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‘Corrupt’ City Council needs judicial oversight, former top cop says

Garry McCarthy at City Hall press conference

Arguing that a “corrupt” City Council can no longer be trusted, mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy proposes transferring police misconduct settlements, tax-increment-financing, and the drawing of new ward boundaries to a review board “with judicial experience.” | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Arguing that a “corrupt” City Council can no longer be trusted, mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy on Monday proposed transferring police misconduct settlements, tax-increment-financing and the drawing of ward boundaries to a new review board “with judicial experience.”

McCarthy said the oversight could even include a consent decree — which he said is “ironic” considering the city is finalizing a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department he once led while allowing a City Council that has seen one-third of its sitting members go to prison since 1972 to continue to operate unchecked.

RELATED: Ed Burke charged: Read all Sun-Times coverage

Mayoral candidates and aldermen fighting for political survival have been tripping over each other to propose ethics reforms and get on the right side of the federal corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

But McCarthy’s proposal is clearly the most controversial and legally shaky.

Without saying how or by whom, he said he wants to create a “City Council Review Board” chaired by “officials with judicial experience, perhaps a retired federal judge.”

The board would be charged with drawing a new ward map to coincide with results of the 2020 U.S. Census without going through contortions to protect incumbents, McCarthy said.

“When I realigned [police] districts, the fight over moving beat boundaries was overwhelming. Yet, here we are redistricting wards to look something like this so that the council can choose who’s voting for them. It’s not okay. It’s absolute corruption,” McCarthy said, standing next to a poster of the absurdly zig-zagged boundaries of the 2nd Ward.

In addition, the board would create a “truthful accounting of TIF spending” with an eye toward returning all surplus funds to taxpayers who, he claims, have been “defrauded in the past.”

Board approval would also be required for police misconduct settlements of $750,000 or more after a 10-day review period.

“I have to harken back to the Laquan McDonald settlement when there was not a lawsuit filed,” McCarthy recalled of the $5 million settlement approved by the City Council after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was safely re-elected.

“It was pushed through the City Council Finance Committee with misinformation. And, at the end of the day, it was a bribe. It was a payoff to keep that video from being released.”

Under questioning at a City Hall news conference, McCarthy was asked how it was legally possible to transfer the powers of a duly-elected body created by state law to a judicial oversight committee.

“It’s about their practices, not about whether or not they’re elected. Practices of this city government have to be reviewed. It’s criminal what’s happening here,” he said.

Pressed on what entity could legally create a City Council Review Board, McCarthy talked about the possibility of a binding referendum.

“This is not something that I think would happen on its own. It’s going to need some sort of outside influence,” he said. “Could that be the state attorney general? I don’t know. Could that be the DOJ?

“I could see the Department of Justice having a field day here. I could see, as mayor of the city of Chicago, advocating for a team of FBI agents to basically sit outside my office and go after it. Go find where the corruption is. Go find where all of the money has gone. Go look at the practices and policies of the government that should be illegal.”

Plain ‘goofy’

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot said she understands McCarthy’s desire to “break through the din” in the crowded field of candidates vying to replace Emanuel.

But McCarthy’s idea is just plain “goofy,” she said.

“It’s hard for me to conceive what the legal basis of that would be. What would be the case and controversy that would get that before a court? And then, you’d have to look at separation of powers issues. It’s just hard for me to see that that would even be legal,” said Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor.

“I hope he didn’t consult with a lawyer. Because if a lawyer gave him that advice, that lawyer needs to seriously think about another profession.”

Mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti said he, too, considers judicial oversight over the City Council unworkable.

“Are they gonna be in every office? All 50 wards?” he said. “Term limits would have solved many of these problems. A smaller City Council would have. Taking away aldermanic prerogative would have solved this full and complete.”

Burke has been charged with one count of attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The 50-year veteran alderman has argued that he did nothing wrong and that he looks forward to his day in court.

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