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Pfleger, Emanuel, Rauner and Cupich: The inside story of the Dan Ryan shutdown

Protesters pour onto the Dan Ryan Expressway Saturday morning. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Marching orders . . .

It was a Rahm reach-out.

Sneed has learned Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who cut his teeth watching his mother as a young civil rights activist, decided to use his voice to facilitate the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s anti-violence march Saturday morning down the Dan Ryan Expy.

“I made a few phone calls,” Emanuel said in an exclusive interview with Sneed.

That included one to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who got on board with a game plan that initially aggravated Pfleger but then didn’t play out as envisioned — enabling the South Side priest to accomplish his goal of shutting down all inbound lanes of the expressway.


Emanuel also told Sneed he enlisted the help of Cardinal Blase Cupich.

In Sneed’s final analysis, the mayor was the go-between who wanted the march to go off safely and Pfleger emerged victorious, leaving Rauner irate.

Here’s the inside story of how it all went down:

The shocker: On Friday morning, Emanuel stunned the news media and Pfleger when he announced he supported allowing the protesters to march on the Dan Ryan.

“I almost fell over,” Pfleger told Sneed.

It also appeared the mayor was bucking the wishes of his own police department and the Illinois State Police, who had asked Pfleger not to do it.

“Look, we were in need of a way to declare our independence from violence,” said the mayor. “What better time to do it then a time when we celebrate our own nation’s independence. . . . But when the police superintendent [Eddie Johnson] told me we had a problem and asked me to call the governor because the state police were balking, I did.

“I just figured there had to be a common-sense way to do this and figure it out,” Emanuel told Sneed before the march. “The state police are in charge of the state’s expressway safety. They were against the protest due to safety concerns.

“So I called Bruce [Rauner],” Emanuel said. “I strongly felt there had to be a way NOT to disrupt the Dan Ryan Expressway and to allow Father Pfleger and the others to march.

“Then I reached out to the cardinal, Cardinal Cupich — and told him I needed his voice in this. He was going to issue a statement.”

Cupich did so on Friday evening, encouraging young protesters “to be bold and undaunted.”

“Look, I felt everyone had a voice in this,” said Emanuel. “So we got together to find a way nobody loses . . . so that the people can march — and keep the Dan Ryan open at the same time.

“This was also because of Mike [Pfleger] and his continual commitment to anti-violence. This isn’t his first act of protest. He works his commitment to non-violence 24/7.”

The change in plans: At the start of the march at 10:18 a.m. Saturday, protesters were routed along the right side of the expressway as traffic passed in the left two lanes. This was the compromise plan that Emanuel had brokered — and it aggravated Pfleger, who wanted police to shut down all inbound lanes.

Pfleger ended up getting his wish, though. Given the number of people flooding the expressway, state police eventually ordered the full shutdown of the inbound lanes, enabling Pfleger, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the thousands who joined them to accomplish their shutdown goal.

Rauner’s rage: The governor took to Twitter, blasting Emanuel for the full shutdown — even though state police apparently made that call, as they control the expressway. “I’m disappointed in the mayor. There was an agreement in place. I am calling on the mayor to take swift and decisive action to put an end to this kind of chaos. I will work with him in good faith and urge him to do his job so that the people of Chicago feel safe.”

Rahm’s Twitter retort: “It was a peaceful protest. Delete your account.”


Despite police warning, Rahm Emanuel says let Pfleger’s marchers onto Dan Ryan

Cardinal Cupich on Pfleger’s Dan Ryan shutdown: ‘I encourage them to be bold’

Father Pfleger, protesters threatened with arrest ahead of Dan Ryan protest

EDITORIAL: The logic and anger behind stopping traffic on the Dan Ryan

31 bullets: A Chicago Sun-Times campaign to end gun violence

The trumpet calls . . .

Top GOP fundraiser Ron Gidwitz, who raised mega bucks for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Illinois, was just officially installed as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

“Today I became an official ambassador,” Gidwitz said in an email announcement Friday dispatched to Sneed.

Plus pix, natch.

The big bark . . .

Watch for Susan Russell, who was recently sacked as executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control, to tell her side of the story to WGN Radio’s “pet guy” Steve Dale on John Williams’ WGN 720 AM show Monday at 2:35 p.m. Russell, who took over the shelter two years ago, was abruptly fired prior to a planned trip to London.

Hello Ald. Ray Lopez?

Stay tuned.

Sneedlings . . .

I spy: Blackhawks President John McDonough spotted at Harry Caray’s in Rosemont on Thursday afternoon. . . . Saturday’s birthdays: Ringo Starr, 78; Michelle Kwan, 38; and Danielle Bejlovec, priceless. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Sophia Bush, 36; Jaden Smith, 20; and Milo Ventimiglia, 41.