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City Council to empower Ferguson to investigate aldermen, Emanuel’s floor leader predicts

Chicago aldermen once dead-set against empowering Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate them will vote next week to do just that over the objections of the City Council’s two most powerful aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader predicted Friday.

The surprise prediction from Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) followed a closed-door City Hall meeting where a final decision was supposed to be made on a replacement for Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) are dead-set against shifting the power to Ferguson. Austin’s son resigned from his job at the Department of Streets and Sanitation after one of Ferguson’s investigations. Burke clashed with Ferguson over the issue of worker’s compensation claims administered by the Finance Committee.

But instead of replacing Khan and lifting the shackles that tied his hands, O’Connor plans to call for a vote on a long-stalled ordinance empowering Ferguson to investigate aldermen and their employees.

Contacted on Friday, O’Connor did not talk about what happened at the closed-door meeting. He would only say that he expects the ordinance that now has support from more than 30 aldermen to be the only one considered at Monday’s meeting of the Committee on Workforce Development that he chairs and approved by the full council on Wednesday.

“This is an issue that, once it begins to roll, it picks up steam. That’s my sense,” O’Connor said, hours after the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus signed on to the plan to abolish the legislative inspector general’s office and shift the power to Ferguson.

“There is no doubt there is a counter-argument being made and an attempt to try to figure out how to prevail on the idea of a legislative IG. I’m just telling you this will pass on Monday. It’s been a very fluid thing. I don’t know if this is the final outcome. I’m just anticipating that, as things move, some things just become kind of inevitable. I’m not sure this is one of them, but it appears to be headed that way.”

Until Friday, it looked like a divided City Council just might be headed for a showdown vote next week over the issues of ethics and oversight.

Some aldermen wanted to find a replacement for Khan, whose tumultuous four-year term ended in November, and lift investigative restrictions that set the LIG up for failure. Others wanted to abolish the IG’s office and shift the power to Ferguson.

Earlier this week, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) told the Sun-Times she had gathered signatures from 26 aldermen—enough to force a vote on her stalled ordinance shifting the power to Ferguson.

With the Hispanic Caucus signing on, that number is now in the mid-30′s.

In November, Emanuel gave a divided City Council a year-end deadline to find a new inspector general and give Khan’s replacement the power he or she needs to investigate alderman and their employees.

But that was before the furor over the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video weakened Emanuel politically.

Now that the mayor is fighting for his political life, he is in no position to lean on aldermen to do anything.

“The mayor has been very clear from the outset his interest was to make sure oversight was put in place and was legitimate. He was also clear he wasn’t concerned about which form it took—just that it happened. That makes it a more fluid situation. You don’t have a center of gravity drawing people to it,” O’Connor said.

“The ordinance that’s pending is an ordinance that Ald. [Ameya] Pawar and I worked on with the Law Department and Joe Ferguson’s office for quite some time [in 2014]. I’m confident the ordinance will work in the way we anticipated. I’m not sure it will work to everybody’s satisfaction. But it does put in place reasonable oversight. That’s a good thing.”

In November, Khan convinced the FBI to seize and secure his investigative records, then closed his office with parting shots at Emanuel and a City Council that, as Paddy Bauler once famously said, “ain’t ready for reform.”

He charged that the system was “rigged from day one” and that his office was “designed to fail intentionally” by a City Council that doesn’t want “any type of oversight at all.”

Khan argued that the “proper and immediate solution” was to abolish his office and transfer oversight power to Ferguson. He noted that 35 aldermen co-signed that ordinance before the election and that it was time to “hold their feet to the fire.”

Two months later, it now appears that no fire is needed.