"Oh, it was the best thing I ever did in my life."
"No apologies. The people own the lakefront. The Burnham Plan proved that. It doesn't belong to a few. That's going to be a nature center, going to be a venue for music, concerts. No other city has something like that in the world."
As for assertions that he left the city in financial disarray?
"No. It wasn't in financial disarray. There's issues with federal government disarray. Almost financial collapse of the federal government, state, housing markets. In 1989 (the year he became mayor), we had fiscal problems. You deal with fiscal problems. They come, and they go."
As Daley critics are quick to point out, some problems that arrived during his tenure — issues with city pension funding or with the privatization of parking meters — have yet to go.
Another shadow that hangs over his time as mayor is the pending trial of a nephew charged only recently with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a young man after a brawl in 2004.
"I have no comment on that. Never comment on it."
Talk to Daley for a while, and you'll hear certain words over and over: Discipline. China. Children. Personal. Enjoy.
Discipline: He learned it from his father, the first Mayor Daley. The discipline to keep your personal life out of the public eye. The discipline to keep certain opinions to yourself.
China: He just spent a couple of weeks there consulting with business leaders. When Katten opened a China office, his stature as Chicago's former mayor enabled him to arrange meetings with the mayors of Shanghai and Beijing. He's dedicated to the idea that the future of Chicago is tied to China, India, Russia, the sprawling world.
Children: He recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Financial Times asking why the United States violates the human rights of children for the sake of the gun industry.
Personal: Of the topics he deems too personal to discuss in public, one is religion, except to say he goes to church.
"I don't get into religion because I think everybody has the same moral values. My dad has always taught me that. Never look down upon anybody's religious beliefs, nonbeliefs. It's a big world. It's all personal."
Enjoy: He enjoys work.
He enjoys walking and does it a lot since he doesn't drive. (A cab or a personal van shuttles him around when he's not on foot.)
He enjoys going to the grocery store, something he didn't do as mayor.
He enjoys having strangers recognize him when he's out, enjoys it when they stop to talk.
He enjoys his new iPad, sort of, and has learned to surf the Internet and send the occasional short email — activities he didn't engage in as mayor.
He enjoys reading — so did his mother, he notes — mysteries and history, magazines. He still clips interesting articles, about a good restaurant or an urban innovation, and sends them to close friends. His favorite newspaper is the Financial Times. He says he doesn't read the local papers and never has, though he adds, "I have respect for all the journalists here."