Lake Shore Drive Name Change Is Back Before Council — But Will It Get A Vote?

Lake Shore Drive
A view of Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago City Council is expected to take up a potential name change of the iconic roadway after explorer Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, but the vote is not clear. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Lake Shore Drive
A view of Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago City Council is expected to take up a potential name change of the iconic roadway after explorer Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, but the vote is not clear. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Lake Shore Drive Name Change Is Back Before Council — But Will It Get A Vote?

The drawn out debate over whether to rename Lake Shore Drive after Chicago’s founding father could once again be center stage at Wednesday’s full City Council meeting, though it remains to be seen if Mayor Lori Lightfoot will allow aldermen to vote on the proposal.

The ordinance would rename the majority of the Drive to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive — from Hollywood Avenue in the north to 67th Street in the south — to honor the area’s first non-Indigenous settler.

Opposing the renaming is Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, who used a parliamentary maneuver to delay a vote last month. That delay all but ensured the measure will get taken up at Wednesday’s full council meeting, absent any further technical moves by opponents, or the mayor who presides over the council.

Hopkins told WBEZ last week he was anticipating a vote on the measure Wednesday, but when reached again this week, he wasn’t so sure.

“It’s possible that the roll call vote could be postponed … There’s a lot of discussion going on and last minute changes are possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hopkins said Tuesday aldermen may be working overnight to try to hash out an alternative proposal to the Lake Shore Drive renaming. Draft proposals include renaming the road “DuSable Lake Shore Drive”; renaming Millennium Park to DuSable Park and adding a tribute fountain or statue in DuSable’s honor; or renaming (and renovating) the existing DuSable Park to “Founders Park” as a tribute to him and his wife, Kittihawa.

But none of those ideas are attached to an ordinance, and may not be ready for consideration come Wednesday.

Hopkins contends his constituents are adamantly opposed and concerned about changing their addresses, or dealing with the headache of keeping a mailing address of a road that no longer exists.

An analysis from the Chicago Department of Transportation shared with aldermen showed only buildings owned by the city and museums along Lake Shore Drive would be subject to address changes. A separate analysis said the name change would cost at least $853,000.

Lightfoot, who opposes the name change, has not committed to allowing a straightforward vote on the measure, saying she’s heard from residents who don’t like the idea of changing the name of the iconic road.

The mayor came out with an alternative plan last month that includes lining Chicago’s pedestrian riverwalk with DuSable-inspired art, creating several monuments honoring him and his wife, creating an annual DuSable festival and sprucing up an existing DuSable Park downtown. But it’s unclear if she’s going to keep pushing for that plan, or abandon it for one of the ideas from Hopkins and other aldermen.

Proponents of the name change have argued that Lightfoot’s proposal should complement, not override theirs, and that renaming the road that stretches across the length of Chicago is a more meaningful step to unifying a city divided by race and class.

“This is the only way we’re going to bridge the gap between the north and the south and bring us together as one people so we can all celebrate as one,” said Ephraim Martin, the leader of the group Black Heroes Matter that’s been pushing for the change.

DuSable was a Haitian explorer and the area’s first non-Indigenous resident in the late-1700s. Before leaving in 1800, he built a successful trading post that eventually grew to be Chicago. But DuSable’s immense contribution to establishing the nation’s third largest city has been overlooked for centuries.

The DuSable name change is just one of several big-ticket items on the council agenda for Wednesday.

Parks, payouts and midnight liquor sale curfew also on tap

Aldermen are being asked to approve $17 million for public parks, of which about half will go to Garfield Park. The West Side park is in line for a new Little League field, a massive renovation to it’s field house and updates to the indoor Children’s Garden at Garfield Park Conservatory. A cluster of parks on the North Branch of the Chicago River could also get a collective $7 million. The money comes from special taxing districts, known as TIFs.

If a settlement is approved Wednesday, city taxpayers could be on the hook for roughly $1.825 million in payouts to five women paramedics who filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 alleging sexual harassment in the Chicago Fire Department. Their allegations accused the department and the city of allowing a culture of harassment and gender discrimination under a “code of silence” at the fire department. The lawsuit was filed amid the national #metoo movement, when women across the country were speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Also on the agenda for Wednesday is a sweeping package of changes to city laws regulating businesses, including a permanent midnight curfew on liquor store sales and a cap on the fees charged by third-party food delivery apps. Lightfoot introduced the measures last month, touting them as cutting red tape.

But at least one of the changes didn’t sit well with some aldermen, who argued it was an attempt to curb their power. That measure would make it easier and quicker for businesses to get permits for things like storefront signs and sidewalk cafes by no longer requiring City Council to vote. If approved Wednesday, these “public way use” permits could be issued by a city department once a local aldermen signs off or after 60 days.

In addition, aldermen are expected to designate October as Italian American Heritage and Culture Month as the fate of Chicago’s Christopher Columbus statues is in limbo.

And, progressive aldermen have promised to force a measure onto the floor that would bring much-anticipated reform to Chicago police oversight. That’s after the proposal was delayed in the council’s Public Safety Committee yet again last week.

An ordinance typically requires committee approval in order to move forward for a full vote, but council rules allow aldermen to motion for their colleagues to vote on skirting committee approval to take up a measure anyway.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th ward, has vowed to do so on Wednesday, though he’ll likely have a tough time, as Chicago’s mayor opposes the ordinance and has her own plan for police oversight.

Mariah Woelfel and Becky Vevea cover city government at WBEZ. You can follow them at @mariahwoelfel and @beckyvevea.