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Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa hugs Ald. Emma Mitts

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, hugs Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward, during a Chicago City Council meeting Nov. 7, 2023. An attempt to censure Ramirez-Rosa for his conduct against Mitts outside chambers last week failed after Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote.

Ashlee Rezin

An attempt to censure Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa fails after the mayor casts the tie-breaking vote

Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote Tuesday against formally censuring his former floor leader — Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa — after Ald. Emma Mitts accepted Ramirez-Rosa’s apology for attempting to block her from joining a chaotic City Council meeting last week.

“Alderwoman Mitts made it very clear that she’s committed to restorative practices,” Johnson said at a news conference after the vote, referencing the fact that Mitts herself voted against censure.

“She voted with the rest of her colleagues that censureship did not apply in that particular scenario. We stood with Alderwoman Mitts today.”

The censure vote ultimately failed by a 25 to 24 vote, even after a majority of council members overruled Johnson’s attempt to block the censure vote from moving forward. It would have been the first time a City Council member was formally reprimanded by their colleagues in at least decades.

Tuesday’s meeting also marked the first time Mitts spoke publicly since the incident last week that led to Ramirez-Rosa resigning his leadership posts on the council.

“I felt like I was back in the South. I felt like everything in me was shaking,” Mitts said of the incident, later adding: “Every woman should be respected. No one should overexert their power or authority on them because they can.”

Mitts hugged Ramirez-Rosa as he issued a lengthy apology to her and their colleagues and vowed to make amends.

“I dramatically overreacted to the intensity of what was happening in that meeting. And there’s no excuse for that,” Ramirez-Rosa said on the council floor. “I sincerely apologize to you, my colleague Alderwoman Emma Mitts, for the disrespectful interaction that we had outside of council chambers. And for my overzealous attempts throughout the day to try and convince you not to be part of the quorum. I should have never done that to you. I should have never put you in that position.”

The cordial moments were in stark contrast to a chaotic City Council meeting last week, during which Ramirez-Rosa blocked Mitts from entering the chambers to give the meeting the majority it needed to begin.

Video captured by CBS Chicago shows the incident in which Ramirez-Rosa appears to reach out to Mitts as Ald. Raymond Lopez tells him, “Let go of Emma. Do not hold her.” Ramirez-Rosa is then seen trying to block Mitts’ path into the chambers before Lopez escorts her in.

Mitts said she did come into contact with Ramirez-Rosa while she was “literally blocked at that door,” but said she wouldn’t describe the interaction as “manhandling,” as other council members described it last week.

Members of the City Council’s Black Caucus and several other council members stood in support of Mitts as she gave a play-by-play on the council floor of Thursday’s debacle. She said she missed a text message she received last Thursday morning from Ramirez-Rosa, that read: “Good Morning, Emma. I want to let you know that today’s special meeting will not have a quorum. So if you have things to do in your ward, focus on that instead of wasting time coming downtown.”

After the second attempt at a quorum call to begin last week’s special city council meeting, Mitts said Ramirez told her, “You know, you shouldn’t be in here.”

“I said, ‘Well, why are you bothering me?’” Mitts recounted.

“Because the rest of your colleagues are idiots,” she said Ramirez-Rosa told her.

Mitts said Ramirez-Rosa went on to raise the fact that Mitts is in a position of leadership as chair of the Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity.

“Yes, I’m a chairman but I’m also representing my community which is why I’m here,” Mitts said Tuesday. “I told you where you could put that chairmanship.”

Mitts, one of the longest-serving council members, had a few words of advice for Ramirez-Rosa: “I’ve been in this council 24 years. I am 68 years old. I have seen a lot in my lifetime of a struggle. And Alderman Rosa, learn a little wisdom. Always take a high road.”

Even as Ramirez-Rosa announced Monday he would be resigning as floor leader and from leading the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, three alderpersons alleged Ramirez-Rosa abused his power by threatening to block development in their wards from moving forward in the committee he chairs. Ramirez-Rosa has disputed the allegations.

