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Police Committee sets hearing to question top cop finalists

Ald. Ariel E. Reboyras (30th) | Sun-Times file photo

The chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee has called a meeting for next Thursday to hear from the three finalists for Chicago police superintendent and from the Police Board that made the selection.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said he’s responding to requests from both the Black and Hispanic Caucuses, whose dueling demands have put Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a political box.

Members of the Black Caucus want an African-American to replace fired Supt. Garry McCarthy, preferably an insider. Black aldermen have threatened to withhold their votes to ratify Chicago’s next police superintendent if they’re not allowed to question the finalists before Emanuel makes his pick.

The Hispanic Caucus has urged the mayor to reject all three finalists and order the Police Board to conduct a second search that produces a list that includes a Hispanic, preferably Interim Superintendent John Escalante.

The Hispanic Caucus is furious that Escalante, who has been holding down the fort since Emanuel fired McCarthy on Dec. 1, did not make the final cut.

They see it as part of an insulting pattern of “using Hispanics as interims” that started at the Chicago Public Schools when Jesse Ruiz stepped in for CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett after a contracting scandal.

On Friday, nine of the council’s 11 Hispanic aldermen sent a letter to Reboyras requesting Thursday’s meeting.

“Our city is suffering a crisis of confidence. The only fair and just process is one that is transparent and open to the public and City Council,” the letter states.

“We therefore urge that Police Board President Lori Lightfoot be present along with the currently nominated candidates. Chicago deserves answers, and a public hearing is one step to remedy the currently closed and secretive process.”

Reboyras did not sign the letter but he’s forging ahead with Thursday’s 9 a.m. hearing.

“I’m fine with it. They brought it to my attention. I can’t say no. I feel obliged. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. It came my way and I moved it forward,” Reboyras said.

The chairman said he has not yet called the three finalists: Chicago Deputy Police Supt. Eugene Williams; Cedric Alexander, the African-American public safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta, and Anne Kirkpatrick, retired police chief of Spokane, Washington.

But he plans to “get a hold of them” and hopes “to have them there,” along with Lightfoot. He invited the Black Caucus to “join us.”

Reboyras acknowledged there is a “good chance” Emanuel will announce his choice before Thursday’s meeting. But even if that happens, “We’re still moving forward.”

“They still have to come before us for the final vote. We may vote it down. It may be a no vote. We’ll see how that goes,” Reboyras said.

“The mayor’s office is talking to us right now as we speak. They’re questioning why we’re doing this. But I made the decision to move forward.”

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, said he views Thursday’s hearing as an opportunity to put pressure on Lightfoot to explain what he called the “somewhat flawed” process that started with 39 applicants, narrowed it to a smaller list summoned for lengthy, in-person interviews and culminated in the three names, two of whom lack big-city experience.

“We need someone who understands the urban problems we face, understands the gang factions and the deep-rooted social inequities that factor into policing,” Cardenas said.

“Not withstanding those factors and the fact that John Escalante has been doing the job under extremely difficult circumstances, the Police Board found that a female Caucasian from Spokane, Washington, would be qualified to lead a department facing numerous difficulties. How is it that you came to these conclusions? I must be missing something. I want them to sell me on their recommendations.”

Lightfoot could not be reached for comment.

The political pushback by the Black and Hispanic caucuses is yet another sign that aldermen have been emboldened by the Laquan McDonald controversy that has weakened Emanuel politically.

As one alderman put it Friday, “Nobody fears him.”

In a statement after the hearing was scheduled, Emanuel’s office said: “The mayor has been listening to a wide variety of people and gathering input through a wide variety of conversations over the past three and a half months. He’s spoken to officers about their thoughts on who should lead them forward during tact visits and roll calls. It’s been a topic of conversation in community meetings he’s held with aldermen, ministers and community members.”

Among the people Emanuel has consulted are former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard and newly-retired Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, who has already been paid $16,100 to guide Chicago through a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the McDonald controversy.

Both Hillard and Ramsey have offered glowing endorsements of Cedric Alexander, sources said.