Our Pledge To You

News

If Police Board conducts second top cop search, who would apply?

Chicago Police Board members are shown on March 17 approving three finalists for Chicago police superintendent. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected all three. | M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Now that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gone around his handpicked Police Board to anoint Chicago’s next police superintendent, why even go through the motions of another costly and time-consuming nationwide search?

And even if the mayor’s dissed Police Board appointees agreed to spend more of their time and energy doing a second search to give the mayor legal cover, who would even bother to apply?

Those were the questions swirling around local and national policing circles Monday after Emanuel officially announced Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson as interim superintendent and left no doubt that Johnson is his permanent choice to replace fired Supt. Garry McCarthy.

“It will have an enormous impact on anyone else applying. It’s over. It’s done,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum who has been involved in other Chicago superintendent searches, but not this one.

“Why would any other candidate put himself in that position? It makes no sense. They’re going through the motions because it’s clear who the mayor wants.”

Former St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom chose not to apply for the $260,044-a-year job, even though he was urged to do so.

Isom does not believe Round Two will attract nearly as many candidates as the 39 applicants who entered the Round One sweepstakes to oversee a department under the cloud of a federal civil rights investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“I doubt whether any top candidates will apply . . . If you go through the process and become a finalist and someone ends up being selected who didn’t even go through the process, it’s certainly something a potential candidate has to weigh in making a choice to go through that process again,” Isom said.

“Putting together an application, going through interviews, flying to Chicago, publicly letting people know you’re applying. There’s a fair amount of investment from a personal standpoint. You really have to weigh whether it’s worth it. The message is, apply at your own risk.”

Equally chilling to the Round Two applicant pool is the mercurial and indecisive portrait of Emanuel painted by former front-runner Cedric Alexander, the African-American police director of DeKalb County, Georgia, outside Atlanta.

Alexander told NBC-Channel 5 that he had a second interview with Emanuel last week that left the candidate feeling so insulted, Alexander asked Police Board President Lori Lightfoot to withdraw his name.

According to Alexander, a somewhat sheepish Emanuel called back, asked to “hit the reset button,” and flew to Washington, D.C., so the two men could meet for a third time.

It was during that Thursday meeting that Alexander claims the mayor offered him the job, only to rescind it two days later after the Chicago Sun-Times lifted the veil on Emanuel’s decision to reject all three finalists and install Johnson, who didn’t even apply.

On Monday, Emanuel countered, “That’s not what happened . . . While I had multiple conversations with individuals and I worked through issues, I offered the job to one person and one person alone and that’s Eddie Johnson. Eddie Johnson has what I’m looking for.”

If Johnson is the “complete package,” as City Hall put it, why go through the motions of a second search?

“If people think they have something to offer, they’ll apply,” Emanuel said, anticipating that the Police Board would take “the kind of normal deep breath” before restarting the process.

No matter whose version of events you believe, one thing is certain: Something went “dreadfully wrong in the chemistry” between the mayor and Alexander, said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

“Maybe they’re too much alike. Too blunt. Too strong. And occasionally too intemperate,” Shaw said of the mayor and Alexander.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, a finalist for the U.S. Attorney’s job with a reputation of being fiercely independent, once again refused to comment on the mayor’s unprecedented end-run. After presenting the three names to the mayor, Lightfoot made it clear she had no intention of conducting another search any time soon.

In a statement Monday, Lightfoot said: “We will convene as a board as soon as we are able and decide appropriate next steps.”

The law requires the mayor to select the next superintendent from among three finalists chosen by the Police Board or reject them all and order the board to start over.

Emanuel met the letter of the law by appointing Johnson, first to replace John Escalante as interim superintendent.

He then asked the Police Board to conduct a second search that would include Johnson and culminate in his being handed the permanent job.

“Let me just say when the Police Board restarts the process, I’ve asked Eddie to apply,” the mayor said with a smile.

Johnson added, “I am going to apply if the search is reopened.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, acknowledged Monday that it’s the mayor who “lives and dies” with his choice of a police superintendent. Sawyer said the wording of the city ordinance “may be something we have to look at” to give the mayor more latitude.

Asked whether he would like to change the process, Emanuel said that was a question for “some other date, some other time.” But he added, “You are right that, for any appointment I as mayor or any mayor has to make, you don’t have to go through this process.”