Rap from Chance can’t stop land sale for new police and fire academy

Chance the Rapper appears at the Chicago City Council to scold aldermen over their spending priorities. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chance the Rapper accused the City Council Wednesday of having misplaced priorities, but the celebrity scolding did not stop aldermen from authorizing a $9.6 million land sale that will pave the way for construction of a $95 million public-safety training campus on the West Side.

“What is y’all doing?,” Chancelor Bennett asked aldermen during a raucous public participation session.

“Financially, this proposed plan doesn’t make sense. We don’t have $95 million. They’re just asking for $10 million today to purchase the land. But we don’t have the rest of the money to do it, so why let them go ahead with this right now? There’s a lot of different services that need to be funded.”

Chance entered the council chambers surrounded by an entourage of assistants.

When a Chicago Sun-Times reporter tried to take his picture, the aides put their hands in front of the reporter’s cellphone camera. The reporter then asked the rapper if he had any problem with her taking his picture. Chance said he did. He said he wanted his privacy.

A Sun-Times reporter was blocked Wednesday from taking a photo of Chance the Rapper when he appeared at a Chicago City Council meeting. | Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on hand for the start of the 30-minute public participation session, but walked out before Chance got his three minutes to unload.  Emanuel later said he stepped out of the chambers before Chance started to call his mother to wish her a happy 85th birthday.

Regardless of the reason, the mayor’s absence was not lost on the Chicago-born rapper, whose father once served as a top aide to Emanuel.

“I guess the mayor had to step out when I came up. But … it’s cool because I’m here to talk to you,” Chance told the council.

The rapper then talked about the work he has done with Orr Academy, which is “right down the street” from the vacant land at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. where the city wants to build the new police and fire training academy.

He noted that Orr, “with just $100,000 in three years” was about to make “some transformative changes.”

“It would be awesome, though, if we could get them pools at their school or a new library or a museum or any of the things that are proposed in the budget for this $95 million cop academy,” Chance said.

Chance argued that bolstering mental health services and school funding should be higher priorities than the police training that was a primary focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department. That Justice Department investigation was triggered by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.

“Obviously schooling is my big thing. But there’s a lot of ways to transform the city that don’t have anything to do with police training,” said Chance, a graduate of Jones College Prep.

In urging aldermen to, as he put it, “put your foot down,” Chance said he didn’t want to “take anything away from the West Side . . . I think the West Side deserves more attention than it’s been getting. I just think that there’s different ways to go about it.”

“You guys have a lot of power . . . That’s the reason I showed up at 8 a.m. It’s because I feel like maybe, if you guys just hear me say it” it might make a difference,” Chance said.

Declaring that he intended to use every second of his allotted three minutes, Chance said, “I’ll take pictures with everybody afterwards if you want me to.”

The crowd dissolved into cheers more suited for one of his concerts.

Chance was long gone by the time aldermen got around to defying him by a vote of 48 to 1.

Afterward, the mayor said he had no problem with the rare public scolding from a Chicago celebrity.

“He’s a great artist in Chicago. He has a lot of talent. … Chance has put his resources and his success towards investing in arts education. You know how dear that is to me,” the mayor said.

“He has a view. He expressed it. He came to City Council. You can’t advocate for citizenship to be an active sport and then, when somebody is active, not be happy about it. He came here. That’s a good thing.”

Local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), led the charge with an impassioned plea for a project that will flood her impoverished, gang-infested ward with thousands of police officers and firefighters.

“I’m not trying to say the facility is going to change police behavior. You’re going to have good and bad in everything you do. But I want the perception to change for our youth that all police officers or firemen … are bad. I want a standard set where they can interact with them,” Mitts said.

“I appreciate Chance the Rapper when he gave a million dollars to Orr H.S. He gave a million dollars to Austin H.S. — all in the 37th Ward. I can’t take that away. I don’t have a million dollars. … But, what I can say is, sit down with me and hear my perspective because I live there. Sit down with my community and let them tell you what they want to see when they can’t take their kids to school. We want more police. Don’t you know every time we see police riding down the street we’re glad? … We want to see a change in our community — one that needs that change.”

Mitts closed with a warning to her colleagues not to abandon her by pulling the rug out from under a transformative project.

“If there’s something in your ward, I listen to what you have to say. I respect you being representative of your constituents. Don’t let this get in the way of you doing your job by [preventing] me from doing my job,” she said.

“We don’t want to see schools close. We want our schools to stay open. We want to invest more into `em. But, don’t stop this project. Whatever you do, let this move forward.”

More from the Chicago Sun-Times