Former Mayor Richard M. Daley had only his usual, blunt words for city employees who didn’t think they should have to live in Chicago.
“If I’m mayor, should I live in Waukegan?” Daley once said of the city’s residency requirement. “If it’s good enough to work and earn your salary, it’s good enough to live.”
Chicago Police Officer Kevin Graham — who’s forced a runoff election for president of the city’s largest employee union — has a different view, one that’s shared by many fellow cops and other city workers.
“Whether you’re employed by the city or a private citizen, you should be allowed to live wherever you want,” Graham says.
Graham says he fully realizes that’s an especially “interesting position” for him to take — given questions about his own adherence to the rule.
My Chicago Sun-Times colleagues found Graham and his wife own a house they bought for $617,000 nearly four years ago in Lincolnshire. The Grahams receive a homestead exemption on their big property tax bill from Lake County. And Graham’s name is on the water bill for the north suburban house, records show.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether Graham wants to rescind the residency rule as a sort of amnesty for himself.
Not so, he says. His wife lives in the four-bedroom house with the in-ground pool in Lake County, Graham told me. He says he puts his head down each night in a condo in Lakeview, which he’s been renting from his sister for about a year.
Breaking the residency rule has led to dire consequences for quite a few members of Chicago’s police force and other public employees.
Two top aides to Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool were forced to quit recently over residency questions.
Records show 63 cops have resigned because of complaints about residency since 1981. Another five officers were fired, with 23 more suspended and four reprimanded.
This FOP election — pitting Graham against incumbent President Dean Angelo — is an especially important one. After the release of the Laquan McDonald video and other police brutality scandals, critics say the FOP has been too resistant to accountability for cops who misbehave.
Graham says the union hasn’t held tough enough.
“The public wants to focus on one or two incidents,” he says. “That’s not fair to lump everybody together. If we did that, we’d be called being biased.”
Having all officers wear body cameras, Graham says, is “silly” and “a waste of money.”
If they have to do that, cops should be allowed to take home a flash drive with all the data the cameras recorded during their shifts, he says. That way, Graham says, whenever an unflattering snippet makes its way into the media, the flash drive could be downloaded onto the FOP’s website to provide full context.
Such talk surely appeals to the cops he’s trying to win over in the runoff. But Graham acknowledges the residency issue is divisive even among cops.
Some longtime public employees have built up equity in city homes and would fear a drop in property values in the absence of the residency requirement.
Graham staunchly defends his own family’s big investment in the suburbs.
“I look at that house in Lincolnshire no different than a cabin in Wisconsin,” he says.