Hispanic aldermen irate Escalante not finalist for top cop job

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Interim Chicago Police Supt. John Escalante | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was urged Friday to reject all three finalists for police superintendent and order the Police Board to conduct a second search that produces a list that includes a Hispanic, preferably Interim Superintendent John Escalante.

The City Council’s Hispanic Caucus is furious that Escalante, who has been holding down the fort since Dec. 1, when Emanuel fired his only Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, did not make the final cut.

They see it as part of an insulting pattern that was repeated at the Chicago Public Schools when Jesse Ruiz temporarily stepped in for Barbara Byrd-Bennett after the contracting scandal, only to lose his job as school board president. Ruiz was named park board president as a consolation prize.

As first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, two black men and one white woman will vie for the right to replace McCarthy.

The three finalists are Cedric Alexander, the African-American public safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia outside Atlanta; Anne Kirkpatrick, retired police chief of Spokane, Washington, and Eugene Williams, a deputy police superintendent who oversees the Bureau of Support Services that serves as the administrative backbone of the Chicago Police Department.

Alexander is the overwhelming favorite, sources said.

“We’re tired of Latinos being used for interims. They are very entitled to be the leaders,” said Ald. Millie Santiago (31st).

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, argued that Escalante has done a “phenomenal” job after being thrown into a “hot mess” after release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Cardenas acknowledged the escalating gang violence that has Chicago on pace to top 600 homicides and 6,000 shootings in 2016. But he argued that it’s not Escalante’s fault. It’s more about the continuing fall-out from the McDonald video and the time-consuming but recently revised forms that must be filled out by officers after they stop people.

Ald. Millie Santiago (31st), Danny Solis (25th) and George Cardenas (12th) talk before a City Hall news conference Friday. | Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Ald. Millie Santiago (31st), Danny Solis (25th) and George Cardenas (12th) talk before a City Hall news conference Friday. | Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

If he feels so strongly about Escalante, Cardenas was asked why he did not make his feelings known before the Police Board made its choice.

“You want to make it an independent body that makes the right decision. After they make that decision, you can criticize it. Otherwise, you politicize the process,” Cardenas said.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot could not be reached for comment about the Hispanic Caucus’ demands.Earlier this week, she refused to explain the surprise decision to bypass Escalante.

Other sources said the Police Board viewed Escalante as “reactive — not pro-active” during his on-the-job audition. During an unimpressive interview with the Police Board, sources said Escalante failed to articulate a vision, either to reduce the outbreak of violence or to rebuild public trust and plummeting police morale.

Escalante has responded to the snub by saying his ultimate goal is to remain as first deputy superintendent. That’s the job he held before McCarthy was dumped.

If first deputy is good enough for Escalante, why isn’t it good enough for Hispanic aldermen?

“The fact that there’s not one Latino candidate — that is insulting . . . [Emanuel] should respect the position that we’re taking and tell the Police Board that they’ve got to come up with a new list,” said Ald. Danny Solis (25th).

Earlier this week, Lightfoot refused to even entertain the possibility of starting over.

“We have engaged in a very thorough, very thoughtful, very long, detailed process. And we are not doing it again any time soon,” she said then.

Also on Friday, the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus demanded that aldermen be given the opportunity to question all three finalists at a public hearing before Emanuel makes his pick.

Normally, aldermen get to question and confirm the new superintendent, only after the mayor makes his pick. But Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said these are not normal times.

“Two words: `Laquan McDonald.’ I shouldn’t have to say more than that,” Saywer said.

“Public trust in police has been shattered. This type of open process would go a long way toward repairing that trust between citizens and police and, quite frankly, the administration. I would encourage my colleagues [on the Police Committee] to formally request that hearing and quickly, because the mayor’s intention is to make this decision quickly.”

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