Mayoral allies call off confirmation vote on new COPA chief to avoid embarrassing defeat
Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) made the decision after it was clear Andrea Kersten’s nomination lacked the votes to pass. Kersten has been under fire for recommending a three-day suspension for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s allies on Friday called off a confirmation vote for Andrea Kersten, the mayor’s choice to head Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat.
The decision by Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) infuriated Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), who is leading the charge against Kersten’s nomination, in part, because of the three-day suspension COPA recommended for slain Chicago Police Officer Ella French for failing to activate her body-worn camera when she showed up at the botched raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young in 2019.
“This is not right. Now, we know what’s going on. Now, we know we don’t have the votes and this is what we’re gonna try to do. This is wrong. We should be voting now. ... Now, after an hour and 45 minutes, we’re gonna hold this because we don’t have the votes,” said Sposato, who had a previous run-in with Kersten after she reported him to the Board of Ethics for bombarding her with calls she ignored.
“I’m sorry. I’m pissed off. This is wrong.”
Taliaferro said he was “asked by representatives of the chief sponsor of the ordinance to hold the item.” The chairman said he did not speak directly to Lightfoot.
In a desperate attempt to salvage her troubled nomination, Kersten publicly apologized — for a second time — for recommending the French suspension she stressed was “not posthumous.”
It was made on April 27, 2021 — more than three months before French, 29, was fatally shot and her partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., was critically wounded after they pulled over an SUV with expired plates at 63rd Street and Bell Avenue.
“I apologize and am deeply sorry that this work hurt a family that was already grieving,” Kersten said.
Having said that, Kersten argued that the oversight agency she leads did nothing wrong. She noted that COPA is compelled by city ordinance to “make reports open to public inspection” and can “only redact information to the extent it is exempted from disclosure” by the Freedom of Information Act.
That argument didn’t fly with Lightfoot, who called it the “height of tone-deafness” but handed Kersten the permanent job four days later while demanding she publicly apologize to the French family.
Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) was unimpressed by the public apology that mirrored Kersten’s remarks at the Chicago Police Board meeting in November.
Tabares asked Kersten whether she could point to any “official action” she took after French’s death that would “demonstrate the regret you claim today.”
Kersten replied that COPA’s “biggest missed opportunity” was in not having extended to the French family the courtesy and compassion it extends to civilians. That is, walking them through COPA’s findings, reports and videos before they are publicly released.
“That should have been afforded to this Gold Star family,” she said, vowing never to miss that opportunity again.
In a letter to Lightfoot just minutes before the Kersten appointment, 20 alderpersons said they were “vehemently opposed” to Kersten because of the suspension recommendation for a slain officer widely hailed as a hero.
Sposato has vowed to do “everything in my power to cash in every chip I can with friends” to round up the 26 votes he needs to block Kersten’s appointment.
Before Taliaferro pulled the plug, Sposato made a bold prediction.
“She will not have the votes on the floor. I believe this is gonna be unprecedented. This will be the first time ever that a mayoral appointee will not get the appointment. This is the first time in my career I will have ever went against a mayoral appointee,” Sposato said.
“The apology is way too late. Whether she apologized to me for reporting me to the Board of Ethics four years ago. Whether she apologizes about Ella French. It’s totally unacceptable. And I believe I have the votes. I believe you’ll see history in the making.”
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), whose Far Northwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago police officers, said he opposes Kersten’s nomination because she favors termination over progressive punishment.
“No matter what you do in that uniform, you’re gonna be pushed for termination. It’s done for political purposes,” Napolitano said, branding that philosophy a “morale killer.”
Napolitano questioned why his colleagues who fought so hard for civilian police oversight would approve the mayor’s appointment of Kersten instead of waiting for the panel to be appointed and exercise its right to appoint the next COPA chief.