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Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) speaks during a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. On Monday, some of his City Council colleagues said they were in favor of censuring Ramirez-Rosa amid bullying accusations.

Pat Nabong

Alderpeople accuse Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of threatening to stall zoning changes

Even as Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa stepped down from two powerful positions in City Council on Monday, more accusations are being made public that he threatened to block development in some City Council members’ wards, leading to at least one call that he be censured.

Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, said in a statement Monday he would be stepping down as Mayor Brandon Johnson’s floor leader and as chair of the powerful Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards next month after being accused of “bullying.”

The accusations were detailed in a letter drafted Thursday night by Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward. An initial draft obtained by WBEZ called for Ramirez-Rosa to be formally censured by the City Council and that the Board of Ethics and Office of the Inspector General investigate alleged threats Ramirez-Rosa made for also abusing his power.

Ramirez-Rosa’s moves came in response to a special City Council meeting that ended abruptly Thursday after multiple false starts and hours of procedural chaos. Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th Ward, accused Ramirez-Rosa on social media of “manhandling” Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward, one of the longest-serving alderpersons, in order to prevent her from entering the chambers and giving the meeting the quorum it needed to officially begin. The Black Caucus demanded he apologize for his “actions of physical and verbal harassment.”

A CBS report shows the incident in which Ramirez-Rosa appears to reach out to Mitts as 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.

In addition, Waguespack accused Ramirez-Rosa of abusing his power — threatening to block any future zoning legislation in three alderpersons’ wards from passing out of the zoning committee Ramirez-Rosa chairs. Ramirez-Rosa disputed the accusations Monday afternoon, and in his earlier statement, he also apologized to Alds. Nicole Lee, Chris Taliaferro and Felix Cardona Jr., who he said he heard “also felt disrespected and harmed by my actions.”

Taliaferro, 29th Ward, told WBEZ on Monday he thinks “any actions of wrongdoing should be investigated by the Office of the Inspector General.”

He said Ramirez-Rosa “in essence informed me not to expect any assistance from him with anything that I have before his committee,” after Taliaferro said last Thursday he would be staying at last week’s special City Council meeting despite Ramirez-Rosa asking him to leave.

“I was a little stunned,” Taliaferro said. “I walked right back into the meeting and cast my quorum vote.”

Cardona, 31st Ward, said in a statement Monday that during a separate committee hearing last Thursday Ramirez-Rosa, “whispered in my ear that there would be no development in my ward. I received that as a threat not only to me but to the 31st residents I represent as well.”

He said Ramirez-Rosa’s actions were “nothing short of bullying and an abuse of power” and that he stands in support of censuring Ramirez-Rosa to “deter anyone from using these tactics in the future …”

Lee, 11th Ward, said in a statement Monday she received a similar threat “to compromise 11th Ward zoning items from advancing before the Zoning Committee if I did not leave the Council Chambers last Thursday in order to prevent quorum.”

“Ald. Ramirez-Rosa’s actions toward me and my colleagues were wholly inappropriate, and I respect his decision to step down as floor leader and Chair of the Zoning Committee,” said Lee, who reported the conversation to the Inspector General’s office. “There is clearly work to do now to rebuild trust.”

But asked about the alleged threats Monday, Ramirez-Rosa pushed back on the characterizations.

“I was over zealous in trying to prevent the meeting from reaching quorum, and said things I should not have said, but that’s taken on a life of its own now,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “I said out of frustration to some of my colleagues that I couldn’t work with them if they were not going to work with me, but that’s as far as it went.”

The draft letter also says complaints will be filed with both the Board of Ethics and Office of Inspector General “to undertake further investigation of the physical and verbal threats, or any other unlawful or prohibited conduct, made by Alderperson Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.”

The City Council’s rules permit a majority of the council to censure “any member acting or appearing in a lewd or disgraceful manner, or who uses opprobrious, obscene or insulting language to or about any member of the Council, or who does not obey the order of the Chair.”

“Such threats made by Alderperson Ramirez-Rosa were not mere legislative ‘horse trading’, but rather are a clear abuse of power reminiscent of the worst aspects of our City’s political history,” the draft censure letter reads. “This body has seen the censure and expulsion of members for similar acts of misconduct throughout its history, and members have also resigned or been removed as Chair of a committee for similar conduct.”

In his statement Monday, Ramirez-Rosa said he reached out to apologize to his colleagues and make amends.

“Tensions were high at a chaotic meeting, and I let that get the best of me, leading me to act in a way unbecoming of a leader. I sincerely apologize to my colleague, Alderwoman Emma Mitts, for the disrespectful interaction outside of Council Chamber,” Ramirez-Rosa said in the statement, later adding: “I made mistakes, and I learned valuable lessons. I take full responsibility for what I’ve done.”

Johnson said he spoke with both Mitts and Ramirez-Rosa over the weekend, and agrees with Ramirez-Rosa’s decision.

“Alderwoman Mitts is a venerable leader and woman of abiding faith, who is committed to public service and the principles of accountability and mercy,” Johnson said in a statement. “Alderman Ramirez-Rosa has acknowledged his transgressions, apologized to his colleagues and committed himself to rebuilding trust.”

Tessa Weinberg covers Chicago politics and government for WBEZ. WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this story.

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