Mayor Rahm Emanuel promoted the Chicago Police Department’s Chief of Patrol, Eddie Johnson, to the role of interim Police Superintendent and subsequently asked the Police Board to initiate a new search for the top cop vacancy. Mayor Emanuel’s end-run around the Police Board also raised questions about the Board’s future relevancy, since Mayor Emanuel had directed the Board to conduct a nationwide search, only to choose a Chicago-based candidate who didn’t apply to the position.
Johnson will take over the role that until yesterday was held by Interim Superintendent John Escalante, who will resume his previous role as second in command, the First Deputy Chief of Police.
“I believe [Eddie Johnson] is the right person at the right time to serve as Interim Superintendent. He has the command, the character and the capability to lead the department at this critical juncture,” Mayor Emanuel said of his decision at a late afternoon press conference held at CPD headquarters yesterday.
Attending the press conference in the front row, but not on stage, was a smattering of aldermen, including Rules Committee Chair Michelle Harris (8), Public Safety Chair Ariel Reboyras (30), Zoning Committee Chair Danny Solis (25) and Latino Caucus Chair George Cardenas (12).
Emanuel said that while the Police Board was conducting its national search to fill the vacancy left by the firing of former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, he met with community leaders, aldermen and police officers across the city to get a feel for who they wanted in the leadership role.
It was during those CAPS meetings, roll calls, and private lunches, the Mayor said, that he “kept hearing” about all the attributes that the next superintendent should have: “a proven crime fighter, someone who knows Chicago, someone who can mentor our officers, and someone with impeccable integrity.”
“Someone who has those attributes is Eddie Johnson,” he said.
But the question still remains as to how Johnson received consideration from the Mayor in the first place. The Police Board is mandated by city law, when a police superintendent vacancy occurs, to “nominate three candidates to fill the position and to submit those nominations to the mayor.” If none of the nominees are accepted by the mayor, the Board must come up with three more. The mayor appoints the Police Board members, who serve for five year terms and can be removed for “just cause”.
Asked by reporters about his process, Mayor Emanuel said that his conversation with Johnson started “a little over a week ago”, around the same time he was talking to those various stakeholders. “This name [Eddie Johnson] came up in different venues and different forms.”
Some sources suggested to Aldertrack yesterday that Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church offered up Johnson’s name, because of their close relationship dating back to when Johnson was commander of the 6th Police District, which includes Fr. Pfleger’s church.
But Fr. Pfleger told Aldertrack that he made no such recommendation, and that it wasn’t until the mayor called him Saturday night, before the news broke, that he first learned Johnson was under consideration.
“The Mayor called to keep me in the loop,” Pfleger told Aldertrack prior to Mayor Emanuel’s press conference, adding that he had no idea why the Mayor had chosen not to proceed with any of the three finalists recommended by the Police Board. “If [Johnson] had applied, he would have been one of the top three.”
Fr. Pfleger had nothing but praise for the 27-year veteran of the police department. “I have great respect for him,” he told Aldertrack, characterizing Johnson as a “quietly strong guy” with “good police sense”, and someone who has been very accessible and a strong track record of listening to the community.
“Do I think Eddie can to it? Yeah. But it will take a lot of cooperation [within the department] to restore trust,” he added.
Police Board Not Notified; Future Role Unclear
As of mid-day yesterday, the Police Board had not received official notification of the Johnson pick from the Mayor, according to Board executive director Max Caproni. Members had not been notified of the Mayor’s decision to restart the search either, according one member, Rev. Michael Eaddy, a senior pastor at the People’s Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ.
“The Mayor hasn’t provided any written communication to us,” Rev. Eaddy told Aldertrack Monday afternoon, also ahead of the mayor’s announcement, adding that all he knew about the Johnson appointment is what he’d read in the news.
“We picked three ideal candidates,” Rev. Eaddy told Aldertrack, “The only thing I know, those three finalists were interviewed last weekend.”
Within an hour of the Mayor’s formal announcement Monday afternoon, the Police Board issued a statement saying they had received word their finalists were rejected. “We will convene as a Board as soon as we are able and decide appropriate next steps,” the statement read.
