The Conservative Candidates Vying To Lead Chicago’s Police Union Support The Mayor’s Pick For Top Cop

former Dallas Police Chief David Brown
Then-Dallas police chief David Brown listens to a question during a 2016 news conference. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has nominated Brown to be the next Chicago Police Department superintendent. LM Otero / Associated Press
former Dallas Police Chief David Brown
Then-Dallas police chief David Brown listens to a question during a 2016 news conference. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has nominated Brown to be the next Chicago Police Department superintendent. LM Otero / Associated Press

The Conservative Candidates Vying To Lead Chicago’s Police Union Support The Mayor’s Pick For Top Cop

The two candidates in a runoff to head the union for Chicago’s rank-and-file cops are both politically conservative. They are both fans of President Donald Trump. And neither sees eye-to-eye with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, especially when she takes progressive stands on police reform and criminal justice issues.

But both incumbent Kevin Graham and challenger John Catanzara Jr., the top finishers in the first round of balloting for Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 president, are talking up Lightfoot’s nomination of former Dallas police chief David Brown to be superintendent — one of the biggest policing decisions of her mayoral tenure.

Brown, who awaits City Council confirmation, came to national prominence in 2016 when a sniper killed five Dallas officers. Cops under Brown killed the sniper by detonating an explosive carried by a remote-controlled robot.

“That was a very tough call to make, and it was the right call to make,” Catanzara told WBEZ. “I give him kudos for that.”

Catanzara made his name in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, when the Chicago Police Department reprimanded him for posting on Facebook a photo of himself in his police uniform, holding a placard that said he supports his president and the Second Amendment.

Catanzara said his support for Brown is not without reservation. The FOP candidate pointed to a 2018 article by Brown about racial inequality, justice and policing in America. Brown, who is black, put an unfavorable spin on the police shooting that ignited rioting in Ferguson, Mo.

The article did not impress Catanzara, who is white.

“He was bashing the police and making everything racially based and now he’s coming here, trying to lead the troops [after] furthering the narrative that the police are the problem,” Catanzara said.

In Catanzara’s next breath, however, he gushed about Brown’s response to a 2010 tragedy involving the chief’s son, who had a psychotic episode and fatally shot two people — one of them a suburban cop — before he himself was killed by the police. Brown had his own grief but visited the families of his son’s victims to say he was sorry.

“It goes to speak to the man’s character,” Catanzara said. “He had the humanity and the understanding that they needed obviously to hear from him and he needed to apologize.”

Graham, elected union president three years ago, was the only local official given the honor of welcoming Trump to town as he stepped off Air Force One before a Chicago speech last fall.

Graham told WBEZ he has heard “a number of good things” about Brown. One of those is his ability to work with a wide variety of people.

The FOP incumbent said he is looking forward to meeting with Brown about a court-enforced agreement to reform Chicago policing: “Certainly I’ve heard that he is in favor of the consent decree. I am not. So I want to find out why he’s in favor of it.”

Graham said he won’t make up his mind about Brown just yet.

“The members of the Chicago Police Department — my members — have been kicked around for the last couple years and unfairly,” Graham said. “I want to know what he wants to do to try to bring the morale up around here.”

But both of these Trump-loving candidates seeking to head the city’s big police union say they are willing to give the former Dallas chief a chance in Chicago.

Mailed-in FOP ballots were due April 2. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the election’s in-person voting and its ballot counting were postponed and have not yet been rescheduled.

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