By Chris Fusco
The Chicago Sun-Times
MARY K. PODESTA 1918-2007
The daughter of Greek immigrants, Mary K. Podesta knew how to cook a mean
spanakopita. She married an Italian, so she knew her pastas and sauces, too.
But besides knowing food, Mrs. Podesta knew politics. She paid attention to
the news, was a poll-watcher on election days in Chicago and raised two
politically active sons — one of whom grew up to become President Bill
Clintons chief of staff.
So its no surprise that once Mrs. Podesta moved to Washington, D.C., to be
closer to her sons, she took to cooking at political fund-raisers. What is
surprising is how she became a celebrity of sorts, wowing people not only
with her meatballs but her wit.
Mrs. Podesta, known to many of the nations Democratic elite as Mama
Podesta, died Friday in Washington from chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease. She was 88.
She had two sons, but she adopted another 25 people during the time she
came to Washington, said her older son, Tony Podesta, a Washington public
She had two lives. She was a wife and mother in Chicago, but then she came
to Washington and became friends with presidents and senators who always
enjoyed her wit and willingness to say anything to anybody.
Born Mary Kokoris, Mrs. Podesta graduated from Von Steuben High School and
got to know her husband, John D. Podesta, because she worked in her fathers
Greek restaurant and he was a customer.
Mr. Podesta died in 1980, and Mrs. Podesta moved to Washington in 1987.
While in Chicago, she worked for Bankers Life and Casualty Co. and became an
astute political observer, her sons recalled.
Who was running the country mattered to her, said her younger son, John
Podesta, Clintons chief of staff from 1998 to 2001. At the end of the day,
that probably influenced me.
A 2004 Associated Press profile noted that her home cooking has raised
millions of dollars for Democrats and benefitted a whos who of candidates.
Among them are Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the current minority
leader; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of
The Clintons spoke with her in her final months. We are deeply saddened by
Marys passing and our thoughts are with John, Tony, and her entire family,
they said in a statement. She had a great spark and leaves behind an
Other survivors include her sister, Evelyn Carres.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Montclair-Lucania Funeral
home, 6901 W. Belmont. Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at