While the Police Board has an ex officio role by law, it is unclear what de facto role it now has in choosing the next superintendent, now that the Mayor has announced his ultimate choice.
“I am being consistent with the process, and it also has precedent,” said Mayor Emanuel yesterday. As we reported earlier this month, when the top three finalists were officially announced, Mayor Richard M. Daley, in 2007, rejected Police Board’s first round of nominations to replace Phil Cline. Daley sent them back to the drawing board, and the board submitted three new names. Eight months later, Daley appointed Jody Weis to take over.
When asked in yesterday’s press conference in separate questions if the Police Board was relevant or an anachronism, because he brushed aside their recommendations and essentially directed them to nominate his choice, Mayor Emanuel refused to directly answer the question. “It’s an outgrowth of another problem the city had before,” he said.
Both Interim Supt. Johnson and Mayor Emanuel said that once that search begins, Johnson will formally apply to become the permanent superintendent. Asked why he didn’t apply during the first round, Johnson responded that interim Police Supt. John Escalante was vying for the position, “So out of support for him, I didn’t apply.”
Support For A “Chicagoan”
Both also dismissed the characterization of Johnson as an “insider”, arguing his experience is more likely to help not hinder reform the department, especially at a time when morale amongst the rank and file is at an all-time low.
“I think that because I am an insider, I can fix things from the inside out, as opposed to coming from the outside and having to fix it from the outside in,” Johnson said. “We have the Department of Justice review going on now, and the Mayor’s Task Force, and I welcome those things.”
Lori Lightfoot, the Police Board President, is also a member of the Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, which is slated to release its findings in mid-April.
“I would say he is a ‘Chicagoan,’” the Mayor added. “He grew up in the city and the department.”
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30), Chairman of the City Council Committee on Public Safety told Aldertrack that he no longer plans to conduct a hearing on Thursday to interview the previous submitted superintendent candidates. “We’ll be supporting the Mayor’s choice,” he said.
Council’s Black and Latino Caucuses Plan to Press Agenda Further
Two Council Caucuses lent their full-throated support to the new interim superintendent choice, but also delivered a warning that the new coalition between Black and Latino aldermen wouldn’t dissolve any time soon.
At a joint press conference with Latino Caucus chair Ald. George Cardenas (12), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Chair of the Black Caucus told reporters, “The gist of this is about, the Latino Caucus and the Black Caucus are continuing to work together towards transformative change in the City of Chicago.”
He continued, “Let’s be quite honest here. The city is comprised by a majority of Black and Latino members. We’re the majority. Between the two of us, our two caucuses, we’re the majority on the City Council.” Combined, the caucuses make up 28 members of the 50 member Council. They also take up majorities on two of Council’s most important committees, Finance (19 out of 34 members) and Budget (18 out of 34).
Sawyer went on to say that Chicago government, despite its rubber stamp reputation, was intended to be a strong council, weak mayor system. When asked what was next for the two caucuses to team up on, Sawyer had a short, nonspecific list: appointments, finance issues, and procurement. Cardenas was similarly short during the press conference, briefly mentioning economic and education issues.
Council recently passed higher procurement goals for the city to hire women and minorities for construction contracts, and incentives for contractors to hire apprentices, journey workers, and laborers from low-income, high-poverty and high-unemployment areas.
Both caucuses have shown they can successfully pressure the Mayor into bending on proposals. The Mayor’s office had a first round bout during the protracted showdown over the hike in the smoking age and prices for other tobacco product. The Mayor’s office issued a full court press at the time to appease South and West side Black and Latino aldermen’s concerns about loose cigarette sales and the burden on small retailers and border businesses.
The Latino Caucus is playing a long game, of sorts. At Monday’s press conference, Cardenas said the Latino Caucus is invested in promotions within the Chicago Police Department, so a Latino candidate rises to the top next time there’s an opening. “In order to have more Hispanics on that final count next time, we want to make sure that we address that now and not at that point.” Sources have said (and Caucus members have alluded to) elevating Latinos in leadership positions across the city.
The Chicago Police Department currently has vacancies for Chiefs of Detectives and Support Services. New Interim Superintendent Johnson would be responsible for making those appointments.