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Emotional Emanuel reflects on partnership with CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson and Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to reporters in March 2016, when he announced he had picked Eddie Johnson to serve as interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A melancholy Rahm Emanuel presided Tuesday over his last police graduation ceremony as mayor and reflected on his partnership with a police superintendent who never applied for the job, but rose to the challenge of it.

Three years ago, an end-run around the Police Board’s nationwide search for a replacement for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy allowed Emanuel to pluck Eddie Johnson out of obscurity, even though Johnson didn’t seek the job. Johnson at the time was the department’s chief of patrol.

Emanuel pulled it off by rejecting all three finalists chosen by the Police Board after a first nationwide search and by persuading the City Council to cancel the charade of a second nationwide search required by law.

At the time, the Police Board president was Lori Lightfoot, now one of two finalists in next week’s mayoral runoff.

On Tuesday, Emanuel joined Johnson for the final time at a Navy Pier graduation ceremony for 297 new police officers and 68 newly-promoted supervisors.

Unlike former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel is not known for displays of emotion.

But the retiring mayor could not contain himself as he talked about his extraordinary partnership with Johnson and the road they have traveled together.

They hired more than 2,000 new police officers – more than enough to keep pace with attrition and still honor Emanuel’s promise to add 970 officers to the department’s depleted ranks.

CPD graduation ceremony at Navy Pier

Tuesday’s graduation ceremony for new and promoted CPD officers was the last one Rahm Emanuel will attend as mayor. | Chicago Police Department photo

They also began the monumental task of implementing sweeping reforms in training, technology and oversight mandated by a federal consent decree.

“We didn’t really know each other. I called him. I said, `The choices I have aren’t the right choices for where we’ve got to go as a city. … I want you to become the superintendent,'” Emanuel recalled of the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“I can say this without a doubt: It’s one of my proudest decisions. … When people think about where we were three years [and] where we are today, it’s because of the superintendent and the leadership team he’s put together to bring incredible change while also seeing incredible reductions in violence.”

Turning to Johnson, Emanuel said, “Supe, I can’t thank you enough for not only your friendship but your professionalism, your love of the Police Department and, most importantly, your love of … Chicago.”

Emanuel’s rare show of emotion extended to his wife, Amy Rule, who was there to literally stand in for her husband during the long graduation ceremony.

The retiring mayor is recovering from out-patient surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus in his knee. He’s on crutches and under doctor’s orders to stay off his feet.

“She’s come to make sure that one of our family members is standing. To also take the photos….Try to be nice to her because, you can imagine I’m really a peach all locked up for a weekend. … I’m a real prince at home,” Emanuel said.

The mayor then dropped the trademark sarcasm and turned serious, his voice breaking with emotion.

“She’s been unbelievable — not just for the last weekend. Amy’s been unbelievable as a first lady. And I want to thank her for [doing] an incredible job for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said, as the recruits and their families applauded.

“Amy, I want to thank you — not just for today, for the weekend, [but] for our entire journey together.”

Johnson’s fate is uncertain, no matter who is elected Tuesday. Toni Preckwinkle has vowed to replace him. Lightfoot has said she won’t make a change during the traditional summer surge of violence. Beyond that, she’s been non-committal.

No matter what happens, Johnson said he has Emanuel to thank for giving him the chance of a lifetime to serve in a top job he never dreamed he would hold.

“When you appointed me superintendent, you didn’t know me and I didn’t know you. So neither one of us knew what we were gonna get from each other,” Johnson said.

“But I have to tell you unequivocally I am profoundly grateful to have you — not just as a boss, but as a partner in the crime fight and for helping … the Chicago Police Department get to where we are today. That wouldn’t have been possible without you. So for that, I say thank you. We’ll never forget you for that.”