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Lightfoot administration floats alternative to renaming Outer Drive in honor of DuSable

Ald. David Moore likes the mayor’s ideas on other ways to honor Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, considered the first permanent non-indigenous settler in what is now Chicago. But Moore considers them a “complement” to his plan to rename the Outer Drive.

Chicago skyline, seen from 31st Street Bridge over Lake Shore Drive in July 2020.
The Outer Drive would be renamed to honor Jean Baptiste Point DuSable under a proposal by Ald. David Moore.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration on Wednesday unveiled an alternative plan to honor Jean Baptiste Point DuSable after a top mayoral aide told aldermen the mayor has “concerns” about renaming Outer Lake Shore Drive.

On the eve of a showdown vote in the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Lightfoot’s legislative liaison Manny Perez told aldermen Lightfoot is prepared to invest $25 million to complete DuSable Park and create an exhibit honoring DuSable at the “most traveled part” of the downtown Riverwalk.

During a series of virtual briefings, Perez told aldermen the mayor “doesn’t like the idea” of renaming the Outer Drive, according to Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st).

“I don’t know whether it’s her only concern. But it’s wrapping your head around rebranding an iconic stretch of roadway. How it’s featured in a bunch of songs or commercials or TV shows and movies,” Brookins said.

According to aldermen in attendance, Perez even raised the possibility of renaming the Chicago River itself for DuSable, although that would require approval from the U.S. Department of Interior.

DuSable is considered the first permanent, non-indigenous settler in the area now known as Chicago.

Ald. David Moore (17th) said the mayor’s suggestions about ways to honor DuSable are well and good, but he considers those plans a “great complement” to the revised plan he champions to rename the Outer Drive — not a replacement for it.

“We have the votes to pass this in both” the Transportation Committee and the full Council, Moore told the Sun-Times.

“We’re still going forward with our vote [on Thursday]. It’s not an either-or. … We can do both. A man of his magnitude should have both recognitions.”

Moore said he’s tired of hearing excuses for why Chicago should not give DuSable the recognition he has long deserved.

“When we spoke last night, the objection was marketability. Before, the objection was money. Before that, the objection was, we would have to go through the state. Before that, the objection was, there’s pushback from people up north. Whatever the objection was, there’s enough people” who support it, Moore said.

Moore noted that, after receiving “push-back” to his original proposal to rename Lake Shore Drive in honor of DuSable, he agreed to rename just the Outer Drive to limit the scope and minimize the cost.

Some who had opposed renaming initially “felt good about the Outer Drive,” Moore said.

“The businesses wouldn’t have to change their addresses. The only thing that would be affected would be the three or four harbors along the Outer Drive. So we’re going forward with both,” he said.

Brookins said he made a commitment to Moore to call the renaming proposal for an up-or-down vote in the Transportation Committee and he is determined to keep his word Thursday.

The renaming proposal is the only item on the agenda.

“I’m calling it. Absolutely,” Brookins said.

“There are enough people on the committee that want to see this thing out of committee. If I’m betting, I think there are enough votes to pass it” in committee and in the full City Council,” Brookins said.

As for the mayor’s alternatives, Brookins said they were “impressive, but I don’t know how it will be perceived by the public or the advocates that call into every committee meeting advocating for the name change.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said people “always have concerns when you change names.” But he plans to support the long-overdue honor for DuSable.

“How could I not? How could any African American alderman not [support it]? Tell me. It would be a disservice. It’s bigger than politics to us,” Burnett said.

“If you take the African American votes and you take the Latino votes because of DuSable’s wife, I think the votes are there” to pass it in the full Council.

In 1993, then-aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Madeline Haithcock (2nd) joined forces on a similar proposal, but then-Mayor Richard M. Daley put the kibosh on the idea.

Eight years later, then-Ald. Ed Smith (28th) proposed a different DuSable honor — naming City Hall after him — only to meet the same fate.

Since then, the political landscape has changed dramatically.

The Council is now majority-minority, with 20 Black aldermen and 13 Hispanic members.

More importantly, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has triggered a racial reckoning in Chicago and across the nation that has prompted the Council to create a reparations subcommittee charged with finding a way to make amends to “descendants of enslaved Africans” living in Chicago.

Against that backdrop, an ordinance that has languished in committee since October 2019 looks like it may finally be on the road to Council approval over the objections of North Side aldermen like Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th).

“What we’ve heard from people who actually live on Lake Shore Drive is that it would be somewhat of a nightmare in terms of mailing addresses and everything else they would have to re-arrange,” Tunney said.