Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday that the terrorist attacks that left at least 34 people dead and more than 190 injured in Brussels add a new wrinkle to his choice of Chicago’s new police superintendent.
Front-runner Cedric Alexander, the clinical psychologist-turned-public safety director in DeKalb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta, spent six years as security director for the Transportation Security Administration at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
He rode herd over 1,100 employees and executed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s vision and strategy at the third-busiest airport in the world.
On Tuesday, Emanuel was asked whether Alexander’s experience in combating terrorism becomes more important in the wake of the coordinated terrorist attacks at Brussels’ Zaventem Airport and a metro station there.
“My No. 1 concern is reducing gun violence in the city. But there’s no doubt as you look at Paris, you look at Brussels, you look at San Bernardino, we have a new world,” the mayor said.
“We’re fortunate in Chicago. We’ve made investments in OEMC and we do table-top exercises all the time planning and preparing, God forbid, for incidents,” he said.
Emanuel emphasized that there is “no credible threat” to Chicago. But he said the Chicago Police Department has increased its security presence at O’Hare and Midway Airports and at other mass transit hubs because that is “essential at a moment like this.”
“I talked to my daughter Ilana. That was the airport we flew out of when we came back this summer from our bike trip” together, the mayor said of Zaventem Airport.
He said he talked to the consul general of Belgium after the morning rush-hour attacks and assured him that Chicagoans “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Belgium and remind them that they’re not alone in this moment.”
As for the search for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s replacement, the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Emanuel spent part of last weekend meeting with the three finalists amid reports that Alexander got glowing recommendations from two key sources: former Philadelphia Police chief Charles Ramsey and former Chicago Superintendent Terry Hillard.
The meetings with all three finalists took place in Chicago. In addition to Alexander, they are: 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.
After laying out his second-term agenda for Chicago parks, Emanuel was asked how those one-on-one meetings went.
“They’ve been good meetings. A fresh and frank exchange of ideas about community policing, reducing violence, building a spirit of cooperation that’s essential for public safety,” he said.
Last week, Emanuel signaled his intention to make a quick decision on the new top cop. He argued that Chicagoans are “eager to have a superintendent and their leadership team in place so we can move forward reducing gun violence and gang violence” and the Police Department is “eager to get going.”
Asked Tuesday whether he’s zeroing in on a selection, Emanuel ignored the question.
That gives the mayor’s staunchest City Council supporter in the African-American community hope that she can still persuade Emanuel to pick Williams, the only insider among the three finalists.
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said she knows and trusts Williams and is not about to give her trust to another outsider after the nearly five-year regime of outsider Garry McCarthy.
“He came in tearing up the house before he got a chance to look at the house. He changed too much too quickly. There were things that were working that he didn’t allow to work because, `I don’t like it,’ ” Austin told reporters before the mayor’s speech at Hamilton Park Fieldhouse, 513 W. 72nd St.
“S.O.S. [Special Operations Sections]. You dismantled that. Community policing. You dismantled that. Those things were working quite well but you dismantled them,” she said. “And the more and more we tried to tell him, `Leave them in place or put them back in place,’ he didn’t want to hear that.”
She added, “I gave my support to an individual that I didn’t know. I gave [my] belief to Garry. I’m not going to issue it out that easy any more. Not when I know there’s a qualified person in house. . . . Gene would be the very best one to be able to focus on the city that he lives in and has lived in.”
Asked about Alexander, Austin snapped, “I don’t know him. . . . You’re saying that because he has a background in psychology, that’s going to trump street credit? No. Not for me. He ain’t got street credit in Chicago. Nope. He may have it somewhere else. Gene Williams has street credit in Chicago. . . . And I know he’s not a yes man.”