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Black, Hispanic caucuses claim some credit for top cop end-run

Chicago City Council Latino Caucus Chair Ald. George C‡rdenas (left) and Black Caucus Chair Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer address the appointment of Eddie Johnson as Interim Chicago Police Superintendent at City Hall Monday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The City Council’s Black and Hispanic caucuses on Monday claimed at least partial credit for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s end-run around the Police Board on the choice of a new top cop and served notice they intend to join forces on other issues to force the weakened mayor’s hand.

Neither caucus endorsed the mayor’s surprise choice of Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Department’s African-American chief of patrol who once served as Gresham District commander.

But both the Black and Hispanic caucuses had pressured the mayor to choose someone from inside the CPD to boost police morale and restore community trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

That allowed Black Caucus Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Hispanic Caucus Chairman George Cardenas (12th) to claim at least partial credit for the mayor’s surprise decision to drop frontrunner Cedric Alexander, the African-American public safety director of DeKalb County, Ga., in favor of Johnson, an insider.

“By working together, great things happen. Eddie Johnson is the product of that. When you have African-Americans and Hispanics working together and the mayor taking that advice and fleshing that out for the best candidate, how can we not support that?” Cardenas said.

Sawyer added: “We’re making sure that the type of government we exist in — which is a strong Council, weak mayor form of government — we want to make sure that it happens for the benefit of the citizens of Chicago.”

With 17 African-American aldermen and 11 Hispanics, a more permanent alliance between the two factions could force the mayor’s hand on other issues. That’s a pretty tall order, considering that several of the City Council’s African-American aldermen and a handful of Hispanics have close ties to Emanuel.

Failed mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia also failed in his attempt to resurrect the coalition of black and Hispanic voters forged by former Mayor Harold Washington.

But, Sawyer said that is precisely what the two caucuses intend to do.

“It’s a great thing that the Latino and Black caucuses are working together on initiatives. This is not over. We’re going to continue to talk about things that affect all of our communities,” he said.

With support from the Black Caucus, Cardenas said he hopes to push Johnson to address “inequities” in the Chicago Police Department’s top brass. He noted that the department currently has no Hispanic chiefs and that only two of 17 deputy chiefs are Latino.

“It presents an opportunity to help lead. Look, there’s a lot of problems in this city. We raised property taxes. We have a garbage fee. There’s a school [funding crisis],” Cardenas said. “It’s on all of us to solve these problems. It’s not happening in Springfield, but it could happen here in this city. If we all just stick to our silos, nothing is going to get done and we can’t afford to do that.”

Saturday night, the Chicago Sun-Times reported exclusively that Emanuel had asked Johnson to replace fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Emanuel’s move was an unprecedented end-run around the Chicago Police Board — and a maneuver aimed at boosting rock-bottom police morale and restoring public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The law requires the mayor to select the next superintendent from among three finalists chosen by the Police Board or reject all three names and order the board to start over.

Emanuel is meeting the letter of the law by rejecting the three names and appointing Johnson, first to replace John Escalante as interim superintendent.

Then, he’s asking the Police Board to conduct a second search. This time, Johnson, who did not apply the first time around, would apply and presumably be one of the of the finalists. The mayor could then make it official and hand Johnson the permanent job.

On Monday, Sawyer acknowledged that the mayor “lives and dies” with his choice of a superintendent just as aldermen do when they pick a ward superintendent. Sawyer said the wording of the city ordinance “may be something we have to look at” to give the mayor more latitude.

No matter how Emanuel arrived at the decision to choose Johnson, Sawyer said he’s awfully glad he did. He noted that the last two superintendents — McCarthy and Jody Weis — were both outsiders and, “We did not get the change that we desired.”

“Given the opportunity, Deputy Chief Johnson will be that transformative change. But it’s up to us to push him. Not just us, the community, everyone to make sure he understands that we mean business,” Sawyer said.

“We want to see change in our communities. We want to see a better relationship between the community and the police. We want to see internal changes where that blue wall of silence is taken down. We’re not saying this is all roses and everything is fine. We’re going to challenge Chief Johnson like we would challenge any superintendent to make sure he does his job.”