in the audience noticed. A reporter from the Baltimore Sun (Joe Mathews) had been seated next to me and gave me his card, stating that he thought the whole thing looked surprising.

After the Mayors’ presentation, Mike Flannery suggested that it would be better to do the interview outside. However, after the interview, I still needed to contact the reporter from the local Fox station so I tried re-entering the building to use a pay phone. One of the men who had come up behind me earlier in the auditorium was at the door and said that I was not allowed to enter and that I had "lied" to get in to begin with. He claimed that I had lied about being a member of the press to get in. He also told me that I was not a real university professor and that in my public criticism of Mayor Daley's gun policies I was abusing the University of Chicago's name and using it for my own political purposes.

I told him that I would like to reenter to make a telephone call and that I had not lied to get in -- I told him that he could check the log book and see that I signed in as being with the University of Chicago. At this time the female guard locked the door into the facility and said to the plainclothes man that it was now impossible for me to enter. The man appeared to have no interest in checking the log and told me to leave or he was going to call the police.

All of this was quite unsettling, but still I had no inkling of what was yet to come.

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