A City Council meeting attracts about a hundred off-duty police officers and more than a hundred anti-police protesters for one of the most raucous meetings in recent memory. They manage to approve the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, but the news accounts all note that there was a “no” vote. It came from first-term Alderman David Moore. The Mayor, according to the Daily Line’s Managing Editor Heather Cherone, wasn’t amused.
When Emanuel called president Obama, “The Mayor said it was 47 to 1,” Cherone tells us. “And apparently the former President responded, ‘Well who was that one?’…That one vote is going to stick in the Mayor’s craw for a little while, and again, David Moore was consistent. The Obama Center will need somewhere in the neighborhood of $175-million in taxpayer money to move several roads to make the plan possible. And Alderman Moore’s point was, “Where is that money coming from? Am I going to have to give up road resurfacing or infrastructure projects in my Ward so that we can pay for this? And if that’s what the trade-off is I vote no’”.
“And we should note that the City Council’s approval is sort of the first hurdle that the Center had to get over,” she adds. “It still has to undergo a federal review because the park is on the National Historic Landmarks list, and also there is already a lawsuit that is seeking to stop it. So it’s sort of the end of the beginning, I think, as one of the aldermen said yesterday.”
Governor Rauner did something very confusing earlier this week. The Legislature passed a bill calling for a 72-hour “cooling off” period before the purchase of “assault” weapons. But Governor Rauner, using his amendatory veto, essentially re-wrote the bill, extending the waiting period to all firearms purchases, but also adding a reinstatement of the death penalty. It seemed not to please anybody. “I think the Governor is trying to heal a rift with the conservative Republicans in his party that don’t like his votes to broaden abortion rights, and at the same time put the Democrats in some sort of trick box, but I don’t think he expects that legislation to pass,” explains Hal Dardick, (recently appointed) investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune. “His calculation I think is that to reinstate the death penalty for a police officer, people that shoot and kill police officers or that commit mass murders is that that will appeal to the base, and that he doesn’t have to worry about the 72-hour thing passing because the whole package is sort of dead on arrival for any number of reasons. So he’s made his political statement and let’s move on.”
“For most of this year the debate about guns in Springfield has been about licensing gun stores,” adds WBEZ’s state politics reporter Tony Arnold, “which hasn’t really been much of a discussion outside of anywhere but Illinois, and it’s been really pushed hard by the Mayor and the police superintendent, and it’s been adjusted a few times in Springfield. They have a few more Republicans than they had before, but it’s not clear if it has the Governor’s support still. And so this could be a way for Rauner to be, rather than waiting to see what the legislature sends him in terms of legislation of public safety, this is his way of trying to take control, or at least address some other policy besides just what is handed to him.”
We also note that a recent meeting in Springfield, the Governor’s policy chief admitted that the Governor might be willing to sign a bill that didn’t include the death penalty measure, but a press person almost immediately disputed that claim.
When the Council turned to voting for partial funding of the Mayor’s proposed police training facility in West Garfield Park, two aldermen jumped ship, calling for a deferral of the matter to the next meeting. The Latino caucus denied that it had anything to do with that vote, but the group expelled one of the Aldermen, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the same day.
“I mean it’s unprecedented for a caucus to expel a member,” Cherone explains. “And (Chairman) Villegas told me that it was not related to the police academy issue, but that Alderman Ramirez-Rosa just did not attend the caucus meetings. The other members of the caucus were putting 100% in and he wasn’t, and that was why this move was made. They will meet again next month in a caucus, and Alderman Villegas said that they will give Alderman Ramirez-Rosa a chance to address the caucus.”
The training facility is emerging as one of the most contentious issues facing the mayor right now. Almost every alderman wants it, but there’s stiff community opposition from protesters who insist that the money should be spent on projects that directly benefit impoverished neighborhoods.
“It goes back to the 2016 investigation of the Police Department by the Obama Justice Department that found that police officers were essentially leaving the training academy ill-equipped and unprepared to constitutionally police,” Cherone points out. “And part of the problem was that the current training facility is near Whitney Young High School on the near west side and it is essentially falling apart. So one of the recommendations in that report was for the City to build a new training facility. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Yep, we’re going to do that.”
Tony Arnold brings us up-to-date on the remarkable serial tragedy at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy. WBEZ reported that a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak occurred in 2015, killing 13 residents. One, they reported earlier this month, was Delores French. “She was living at the Veteran’s home in an independent living building and her husband who needed more care was in a separate building, so she was healthy other than the fact that she was deaf,” Arnold explains. “The coroner had found that there was severe decay in her body when she was discovered. In the hearings and the legislative hearings that came out of those initial stories the Director of Veteran’s Affairs ended up saying there’s documentation showing that that is not true. We asked to see that documentation and were told ‘no’, so the family of Delores French asked to see the documentation. They said, “Okay, but give us $100.” So they took the documentation and gave it to my colleague Dave McKinney who ended up writing that story saying that it turns out that there is documentation that shows that they visited Delores French’s room but she wasn’t there. It’s just that that was written after the body was found. And so the rules say that there needs to be record-keeping in this environment up-to-date, not written after the fact.”
In fact, WBEZ’s reporting has resulted in several laws being written or modified to address the tragedy.
You can watch Tony Arnold elaborate on the entire legislative initiative by clicking the link above.
You can listen to the program on Soundcloud.
And you can read a full transcript of the conversation here: CN transcript May 24 2018