30 Votes Make The Difference In Police Union Election, But Incumbent Still Faces Runoff

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham, photographed last April in downtown Chicago, edged out a former ally by just 30 votes in balloting that ended Thursday. Now Graham advances to a runoff, where he faces a tough-talking challenger. Paul Beaty / AP Photo
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham, photographed last April in downtown Chicago, edged out a former ally by just 30 votes in balloting that ended Thursday. Now Graham advances to a runoff, where he faces a tough-talking challenger. Paul Beaty / AP Photo

30 Votes Make The Difference In Police Union Election, But Incumbent Still Faces Runoff

The president of the union for 12,000 rank-and-file Chicago police officers barely survived the first round of balloting in his bid for a second term and advanced Thursday to a runoff against a brash challenger who once filed a criminal report on the police superintendent.

Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, won 25.5%, edging out his former ally Martin Preib by just 30 votes in a race with more than 8,300 ballots returned.

The top finisher among five presidential hopefuls was John Catanzara Jr., who won 32.1%, more than 540 votes ahead of Graham but far short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Interviewed after the ballot count, Graham said he would have finished stronger if he had not been busy running the union: “I simply didn’t have a lot of time to campaign because I was doing my job.”

Graham also pointed to his failure to deliver a new FOP contract since the 2017 expiration of the lodge’s most recent agreement with the city.

“That was an issue [for] a lot of our members,” he said, still predicting he would prevail in the runoff.

“I took over in the most difficult time for the FOP,” Graham said, referring to the aftermath of the city’s release of a video showing teenager Laquan McDonald’s killing by Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, a member of the union. “I’ve done a good job.”

Catanzara gained prominence in 2017, when he was reprimanded for posting a photo of himself on Facebook dressed in his police uniform and holding a U.S. flag and a hand-lettered placard: “I stand for the anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the Second Amendment.”

Catanzara this week told WBEZ his campaign for FOP president aims to send Mayor Lori Lightfoot a message that, if her administration does not negotiate seriously with the union, his team will “bring a fight like no other FOP has before — to any mayor ever.”

Catanzara said his top aim is “restoring faith and pride in being a Lodge 7 member by actually standing up for the members consistently, being the voice they have sought for a very long time, especially in these anti-police days.”

CPD stripped Catanzara of police powers in October. He said that disciplinary case stems from filing a police report against now-fired Police Supt. Eddie Johnson after the top cop marched arm-in-arm with Rev. Michael Pfleger on the Dan Ryan Expressway during a 2018 protest against gun violence.

Preib, the FOP’s second vice president, helped orchestrate Graham’s 2017 election and appeared likely to survive the first round. He headed a candidate slate, “The Right Choice,” that included 11 of the lodge’s 27 current elected officers and both of the union’s field representatives.

Preib also has a personal following among cops from writing books and blog posts attacking the wrongful-conviction movement and from campaigning against criminal-justice reforms backed by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Catanzara and Preib could not be reached for comment about the results.

Ray Casiano, an ally of former President Dean Angelo Sr., won 13.1%. Michael Seiser finished last with 4.2%.

The first round’s balloting lasted four weeks. The union did not immediately announce a date for the end of balloting in the runoff. Both active and retired officers are eligible to vote.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.