The Ohio Street underpass will be closed between midnight and 5 a.m. from April through October — but without the City Council “order” that re-opened racial wounds.
Two days after rushing the order through the City Finance Committee — after a direct introduction and an assist from Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) — downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) pulled it after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration agreed to close the pedestrian underpass without an order beginning at midnight Wednesday.
The closing was ordered in response to the Father’s Day murder of 25-year-old Raven Lemons near the underpass used to access the beach and the lakefront trail.
“I introduced the order to make sure that it got the attention that it deserved and it did. As a result, a lot of conversations took place…we were able to resolve this. I’m thankful to the administration for working with me,” he said.
“This is an important infrastructure change that…will help the police stretch their resources further. This is the way it should work.”
By pulling the order, Reilly avoided a repeat of the racially-charged debate aired in the Finance Committee Monday.
Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) argued then that the “over-reaction” exemplified the “double-standard” between crimes in white and minority neighborhoods.
“If we start closing streets every time somebody gets killed, we would have over 600 blocks in the black and brown communities shut down,” Beale said.
On Wednesday, Reilly accused Beale of over-reacting. He suggested Beale might have had his nose out of joint simply because the order was referred to the Finance Committee instead of to the Transportation Committee Beale chairs.
“He was dead wrong. Each alderman has a responsibility to do everything within their power to keep their residents safe. That’s all I’m doing here,” Reilly said.
“I’m not looking to remove police officers from his ward. This is simply locking a gate in the 42nd ward. … Anyone who dies in the city of Chicago deserves to be remembered. It’s not acceptable — whether that person is killed downtown or in a neighborhood ward.”
But, Reilly seemed genuinely relieved to have accomplished the underpass closing, without another ugly debate on the City Council floor.
“The administration has brought to me every resource necessary to work through these issues and I appreciate it. It’s been a good partnership,” he said.
The gates to Ohio Street underpass will be closed each night by a regularly-scheduled Streets and Sanitation employee.
“We always partner with aldermen and community leaders when serious public safety concerns are raised, whether that’s through the new in-district strategic decision support centers on the South and West sides, expanding the surveillance camera network throughout the city, or through efforts like this with the Ohio Street underpass,” mayor press secretary Matt McGrath wrote in an email.
Reilly has argued that the underpass has been a “going concern” for Streeterville residents for many years — long before the early morning hours of June 18 when Lemons was killed after coming downtown to celebrate her 25th birthday.