The Raucous Scene At Chicago’s City Council Wednesday

City Hall
Photo by Claudia Morell / Illustration by Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
City Hall
Photo by Claudia Morell / Illustration by Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

The Raucous Scene At Chicago’s City Council Wednesday

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It was a raucous scene at Chicago’s City Council Wednesday, when aldermen greenlighted plans for the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side but delayed a vote on almost everything else on their agenda before abruptly ending their monthly meeting.

Amidst all that, scores of Chicago cops flooded City Hall to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

WBEZ reporters captured photos, video, and tweets from the action.

Angry cops call for mayor’s ouster

Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police bused its union members down to City Hall with a message for the mayor: Have our backs, renew our contract, and don’t cave in to police reformers.

The contract covering all rank-and-file officers expired last summer and the union leadership has publically blamed the Emanuel administration for dragging its feet to negotiate a new one. 

The contract is a particularly sticky issue in the post-Laquan McDonald era. Reformers want to gut protections offered to officers, citing a 2017 Department of Justice report that suggested the contract fosters a “code of silence” among cops to protect their own. The police union is adamantly opposed to any changes they say would hamstring their ability to do their job.

“We are not backing down on the things that we need to do for reform,” Emanuel said Wednesday in response to the police officers’ protest. “There is a right way and a wrong way to do policing, and we are collectively working together towards getting the best professional officers.” 

Aldermen OK Obama Presidential Center plans

Away from the protesting cops — and after much speechifying — aldermen on Wednesday gave their final approval to a zoning plan that allows for the Obama Presidential Center to be built in Jackson Park on the South Side. 

Emanuel even made a point to call President Barack Obama, his former boss, to congratulate him on the vote — and then to tweet about it. 

Under the plan, the Obama Foundation would construct four buildings on the site, including a museum and a Chicago Public Library branch. Plans also call for parts of Marquette and Cornell drives to be closed and turned into park space. 

Aldermen approved the plan overwhelmingly — but not unanimously

Ald. David Moore (17th Ward), who represents Englewood on the South Side, was the lone no vote. He said the city shouldn’t be spending $175 million on rerouting major roadways for the Obama Center site when his ward lacks even basic street maintenance. 

#NoCopAcademy means no cop academy vote — for now

One thing that didn’t move forward as expected on Wednesday: the plan to allocate money toward building a controversial, $95 million police training academy planned for West Garfield Park. Two aldermen invoked an obscure parliamentary trick to block an ordinance by setting aside funding for the project.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) abruptly stopped Wednesday’s meeting and said the council would take up the issue Friday. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward), who chairs the council’s Budget Committee, called the parliamentary move an act of “war” by two freshman aldermen, David Moore and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward). 

“I don’t understand these newbies that don’t even understand the process of doing something. It’s not always got to be a battle— now they’ve made it into a war,” Austin said. 

Ald. Emma Mitts, whose West Side 37th ward would house the new academy, was equally blunt: “You kill my dog, I’m going to kill your cat.” 

Activists rallying around the #NoCopAcademy mantle say the money could be better spent toward social and human services, and they object to locating a police training center in a neighborhood that’s had tense relations with the Chicago cops.

Becky Vevea contributed reporting to this story.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. You can follow her at @claudiamorell.