Those allegations were first detailed in an initial draft of a censure letter that Ald. Scott Waguespack wrote last week. Waguespack led the effort to formally reprimand Ramirez-Rosa and call for the Office of Inspector General and Board of Ethics to investigate his conduct.

Waguespack’s move to censure Ramirez-Rosa Tuesday, arguing it would help “restore decorum” in the council, ultimately failed.

“Now, if these incidents happened to me or any other member, I would want to know that each member of this body stood with me to have my back,” Waguespack said before the vote.

Several alderpersons spoke out against the censure vote from even being allowed to take place noting that Ramirez-Rosa had apologized and resigned from his leadership posts.

Ald. Brian Hopkins argued censure motions have historically been limited to actions occurring within Council chambers and during the same meeting that the alleged conduct occurred.

“It took place outside of this chamber — granted very close, but outside of this chamber — and it did not take place during this meeting in question, the proceedings that we are currently involved in,” Hopkins said, later adding: “If we attempt to censure or expel based on this right now, we are setting a very disturbing precedent by opining on something, again, that did not happen during the course of this meeting, and happened outside of this room.”

Johnson sided with Hopkins interpretation, and did not want a censure vote to proceed, but was ultimately overruled by the council. After the censure vote was permitted to proceed, a majority of members present moved not to censure Ramirez-Rosa by a 25 to 24 vote.

However, several alderpersons said that, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, Ramirez-Rosa should have been excluded from voting since he was the subject of the censure. Doing so brought the censure motion to a tie, after which Johnson applied the tie-breaking vote, and the censure motion failed, 25 to 24.

Mitts said after Tuesday’s meeting she ultimately voted against censuring Ramirez-Rosa because she had already accepted his apology.

“Once I accept someone’s apology, I don’t throw stones for stones. I want to give him an opportunity to grow from their mistakes. If I were to sanction him right now, I will be putting fire on top of what we’ve already did,” Mitts said. “It doesn’t help this council, and it won’t help the city of Chicago. It would only keep things more divided. And that’s not what I’m looking for.”

However, Ald. Nicole Lee, one of three alderpersons who said they were allegedly verbally threatened by Ramirez-Rosa, said voting in favor of censure was a personal choice she had to make.

“I am in support of this censure, not because I’m out for more blood or that I think that this is not part of the healing process. In fact, I think this is the first step in the healing process for me,” said Lee.

Ramirez-Rosa again denied to reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that he threatened to block zoning projects in colleagues’ wards, but said he could see why conversations were interpreted that way. But he also cast blame against Lopez, saying he increased the division in the council.

“I am very distraught that the actions that occurred last Thursday and my role in them led to further division between Black and brown communities,” Ramirez-Rosa told reporters.

“And I also want to note that what really helped widen that divide was Alderman Raymond Lopez’s false allegations that I physically assaulted — that I manhandled — someone. Those allegations took on a life of their own. There were people in my office protesting on Friday saying ‘You hit a Black woman’ — that was not true. And so those lies that were said about me by my colleague caused harm.”

The City Council’s Black Caucus, which had demanded Ramirez-Rosa apologize for his “actions of physical and verbal harassment,” said in a statement Tuesday morning they were grateful for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s handling of the issue and hoped it would serve as a teaching moment. The City Council’s Progressive Caucus said Monday Ramirez-Rosa’s conduct was “unacceptable” and said relinquishing his leadership positions was “the beginning of a restorative process.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of progressive organizers signed their names on a statement in support of Ramirez-Rosa Tuesday, arguing calls for his removal and censure were politically motivated.

Diana Martinez, a spokeswoman for the City Clerk’s Office, said that since 2010 there was one effort to censure Ald. James Gardiner, 45th Ward, in 2021, which ultimately failed to pass. The office doesn’t maintain lists of City Council censures or expulsions, Martinez said.

Tessa Weinberg and Mariah Woelfel cover Chicago government and politics for WBEZ.

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