Life after Lois | Lois Weisberg

Assessing the legacy of the city’s former culture queen, Lois Weisberg.

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  • Photograph: Dave Rentauskas

Photograph: Dave Rentauskas

An extraordinary partnership is dead. The woman who was the mayor’s longest-standing lieutenant, Lois Weisberg, left abruptly in January after Mayor Richard M. Daley merged the Department of Cultural Affairs, which she headed for two decades, with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. Weisberg is, if anything, more angry and hurt than she was when she resigned.


“I’m very disappointed. I feel the department won’t survive. I don’t think the things I did will survive,” Weisberg says in a phone conversation from New York. But although the former Mayor’s Office of Special Events, which is known more for broad-appeal events such as Taste of Chicago than it is for, say, programming highbrow concerts in Millennium Park, has gained ground in the merger compared to Cultural Affairs, her legacy won’t be easily undone.


To dispute Weisberg’s analysis is not to diminish her hurt or sense of ingratitude after serving Daley for 22 years, longer than any cabinet member, as head of the arts innovation machine called the Department of Cultural Affairs.


Daley has not called Weisberg since she stormed out in January with a pointed declaration about City Hall meddling. His wife, Maggie, with whom Weisberg had a friendly working relationship, did phone. “We didn’t discuss my departure,” Weisberg says. 


Mayor Daley told me at the opening of an Uptown senior citizens residence that he still admires her work. “She’s been wonderful. I know her personally,” he said.


During her long city tenure, Weisberg became an embodiment of a particularly effective sort of cultural species. In a famous 1999 New Yorker profile, “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” Malcolm Gladwell described her as a rare type who seems to know absolutely everybody and how to bring them together. A connector.


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