Lightfoot allies to try again to salvage COPA chief’s nomination

Whether or not Andrea Kersten’s nomination is defeated Wednesday before the Committee on Public Safety, Chairman Chris Taliaferro said he intends to call for an up-or-down vote in the full City Council on Feb. 23.

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Chicago City Hall

Chicago City Hall.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will try again Wednesday to salvage her troubled nomination of Andrea Kersten to head the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — even though she’s risking an embarrassing defeat.

“It’ll definitely be defeated. I’ve been working hard. They don’t have the votes. I don’t know how they think they have the votes,” said Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), who is leading the charge against Kersten’s nomination.

COPA recommended a three-day suspension for Officer Ella French for failing to activate her body-worn camera when she showed up at the raid on the home of social worker Anjanette Young in February 2019. That recommendation was made before French was killed in the line of duty, though the report including that recommendation was published after her death.

Kersten “hurt herself tremendously” with the French suspension, Sposato said. “Many people can’t forgive her for that because they don’t think she was really remorseful for it. … I’m just baffled why they’re doing this. All I can think of is, even though it gets defeated, somebody’s gonna try to call it for a vote in the full City Council.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) said that’s exactly what he has in mind.

Whether or not Kersten’s nomination is defeated at Wednesday’s committee meeting, Taliaferro said he intends to call for an up-or-down vote in the full Council on Feb. 23.

“Even if it’s the recommendation of the committee to ‘do not pass,’ the mayor believes that she will have the votes on the City Council. Or else, we wouldn’t be proceeding in committee,” Taliaferro said Monday.

“It’s gonna be risky either way. It’s very risky if you’re not absolutely sure. But, the mayor’s team is sure that she has enough votes.”

According to Rule 44 of Roberts Rules of Order, it takes just 26 votes to override a committee’s negative recommendation.

If all 19 committee members attend Wednesday and are joined by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the Council’s President pro tempore, it would take just 10 votes for the committee to reject Kersten’s nomination. That’s because a tie vote becomes a Do Not Pass recommendation.

Sposato was asked point-blank if Kersten would have 26 votes in the full Council.

“Absolutely not,” said Sposato, who had a previous run-in with Kersten after she reported him to the Board of Ethics for calling her five times — calls she ignored.

Civilian Office of Police Accountability Interim Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten.

Civilian Office of Police Accountability Interim Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten. Her nomination to run COPA permanently has been opposed by some City Council members angered by her office’s recommendation of a suspension for a Chicago police officer who later was killed in the line of duty.

Civilian Office of Police Accountability

Taliaferro acknowledged hard feelings remain over how Kersten “handled the Anjanette Young findings. And that included having disclosed and not redacted the findings as it relates to Officer French.”

But as much as he, too, disagrees with how the case was handled, Taliaferro has a dramatically different view.

He noted 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.

“In light of Officer French dying as a hero, Andrea possibly could have taken a different approach. But the ordinance doesn’t allow her to do that. We could have given the chief administrator some discretion, but we did not. She was required to promptly release that information. It doesn’t give her any leeway left or right,” Taliaferro said.

“We’re either gonna ask for a chief administrator to follow the rules and regulations. Or, we’re gonna ask our chief administrator to skirt around those rules and regulations if a situation does not fit. We can’t do that as a society. That would make every crime subject to circumstances.”

On Jan. 21, Taliaferro infuriated Sposato by abruptly canceling a scheduled confirmation vote when it was clear Kersten wouldn’t have the votes to make it out of committee.

Not even after the acting COPA chief publicly apologized a second time for recommending the French suspension. That recommendation 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.

Kersten told committee members COPA’s “biggest missed opportunity” was in not extending 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 then.

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