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Former interim mayor talks about the politics behind the succession process at city hall

Cook County Clerk David Orr is the only vice mayor to take up the role as interim mayor.

SHARE Former interim mayor talks about the politics behind the succession process at city hall
Former interim mayor talks about the politics behind the succession process at city hall

File: Cook County Clerk David Orr in 2010.

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Protestors in Chicago continue to call for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel following the release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald.

Meanwhile, Illinois State Representatives La Shawn Ford and Mary Flowers are proposing a bill that would allow Chicago voters to recall their mayor. Ford, a Chicago Democrat, said he knows it’s, “not the gentle thing to do” and not to be taken lightly.

“If the people of the City of Chicago believe that we are in a crisis mode the way people are protesting every day, then this is doable,” he said.

Bob Reed of the Better Government Association said a recall election would be challenging to push through.

“When someone is duly elected to an office, it’s a really heady thing to get rid of them before their term expires,” he said.

Ford says even if his bill passes, a recall election would still have to be initiated by aldermen.

But if Emanuel did leave office the mechanics of replacing him are rusty. There hasn’t been a succession since then alderman David Orr replaced Harold Washington when he died in 1987.

In an interview Thursday with WBEZ Orr said the city council elects a vice mayor after each aldermanic election. Currently, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly holds that title. When a mayor leaves office unexpectedly then the vice mayor steps in on an interim basis. Aldermen then elect a permanent replacement from within the city council.

Orr’s short time in office

When Orr became the interim mayor he said he didn’t want to vie for the job permanently.

“I intentionally stayed out of the politics at that time because I didn’t think it was appropropriate to engage in gutter politics when Harold’s body wasn’t even in the ground,” Orr recalled.

At the time, Orr said, there were backroom talks about having an alderman step down and filling that seat with a powerful person that the council could vote to become mayor.

“The powerful few that get things usually get their way. So the powerful that run city hall and most people go along, I don’t want to call them rubber stamps, but people tend to go along, they would have the power to do what they wanted,” he said.

Orr recalled having to get used to the security detail that comes along with being mayor. He was scolded after he drove downtown by himself and had to ride back home with security.

“I had a friend of mine drive my car back home, and my friend crashed the car on Lake Shore Drive on the way home. So that’s the punishment I got for sneaking away from security,” he said.

Orr served as mayor for a week. Much of his time was spent attending memorials and events for Washington. He said it wasn’t a happy time; he was stepping in for someone he respected.

“My task was to be calm to show continuation,” Orr said.

Meredith Francis contributed to this report. Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @soosieon.

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