Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused Friday of trying to tie his successor’s hands on the $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park that has become a symbol for critics of his misplaced spending priorities.
Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Garry McCarthy blasted the mayor hours before Emanuel joined West Side community leaders and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) to announce the city has chosen a joint-venture led by AECOM to design and build the new academy at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. and would be begin “exclusive negotiations” with that team.
AECOM was also chosen to rebuild Chicago’s longtime fleet maintenance facility on a vacant 12.5-acre site at 210 W. 69th St. that once housed Kennedy-King College along with a vehicle repair shop and a fueling station.
“If what he’s trying to do is lock the city into a binding contract, that should not be approved by the City Council. This should be a decision for the next mayor,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said there is “no question” that Chicago needs a new police academy to replace an “incredibly antiquated” facility that “can’t meet” training demands of the now-pending consent decree outlining terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department. Inadequate training was a major focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of CPD.
But Lightfoot said there is a “right way and a wrong way to do everything,” and Emanuel’s dictatorial approach has been “ill-conceived” from the start.
“This is typical Rahm. Rather than engaging the community in the conversation on the front end and being transparent to elicit their input on something that’s gonna dramatically affect their lives, he once again has done a top-down, shove-it-down-the-throats-of-the-community conversation,” Lightfoot said.
McCarthy is the former police superintendent fired by Emanuel just days after the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
He also urged aldermen to reject the contract and reiterated his longstanding claim that the new academy will cost twice as much as Emanuel contends and that money would be better spent on higher priorities, including restoring the 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care.
“We don’t need to spend $180 million on a new police facility. There are better training opportunities by assuming some abandoned property in this city that can be done a heck of a lot cheaper,” McCarthy said.
“The training facility does not do the training. Trainers do the training. The training program does the training. It’s not the facility. You could do training in an open field. Nobody seems to get this. And I don’t understand it.”
McCarthy accused Emanuel of “trying to secure his legacy so he can talk about the fact that he’s all about police reform and all the great things he did.”
“It’s not the right thing to do. What he should be doing is just not making anything worse … Sit back and keep us off icebergs,” he said.
The police academy has become a symbol for critics of Emanuel’s misplaced priorities, drawing fire from Chance the Rapper, Black Lives Matter and other groups who have organized under the #NoCopAcademy label.
Emanuel even has been confronted by anti-academy protesters on college campus visits in other cities.
The coalition has argued the money would be better spent on jobs, youth and education programs.
Protesters who gathered outside City Hall after the guilty verdict against Officer Jason Van Dyke for murdering Laquan McDonald also appeared newly emboldened to stop Emanuel’s controversial plan.
The project has also become a flashpoint in the mayor’s race.
Candidate Amara Enyia, whose campaign was elevated by the celebrity endorsement from Chance, is adamantly opposed to the new academy.
Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle said City Hall “must listen to our communities and Chicago’s working families when determining budget priorities” like she has as county board president.
“I have long advocated that investing more in education, after-school programs, youth programs, and jobs is key to improving public safety in our neighborhoods,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.
Mayoral candidates Gery Chico and Bill Daley declared their unwavering support for the new academy. But Chico said the new mayor should “be the one who brings this project along from start to finish” and only after community input.
Daley said he needs to know more about the “process in which they selected this sole source.”
Emanuel didn’t give an inch during Friday’s news conference at a West Side church. He said the new training academy is sorely needed and he “can’t think of a better place” than West Garfield Park.
“Had it gone somewhere else, it would have been another thing that the West Side missed. They would have just flown over. We know something in my faith about Passover,” the mayor said.
“You put 600 or 700 people walking through here, they’re gonna create foot traffic. They’ll have their own public safety envelope that will occur. … If you want the type of cooperation, collaboration that we aspire [to] between our residents and our police, they have to interact. You put it anywhere else, they’ll live in two separate worlds.”