Mayor Rahm Emanuel is “scared” of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department and the decades of financial pressure that would impose on taxpayers, but the door is not closed, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Thursday.
“They don’t want a 40-year consent decree a la Shakman or the Cook County Jail. They also don’t want a federal judge taking over the city’s already precarious budget. I don’t blame them. I understand those concerns,” Madigan said after a closed-door meeting with the mayor late Wednesday.
“I would counter that … a good consent decree that would include clear reforms, benchmarks, tight timetables and a commitment of resources wouldn’t devolve into a 40-year consent decree where a federal judge was determining what resources need to be allocated. If you do the hard work up-front, you don’t have unexpected problems on the back end.”
ANALYSIS: Emanuel at a crossroads on police reform
In spite of those concerns, Madigan said she came away from her meeting with the mayor convinced that Emanuel was open to the possibility of joining forces with Madigan and other police reform advocates in seeking court oversight, even without the DOJ as a willing partner.
“Is the door open? Yes. I think the door is open. I think they recognize that … reform won’t work if the public doesn’t buy into it. And they’re now seeing growing resistance to the way they’re moving forward,” the attorney general said.
“Do I think they’re aware of that? Yes. Do I think they’re willing to be responsive to that? Yes. Do I know how that’s going to turn out? I do not know. [But] they’re willing to have input.”
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment about Emanuel’s closed-door meeting with Madigan.
Twice this week, the mayor has refused to say how he plans to respond to the pressure being applied by the attorney general, who is the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), with whom Emanuel has developed a close working relationship.
Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel has promised an “independent monitor with real credibility holding our feet to the fire and issuing regular public reports so the community can hold our feet to the fire” with “yet another backstop” that allows the Justice Department to “go into court and enforce the terms if we are breaching” it.
But he has refused to release the memorandum of agreement on grounds that it is not final and still under review by President Donald Trump’s U.S. Justice Department.
“I made it very clear that there had to be an opportunity for public review and public comment. They seemed to be open to that. And they told me that they had, indeed, started talking to advocates. That’s where we are,” Madigan said.
Earlier this week, lawyers for Black Lives Matter Chicago and other community groups filed a class-action lawsuit seeking federal oversight over the Chicago Police Department.
They accused Emanuel of reneging on his January commitment to negotiate a consent decree and, instead, of attempting to cut a “back-room deal” with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposes court oversight over local police departments.
Hours after the lawsuit was filed, Emanuel held a closed-door meeting with Madigan in the mayor’s office on the 5th floor of City Hall.
Madigan was the first to call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Police Department that Emanuel initially called “misguided” after the court-ordered release of the video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald sixteen times.
Now, Madigan’s decision to take the lead on police reform once again has racheted up the political pressure on Emanuel.
If Emanuel was angry or the least bit irritated by that, it didn’t show during Wednesday’s meeting. Madigan said a mayor famous for his profanity-laced tirades was “completely charming.”
For her part, Madigan saw no need to reiterate her earlier threat to file her own lawsuit to compel the mayor to agree to court oversight over the Police Department.
“I didn’t have to make that threat. They understand. They know where I stand on that. I’ve said it publicly. I don’t have to say it [again]. I don’t have to threaten them. A lawsuit is always a last option. They know that. But they also know it’s an option,” she said.