Chicago’s most iconic and picturesque roadway has a new name — and it’s a mouthful of history: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
The Black man of Haitian descent who was Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler finally got the honor his champions say he has long deserved, thanks to an on-again, off-again compromise that was back on again — and approved — at a City Council meeting Friday.
Three Hispanic aldermen joined 12 white aldermen in voting against the compromise.
Prior to the 33 to 15 vote, downtown Aldermen Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) urged their colleagues to accept what they called, their “better alternative” — renaming Millennium Park for DuSable.
Reilly bemoaned the fact that the Council has “spent the better part of nine months” discussing the name change at a time when Chicago faces “unprecedented challenges” requiring urgent attention.
After the vote, Lightfoot said she agreed, arguing the DuSable vote should be a “point of reflection” about “what’s really important.”
Reilly further argued the compromise involves a “very, very long name” that could result in “even more confusion.”
Hopkins said six high-rise buildings and a seventh under construction would have an address that “no longer matches the road they’re on.”
Ald. Sophia King (4th) shot down the argument that Lake Shore Drive is too iconic to rename, arguing that its stature is exactly why it should be renamed.
“Why are we spending so much time on this issue when we have bigger fish to fry? We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can do both,” King said.
“What’s in a name? History, education, pride, racial reckoning and, hopefully, unity.”
King also said she’s confident she and Ald. David Moore (17th) would have had the 26 votes they needed to change the name to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive — dropping “Lake Shore” from the name altogether.
But they agreed to the hybrid name change because the Black Heroes Coalition was on board. After two years of lobbying and months of parliamentary maneuvering, they were willing to take what they could get and not risk a mayoral veto.
“I’m not certain that we would have the  votes for an override. I will give you that. [But] I don’t think this mayor would have used that parliamentary move …. I don’t think so,” King told the Sun-Times hours before Friday’s vote.
“I don’t think that she would want to go down in history as the mayor that overrode DuSable Drive. … Politically, that would send a message to the Black community that she’s not serious about the Black community.”
After the chaos that cut short the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Moore was not so sure he would have had the 26 votes needed for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive.
“You don’t know what’s what in the City Council anymore. I can’t even lie about that,” Moore said Friday.
Moore said that once the hybrid name change was floated, some of his original supporters had started waffling.
“It made it challenging. I was still gonna go forward, but I listen to the people,” Moore said. “My position was, `If that’s what you all want to do, I’m not going to fight you on it.’ It’s not my preference. But I don’t build walls. I’m a bridge-builder.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried desperately to stop the name change on grounds that it would inconvenience business owners and high-rise residents, confuse first-responders and make it more difficult to market Chicago.
She has noted the gorgeous roadway is memorialized in movies and songs— and there is value in the fact that the name “Lake Shore Drive” is known around the world.
At one point, Moore accused the mayor’s office of trying to block the ordinance with an alternative he views as having “racial overtones” — renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway in honor of DuSable to “keep it on the South Side.”
Lightfoot has also offered a $40 million plan to complete DuSable Park, create an exhibit that includes statues and murals honoring DuSable at the “most traveled part” of the downtown Riverwalk and rename the entire Riverwalk in honor of DuSable.
When neither offer was accepted, mayoral allies bought more time. They encouraged Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) to join Ald. Brian Hopkins ( 2nd) in using a parliamentary maneuver at the May City Council meeting to delay a vote on the name change.
Only after it was clear that King and Moore still had the votes they needed did the mayor’s forces finally offer the hybrid, keeping Lake Shore Drive in the name but giving DuSable top billing.
“This is something that shouldn’t have been so difficult. Other cities recognize their founders in very distinct ways. Cleveland is named after Cleveland. Cadillac is very well honored in Detroit. And DuSable is our founder and should be honored. Even the person who bought DuSable’s house — Kinzie — had a street named after him,” King said.
“There is and has been racial overtones and resistance to having a significant recognition for our founder, who happens to be Black and of Haitian descent. It’s both conscious and unconscious.”
Even after Friday’s long-stalled vote, Lightfoot has work to do to repair the political damage.
“When the rules are public and the playing field is level, then everybody has a chance to win. In this case, the playing field wasn’t level. ... That’s not democracy. And that’s what happened here. ... It’s disheartening,” Moore said.