Like the rest of the nation, it seems that Chicagoans often were focused on the almost weekly upheavals at the White House this year, including President Donald Trump’s potshots about Chicago’s crime problem and sanctuary city status.
But we had no shortage of homegrown jaw-dropping news in 2017, either, including the U.S. Department of Justice’s scathing report on the Chicago Police Department, released during President Barack Obama’s final days in office.
Much of the rest of the nation — not to mention many around the world — watched the horrifying cellphone video of a Kentucky doctor being dragged off a United Airlines jet at O’Hare Airport because he refused to give up his seat.
Alas, we had no World Series trophy as a salve for this sometimes-bruising year. But a certain rapper from Chatham did win three Grammys.
Here, in no particular order, are the Chicago Sun-Times’ picks for the top stories of 2017:
U.S. Department of Justice report slams the Chicago Police Department
The report came in mid-January — 161 pages describing in brutal detail the Chicago Police Department’s many failings. Then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called for sweeping changes in a department she said engages in a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force.” And major problems in the nation’s second-largest police department had been going on for years, the report found.
Federal investigators, who spoke to everyone from cops to clergy, found among other things: stories of rookies who couldn’t answer basic questions about the use of force; veteran cops shooting people who don’t pose a threat, and supervisors who’d rather be friends with their officers than discipline them for using racial slurs or other misconduct. Mayor Rahm Emanuel described the findings as “sobering” and pledged to make changes.
Chicago Public Schools CEO steps down
Forrest Claypool had to step down from the top Chicago Public Schools job he was given after the previous CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, ended up in prison amid a contracting scandal. Claypool’s resignation in the wake of an CPS inspector general’s probe sparked by Chicago Sun-Times reporting turned into a send-off for his decades-long career in public jobs, with the mayor and ministers eulogizing his past good deeds. But Claypool, a longtime friend of Emanuel, lost the support of the school board after IG Nicholas Schuler found he had “repeatedly lied” to cover up an ethics violation that involved his friend and CPS top attorney, Ronald Marmer.
Under CPS rules, Marmer wasn’t supposed to supervise the work of a law firm for which he and Claypool had once worked while the firm paid Marmer annual installments of a $1 million severance. But Claypool insisted he needed the expertise of both Jenner & Block and Marmer as he sued Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state for a greater share of funding for poor school districts like CPS.
Replacing Claypool is Janice Jackson. She becomes the first CPS graduate, parent, teacher and principal to head the school system since 1995, when schools fell under mayoral control; the fourth schools CEO Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed since taking office in 2011, and the eighth schools chief that the district’s CPS high schoolers have known since starting kindergarten.
Cook County soda tax outrage and repeal
Sure, the beverage industry and various merchant groups didn’t like the penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved in November 2016. But Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who cast the tie-breaking vote on the tax — said she had no choice. She said the extra cash would help avoid devastating layoffs. She also said the tax would be good for our health because it would reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, as it had in Berkeley, Calif.
End of story? Not quite. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed suit to try to stop the tax from taking effect and ads featuring tax-weary homemakers filled the airwaves. Owners of mom-and-pop food stores showed up at county meetings, saying customers were heading to other counties or out of state to buy their groceries. Angry county residents wrote and called their commissioners urging them to repeal the tax, which they did in October.
United Airlines fiasco
The viral video was a public-relations nightmare: A passenger, a 69-year-old medical doctor no less, was shown being yanked from his seat and dragged down the aisle of a United Airlines regional jet at O’Hare International Airport in April. The airline needed David Dao’s seat for a crewmember who, like Dao, needed to get back to Kentucky. Dao refused to be “bumped.”
Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc., initially defended the airline’s handling of the incident, blaming Dao, who lost teeth and suffered a broken nose and a concussion.
Munoz then tried again. In a later statement, he declared:“It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
Two of the city’s aviation cops involved in the incident were later fired. Dao filed suit. A settlement — the details of which weren’t disclosed — was reached a few weeks later.
Northwestern professor and Oxford employee charged in sex-fantasy murder
The details of the crime alone were exceptionally lurid: A young man was stabbed to death July 27 inside a Near North Side high-rise apartment as part of a sexual fantasy — the murderous plan allegedly hatched in an online chat room.
But the alleged culprits weren’t hardened criminals. One, the victim’s boyfriend, was an associate professor at Northwestern University and a world-renowned expert on the Black Plague; his alleged co-conspirator was a middle-aged financial officer at Oxford University. They’d spent months devising the plan — one that involved killing themselves too, Cook County prosecutors said.
After allegedly killing Trenton Cornell-Duranleau, Wyndham Lathem and Andrew Warren fled, triggering a nationwide manhunt that ended when the two men surrendered several days later in California. Now, both men sit in the Cook County jail awaiting trial.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan chooses not to run
It wasn’t so much the decision itself, but the circumstances surrounding it — on a Friday, without any explanation. “After serving as Illinois Attorney General for over 14 years, today I am announcing that I will not seek reelection,” Lisa Madigan said in a Sept. 15 statement.
What was the relatively young and popular Democrat — whose name, for years, has been in the mix for everything from governor to mayor to U.S. Senate — up to? After all, earlier in the year she’d said she would seek re-election.
She isn’t saying. At least not now. There was speculation that maybe she was preparing for a mayoral run. But Madigan assured Mayor Rahm Emanuel that she wouldn’t seek his job in 2019, sources told the Sun-Times at the time.
One thing is now clear: Plenty of people want Madigan’s job, including former Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor and former head of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority.
State budget stalemate ends
The nation’s longest fiscal stalemate in decades finally came to an end in July, when the Illinois House voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package. The agreement — after two years of political bickering — brought relief to many, especially the state’s cash-starved social service agencies and public universities.
The agreement also included a 32 percent increase in the income tax rate, raising $5 billion more annually, while reducing spending. But the epic stalemate also left the state with $14.7 billion in past-due bills.
Cook County state’s attorney drops 18 cases
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx campaigned for the job promising reform in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting. In November, she signed off on the county’s first mass exoneration. She agreed to vacate the convictions of 15 defendants — most of them drug cases in which defendants claimed they were shaken down by corrupt cop Ronald Watts and officers under his command. Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed in 2013 pleaded guilty to stealing $5,200 from an FBI informant. Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for the 15, said dozens more have approached him, claiming Watts framed them.
Chicago Sun-Times gets new owners, home
In July, an investment group led by former Chicago Ald. Edwin Eisendrath bought the Chicago Sun-Times and the Reader, beating out Tronc Inc., which owns the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. The investment group also included a coalition of labor unions.
In October, crews began removing the 12-foot-tall Chicago Sun-Times letters from the newspaper’s home at 350 N. Orleans St. By year’s end, the staffs of both the Sun-Times and the Reader had settled into a new home at 30 N. Racine Ave. in the West Loop.
Chance the Rapper is everywhere
In 2017, Chance the Rapper could do no wrong.
The Chatham-native-turned-hip-hop-megastar was, seemingly, everywhere. He was nominated for seven Grammys, winning three. Time magazine named him one of its “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He hosted Saturday Night Live. He announced a $1 million donation to Chicago Public Schools.
And near year’s end, he palled around with former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at the inaugural Obama Foundation summit. Oh yes, and he was also the grand marshal at the Bud Billiken Parade.