FOP president at center of controversy defeated in bid to extend his term

John Catanzara wanted the union president’s term extended from three years to five. FOP members overwhelmingly voted against the change at a general membership meeting Wednesday night.

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Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara speaks to reporters outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after Shomari Legghette was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 28, 2020.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara speaks to reporters outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Fiery Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara will be forced to stand for re-election as union president next year — in the middle of a mayoral campaign he has threatened to enter.

FOP membership made certain of it Wednesday night by overwhelmingly rejecting Catanzara proposals to extend his term as president — from three years to five — and eliminate a spot reserved for the past president on the FOP’s board of directors.

Changing FOP bylaws to lengthen the president’s term needed a two-thirds vote to pass. It fell at least 60 votes short in a head-count taken by asking members to stand on opposite sides of the room based on whether or not they favored the change.

Sources in attendance said a larger-than-normal contingent of African American officers helped seal Catanzara’s defeat on both measures.

They were encouraged to attend by Sid Davis, a former FOP field rep who worked under former FOP President Mark Donahue. In a series of social media posts, Davis encouraged Black officers to show up in force and vote the changes down to protest Catanzara’s regime.

“The proposals were submitted on or around April 1. Historically, when bylaws are submitted and approved, they get voted on at the September general meeting,” Davis wrote on social media. “These changes are being rushed because JC and certain board members don’t want the membership to know what they’re trying to do.”

No African American officer has been elected to the FOP during the last two administrations.

Catanzara has also been under fire for suspending two female officers — one Black, one Hispanic — for kneeling in support of protesters gathered outside FOP headquarters in the West Loop.

After the vote, the always-outspoken Catanzara lashed out at Davis, who was not in attendance, calling him a “liar,” sources said. One person called Catanzara’s reaction to the vote a “tantrum.”

Roughly 30 Black officers standing in the back of the room, mostly women, yelled back, sources told the Sun-Times, telling Catanzara he had no right to attack Davis when Davis was not there to defend himself.

Catanzara could not be reached for comment.

In a YouTube video posted on the FOP’s Facebook page earlier this month, Catanzara argued a five-year term was needed to spare the union the $242,000 expense of holding a union election and to accomplish long-term goals.

“There’s many things every administration wants to get done. ... The thought was to put it off to five years and give administrations the ability to get things done,” he said in the video.

Catanzara has been at the center of controversy from the moment he was elected union president.

Last month, he demanded that three of the FOP’s strongest City Council supporters choose between their loyalties to his group and their allegiance to the firefighters union.

The question now is whether this week’s embarrassing setback would set the stage for his defeat in next year’s union election.

“People are fed up with John. People showed up to vote against him en masse to send him a message that they’re unhappy with what’s going on,” said one member in attendance.

“You have to be able to get along with people to help [officers] when they’re in trouble. He doesn’t get along with the superintendent and the first deputy. He doesn’t get along with [Internal Affairs] or [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability]. He doesn’t get along with the mayor. ... He doesn’t get along with anybody. All he does is scream and yell.”

The officer pointed to the empty threat Catanzara made while urging officers to defy Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate.

“You can’t encourage people to violate a direct order, because they could lose their jobs,” the officer said.

“He thought he was gonna get 4,000 people to violate a direct order. He got, maybe, 400.” 

Former FOP President Kevin Graham, Catanzara’s predecessor, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday night’s vote. Graham has branded the now-defeated five-year term a power grab.

“He wants to be in there for as long as possible. It’s not in the best interest of our members,” Graham told the Sun-Times earlier this month.

“If you’re constantly worried about getting reelected, then maybe you shouldn’t be in that job. That was not what I worried about. I worried about our members. I worried about a contract. I worried about the pandemic. I worried about whether our officers were being treated fairly, whether the discipline was fair.”

Contributing: Frank Main

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