In which Ward Room imagines what would happen if former Mayor Richard M. Daley were Oprah Winfrey’s last guest on "The Oprah Show."
The clock was ticking down to the last 10 minutes of Oprah Winfrey’s final show, and the United Center crowd was expecting her biggest guest ever. Maybe Barack Obama would jog out of the wings. Maybe Tom Cruise would hurdle a Walter E. Smithe leather sectional. Maybe Elizabeth Taylor would return from the dead to reunite with her two surviving husbands.
“In the 25 years I’ve been doing this show, there’s only been one person in Chicago who’s been as powerful as me,” Oprah said, as the Apollo Chorus sang “Sweet Home Chicago” behind her.
The crowd murmured. If there was another public figure as powerful as Oprah, then why had they spent the last quarter-century reading the books she told them to read, losing weight on the diets she recommended, empowering themselves the way she told them to empower?
“Almost as powerful,” Oprah corrected herself. “Almost. Here’s a guest we’ve never had on this show before. We both got our start in the ’80s, and we’re both finishing this month … the former mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley.”
All 20,000 women in the United Center were united in their silence as Daley came onstage, sweaty and rubicund under the lights. He shook Oprah’s hand stiffly, and sat down on the edge of his chair.
“Do I still have to call you Mayor Daley?” Oprah asked.
“You never did call me Mayor Daley,” he said.
“True, true. We’ve always been Oprah and Richie to each other.”
Daley held up a framed proclamation.
“Oprah,” he said, “this is something we passed at my last City Council. Let me read it to you. Whereas, after growing up in Mississippi and Milwaukee, and working in Memphis and Baltimore, Oprah Winfrey arrived in Chicago in 1983 to host a television show, and as soon as she took the show national, got rid of the name A.M. Chicago; and whereas, Oprah Winfrey inspired millions to get fit by running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., even though the Chicago Marathon was the same month; and whereas, Oprah’s Book Club has created a new audience for quality fiction, despite the fact that Oprah has never chosen a Chicago author; and whereas, Oprah Winfrey has maintained a residence in Water Tower Place, where she slept when she wasn’t at her farm in Indiana or her California estate; and whereas, despite voting in Chicago for 25 years, Oprah never endorsed a political candidate until she fell in love with Barack Obama; we, the members of the Chicago City Council declare Oprah Winfrey an honorary Chicagoan.”
Then Daley handed Oprah the proclamation, telling her, “You can hang it in your condo on Michigan Avenue.”
“Honey,” she said, “I am putting that place up for sale as soon as I get off this stage. I only lived here because it was the cheapest place to fly all the middle American sad sacks I tried to shape up on this show. From now on, I am L.A. all the way, baby.”
“Good luck out there. You’ll be back. Just like Rahm.”
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!