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Emanuel in political no-win situation with top-cop pick

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel signaled Thursday that he will make a quick decision on Chicago’s next police superintendent with all signs pointing to Cedric Alexander, the African-American public safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta.

“The people of Chicago are eager to have a superintendent and their leadership team in place so we can move forward reducing gun violence and gang violence,” the mayor said.

Last month, the Sun-Times reported Alexander was a front-runner for the $260,044-a-year vacancy created Dec. 1 when Emanuel fired Supt. Garry McCarthy to quell furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

This week, the Sun-Times first reported the finalists are Alexander, Anne Kirkpatrick, retired police chief of Spokane, Washington, and Eugene Williams, a Chicago Police deputy superintendent.

No matter what he does, Emanuel is in a no-win situation politically. Black aldermen are rallying behind Williams. Meanwhile, the Hispanic caucus is demanding that Interim Supt. John Escalante be handed the permanent job even though he didn’t make the final cut. If Emanuel chooses an outsider, he risks alienating both groups.

On Thursday, black aldermen touted Williams and warned of an exodus of police talent if Emanuel chooses a third-straight outsider.

MORE: Details on the backgrounds of the three candidates vying to become the next police superintendent

“After two-straight outsiders, the only change is the resentment from the troops because of outside leadership,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20st).

Last fall, black aldermen demanded Emanuel fire McCarthy. One reason: he replaced retiring First Deputy Police Supt. Al Wysinger, who is black, with Escalante, who is Hispanic.

Black aldermen view the low-key Williams as the anti-McCarthy. They trust him and have faith he will return their phone calls. Still, City Hall sources expect Emanuel to choose the charismatic Alexander or no one from the list of finalists.

If African-American aldermen are looking for an anti-McCarthy, they might find it when they get to know Alexander, said Lori Lightfoot, president of the Police Board.

“He is a different kind of person than what we’ve seen in the police department in quite a long time,” she said. “He can talk the language of policing. But he can also talk the language of community.”

Alexander is known nationally for his role as a part-time commentator on CNN. His stint as a practicing clinical psychologist will help him rebuild public trust shattered by the McDonald video, supporters say.

Asked about Alexander being an outsider, Emanuel pointed to Bill Bratton, a popular police chief in New York and Los Angeles. “It doesn’t mean it’s an automatic given” the rank-and-file won’t accept an outsider, the mayor said.

Late Thursday, the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to Emanuel demanding he appoint Escalante to the permanent job even though he didn’t make the final cut. The aldermen plan to hold a news conference Friday to turn up the heat on the mayor.

“Interim Supt. Escalante has worked quickly in four short months to repair police and community relations. Every single member of the Latino Caucus has witnessed this first-hand,” the letter states.

Lightfoot declined to comment on why Escalante did not finish in the top three. “We should all be grateful to John. I can only imagine the daily sacrifices he has to make.”

In an email to officers Thursday, Escalante vowed to help with the transition to a new superintendent, adding: “Since last year, the department has felt effects of a challenging climate for law enforcement across the nation.

“We have faced this climate head-on and responded with numerous policy reforms that aim to increase the effectiveness of our crime reduction strategies while also protecting the rights of police officers and the civil liberties of citizens we serve.”

Law enforcement experts across the country have been closely watching the search for a Chicago police superintendent.

“I would ask myself, which one [of the finalists] can meet the challenges Chicago faces — homicides, use of force, a pending Department of Justice investigation, labor issues and a political environment that is very charged,” said Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank in Washington.