Michael Scott was a political operative wonder.
The ultimate dealmaker. He was everybody's friend, well liked, connected and committed. He negotiated, and he was solution-oriented. He was the essence of a homegrown Chicago guy. He never held elected office but was the consummate politician. He was an empowerer. Mike was the go-to guy, the problem solver, and he brought resolve to situations. He knew the brother on the corner, the priest, the media, the politician, the community organizer and the corporate executive. He made it happen. He was world class. He was debonair and dashing, always looking as if he just emerged from the pages of GQ.
There is no replacing Michael.
Monday, Nov. 16, the day Michael died, was one of the worst days in my entire life.
At best, I was robotic as I talked to mutual friends throughout the day, trying to figure out what the hell happened. We are all bewildered and stunned. I went to the murder site and nothing adds up.
Michael supported Mayor Daley in the three-way race with Harold Washington and Jane Byrne. Michael was the deputy campaign manager for the Daley campaign. He was loyal. When Harold's campaign took off and the black community united behind him as the candidate, Bill Berry called me to say that we should bring Michael over to Harold's campaign -- get him on our side.
Michael listened patiently as we made our case, and he finally said, "I gave Daley my word."
This is the perfect example of his integrity.
I told him, "We are going to win, Michael. You are on the wrong side of history."
He repeated, "I gave my word."
"Michael, the South Side is going to kick your West Side ass."
"I gave my word, Hermene," he said.
He told hordes of people that same story. I respected him for his decision.
I met Michael through my cousin, Diana Glynn, who interacted with him on a number of West Side activities. Cecil Butler mentored them both. I had just gotten married and Diane brought Michael to visit. I wasn't the best cook and Michael told me married women had to be able to cook. Both of our families came from New Orleans, and we compared notes, as I cooked red beans and rice, a New Orleans culinary staple. We talked from the afternoon to the wee hours of the next morning listening to jazz favorites. We talked about everything. Dreams, career, family roots and the like. The red beans and rice turned out all right, and we had our sessions for the next three decades, without agenda, with me always cooking red beans and rice or gumbo.
The 2005 N'DIGO Foundation Gala, chaired by Barack and Michelle Obama, honored Mike with the N'Education Award for service; he stood alongside Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Muhammad Ali in Millennium Park. It was a memorable evening, and Mike and his beautiful wife, Diana, had a ball.
Mike had a double-tracked career, always serving on multiple boards, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, Metropolitan Pier and YMCA among them. That year, we gave a scholarship in his name sponsored by the Better Boys Foundation. The condition was to find a young man from the West Side. It was the Better Boys Foundation that sent him to college.
He was an extraordinary leader. He had a gift of bringing people together. He was truly Chicago's diplomat. Public service was his love but an unpaid one where he never made money but helped so many from contracts to contacts to further their careers and/or businesses. He brought many people into public service and was a serious mentor.
Years ago, someone broke into Michael's home, and he caught them in the process. He ran after the burglar, and as a result was shot in the stomach. My cousin called to say Michael had been shot. It was touch and go for a while, and Michael came out of that experience with more resolve to build the West Side and not to leave. He met that commitment in full force from education, housing, to institution building and politics. He was determined and committed to building the West Side.
I called to check on him once in a casual conversation, and he had just been appointed to the presidency of the school board. He told me he went across the street to the school and picked up the debris every morning before he left for work. I asked why he didn't let the custodians do that. He said, "If the neighborhood and the staff see me picking up the garbage, they'll get the point. And the benefit is the people in the neighborhood will clean up."
Michael believed in hands-on leadership.
When Barack won the presidency, Michael and many others were concerned that many would be left out of the inaugural parties. We wanted our own ball. Michael, as usual, took the lead. He was registering the Chicago delegation in a White House official capacity. Michael called to give me my assignment. I took it and went to work. We, however, did not get the response we should have. The effort was over.
The Tribune recently wrote a detailed story on Michael revealing the investigation of activities of the public school system. I thought the indictment was bogus. When did it become a crime to help a child go to school? Something else is behind that investigation. The next long story was on his land deal on the West Side with ministers on development that might have prospered had Chicago been chosen as the host city for the 2016 Olympics. Michael had been buying land and developing the West Side for as long as he was able. Why the focus on Michael, now?
It is what I have come to call the 'black man attack' story. I wanted to interview him to tell his side of the story from his viewpoint. He said he had nothing to hide and welcomed the investigation. I told him it was time for some red beans and rice, he chuckled and said, "You think you can cook now?!"
We may never know what really happened to Michael.
Times are challenging now and you never really know what's going on with people. But Michael's character, in every way, was contrary to suicide. He loved life and living well. He was upbeat. In his last week of life, he quietly and in an unassuming way went out to Altgeld Gardens and rode the bus with the students, seeking to solve their problems, even finding new schools to transfer them to. On that fateful Monday morning that he died, Michael was prepared for a community coalition meeting with Dr. Leon Finney that evening. He was troubled about the senseless murders and thought it was necessary that we come together for a unified effort.
Michael's death reads like a gangster mob sending a message hit. A shot in the head in the gutter of the city where the rats play was not his style. If Michael was troubled, he didn't indicate it. He was too resourceful and too vivacious to put a bullet in his head. He recognized life as precious.
He was a great public servant who gave tirelessly to the city he loved, his people and community. His legacy is unmatched. He enjoyed challenges. He was beautiful. We will miss his touch, presence, comfort, laughter and leadership. And if he did kill himself, we, his friends, failed him by not being there because he was always there for us. Chicago is a better place because of Mr. Michael Scott, and we owe him a debt of gratitude.
Around the holiday of Thanksgiving, I am reminded to be thankful for his life.