Fending off a tough challenger, a bombastic former patrol officer has won a second term as president of the union for 10,000 rank-and-file Chicago cops and 6,000 police retirees.
John Catanzara Jr. captured nearly 57% of the 7,192 votes for president of Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7. He defeated Robert Bartlett, a detective who won 43% after six months of campaigning in which he warned fellow cops that Catanzara’s confrontational approach was turning away potential allies of the union.
“Coppers today don’t go to union meetings, so they’re uninformed and opinionated and they get what they deserve,” said Patrick Murray, a retired officer who helped assemble Second City, a slate of challengers led by Bartlett.
“They’re going to get John Catanzara, a complete self-serving disaster,” said Murray, who lost to a member of Catanzara’s Vision and Voice slate in the race for financial secretary.
Catanzara, 54, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about his victory, announced Friday night after a month of balloting.
His slate also captured most other elected posts on the union’s board of directors, who will serve four-year terms and remain in office until 2027, the same as Chicago’s next mayor.
During his first term, Catanzara led a 28-member board that included no African Americans. His early moves included threatening to expel a Black cop from the union for kneeling with protesters upset about George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.
Catanzara also defended the Jan. 6 rioters at the U.S. Capitol. He apologized for those statements after a rebuke from the FOP’s national leader.
Later in 2021, the Police Board opened a hearing about whether to fire Catanzara, who was still a CPD member, due to alleged misconduct in 18 incidents — mostly Facebook postings that deployed vulgar or allegedly racist language. The hearing, scheduled for three days, ended after the first day — when he retired, a move that did not require him to step down from the Lodge 7 presidency.
Catanzara also led resistance to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID vaccination mandate for city employees, at one point likening it to Nazi methods, another statement for which he apologized.
During the vaccination fracas, Catanzara encouraged FOP members to disobey orders to report their vax status, leading some to be stripped of their police powers — and leading some members to accuse him of hypocrisy because he had been vaccinated.
But Catanzara, campaigning for reelection, said he had no regrets.
“Literally 3,200 officers were granted an exemption [from vaccination] because we … didn’t go hide in a corner like every other union in this city did,” Catanzara said in a YouTube video targeting cops this month. “I’m damn proud of that fight.”
Catanzara scored another victory — a win that had eluded his predecessor — by negotiating big retroactive paychecks for the city’s cops. He had help in contract talks from former schools chief Paul Vallas, an unpaid consultant to the union who was preparing to run for mayor.
But Bartlett, 48, complained that the 2.5% annual raises in that agreement lagged far behind inflation.
“The pay raises were only a half percent more than the city was originally offering,” Bartlett told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think we would have done far better in arbitration.”
Catanzara also talked up his team’s conversion of a floor of the lodge into a “wellness center” for cops and their families to get professional counseling. At least 22 active CPD members have died by suicide since 2018.
During a second term, Catanzara said he would try to set up a long-envisioned Lodge 7 health-insurance plan and build a union “campus” that includes a health-care facility.
Bartlett was not impressed.
“Is this going to be a Taj Mahal? His great castle?” Bartlett asked the Sun-Times. “We’re going to be spending exorbitant amounts of money, and he’s going to be raising our dues again.”
A dues hike already forged by Catanzara enabled the union to boost its contributions to electoral candidates, including City Council hopefuls. The lodge endorsed 26 aldermanic candidates and spent more than $300,000 for them leading up to this past Tuesday’s first round, but the impact appeared limited.
Lodge 7 arguably had a greater effect on the mayor’s race, backing Vallas, who won a spot in the runoff.
Bartlett also criticized Catanzara’s spending, especially the $77,000 the union says it paid to buy a food trailer to serve cops on the job.
Catanzara last month said the trailer was not purchased using member dues but, rather, using $72,000 in federal funds intended to help the union avoid pandemic-related layoffs.
If Vallas wins the mayoral runoff, Catanzara said, “we certainly expect to have a lot more free time to get the trailer out and promote some more fraternalism.”