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Preckwinkle urges new Zoning Committee chairman to call off police academy vote

Toni Preckwinkle

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

The new chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee was urged Friday to call off next week’s vote on a new $95 million police and fire training academy that has become a symbol of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s misplaced spending priorities.

In a letter to Zoning Committee Chairman Ald. James Cappleman (46th), mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle argued that it was “ill-advised to tie the hands of any incoming administration on the large-scale capital investment as the city faces acute budgetary challenges.”

Changing the subject from the firing of her campaign manager, Preckwinkle acknowledged that inadequate training was a major focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

She also acknowledged that better and more frequent training is needed to meet demands of the recently-signed consent decree and to restore “trust between law enforcement and the community” damaged by the McDonald shooting.

But she argued that, “as a consequence of” the DOJ report, the police department has “already begun implementing necessary reforms, the most important of which are modernizing its curricula and increasing redundant training for supervisors and officers.”

And she argued that there are higher priorities for the $95 million that Emanuel has earmarked for a new police academy in West Garfield Park.

“In addition to improving training, the next Mayor must dedicate resources to address the under-resourced schools, closure of the mental health clinics, and lack of economic opportunity that have contributed to high crime in the disinvested parts of the city,” she wrote to Cappleman.

“Two days after Chicagoans go to the polls to choose new leadership and a new direction is the wrong moment to advance a major capital investment. This is especially true when the city has so many other important investments in public safety to make.”

Cappleman took over the Zoning Committee after the resignation of disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who agreed to wear a wire to help the federal investigators build their corruption case against Ald. Edward Burke (14th) after the feds confronted Solis with allegations of wrongdoing against him.

In Friday’s letter, Preckwinkle reminded Cappleman, “You have publicly stated your commitment to transparency, due process and democratic deliberation. It is for these reasons, I urge you to cancel this vote until the next Mayor and City Council take office.”

Cappleman could not be reached for comment. Shortly after assuming the chairman’s role, he demanded that Sterling Bay dramatically increase the number of affordable housing units on the site of its $6 billion Lincoln Yards project and give area residents more time to digest its newly-revised plan.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Plan Commission took another step to tie a new mayor’s hands on two inter-related projects that Emanuel is trying to nail down before leaving office: the new police academy and Lincoln Yards.

Over the jeers of young people who have organized under the #NoCopAcademy label, the Emanuel-appointed commission approved an “institutional planned development” paving the way for construction of the new, 500,000 square-foot academy campus on a 30-acre site at 4301 W. Chicago Ave.

The Plan Commission also signed off on two new tax-incrementing-financing (TIF) districts that, together, are expected to generate at least $1.6 billion for infrastructure improvements needed to unlock the development potential of two mega-projects: Lincoln Yards on a riverfront site formerly reserved for manufacturing and the “78” in the South Loop.

The police academy and Lincoln Yards projects are linked, in part, by an Emanuel financing plan that still has a $37 million gap.

The City Council has appropriated $20 million from the sale of a valuable fleet maintenance facility at 1685 N. Throop for the new police academy.

The land is part of Sterling Bay’s $6 billion Lincoln Yards development and was sold to the developer at a time when its property tax appeals were handled by the law firm owned by Burke.

The tangled web gave the #NoCopAcademy movement, yet another opportunity beef even though the outcome of the Plan Commission vote was never in doubt by a panel the protesters called the “Chicago Rubber Stamp Commission.”