Despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s highly visible Dec. 9 speech, during which he issued a public apology for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) introduced a bill several hours after the speech that would make it possible for Chicago voters to recall the mayor.
The bill would amend a 1941 act in order to establish a procedure that would make an election recall effective immediately if the bill becomes law.
But that’s quite a big if. The bill would have some steep hurdles to clear in the form of Gov. Bruce Rauner, a longtime friend of the mayor, and Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
In a recent interview, Ford said that whether or not the bill passes won’t be up to those politicians — that would be something the people decide.
“I’m hoping that this is something the community will lobby and fight for,” he said. “It’s my commitment to do as much as the community pushes me to do. I am as strong as the community when it comes to this bill. So, if the community is strong about the will of this bill, then I’m strong. But if there’s no real will of the community, then this is it.”
The West Side lawmaker said he was prompted to file the bill after hearing Emanuel’s mea culpa, which many political observers have lauded for its sincerity. The mayor even got a standing ovation from many aldermen — including those who belong to the City Council’s Black Caucus.
But for Ford and some other West Side leaders, the mayor’s apology was high on drama, but low on addressing the kind of questions and demands that many Chicagoans have been seeking.
Not long after the mayor’s speech — which according to a source was an invitation-only affair — a few dozen protesters gathered outside of Daley Plaza for a demonstration that would snowball into a roughly five hour, traffic-stopping march through the Loop and the Gold Coast.
The marchers called for Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign and for prosecutors to indict the officers who made false statements about McDonald’s murder.
“I heard the mayor’s speech and what was surprising to me is that he seemed surprised by what’s been going on in the city and that’s disappointing,” Ford said. “Either he’s surprised or he wasn’t and he was covering something up. Either way, it’s disappointing.”
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and co-chairman of the Leaders Network, joined the protesters after seeing the speech and the Black Caucus’s reaction — which he said was “pathetic.”
“A speech with a couple tears didn’t move these young people,” Acree said, before applauding the protest’s organizers and leaders — most of whom are in their teens and twenties.
Acree said he met with the mayor before the speech to talk about the community’s discontent, but none of the substance of that talk was in the mayor’s Dec. 9 speech. Acree said that, with respect to the McDonald tapes, the mayor didn’t address “what he knew and when he knew it,” and he didn’t explicitly address whether or not he suppressed the tapes.
Acree also reinforced many demands that community leaders have been making since the McDonald tapes were released on Nov. 24. He called for the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and the mayor’s recently formed blue-ribbon task force on police misconduct to be disbanded.
He also called for a review board composed of civilians and people directly affected by police misconduct — such as the teenagers who were protesting around him. None of those matters, he said, were addressed in the mayor’s speech.
During his 40-minute speech, Emanuel nearly came to tears while recalling a conversation with a young, African American boy who asked the mayor if he thinks the police would treat him the way they treat young black people.
The mayor also reinforced the about-face positions he’d taken recently, including calling for a federal civil rights investigation into police practices, criticizing the police department’s ‘blue code of silence,’ overhauling IPRA and working with the American Civil Liberties Union on improving police accountability.
A Dec. 9 Chicago Tribune report on the speech encapsulated why many people like Acree and Ford may have been incredulous when the mayor apologized.
“He condemned a Police Department ‘code of silence’ that encourages cover-ups, though the mayor and his administration’s lawyers tried to wipe out a jury verdit that found such a code exists,” the Tribune noted.
“The mayor insisted the city needed ‘better oversight of our police officers,’ though he’s defended the department’s practices while signing off on millions of dollars in police brutality settlements. And Emanuel said the statistics on how few officers get disciplined for excessive force ‘defy credibility,’ though he’s backed the police oversight board and endorsed a police union contract that makes it difficult to discipline officers.”
Acree, however, didn’t go so far as demanding for Emanuel’s resignation, citing the mayor’s past comments that he wouldn’t resign and noting that, besides, there is no provision for the mayor to be recalled.
Not two hours later, however, as the downtown protest was nearing an end, one woman yelled into a rolling loudspeaker that “a recall bill has just been filed in Springfield!”
Ford said the bill was filed by one of his staff members in Springfield, since he’s still in Chicago. The General Assembly’s next session doesn’t start until Jan. 13. The bill is currently in committee under review, he said.
So far, the bill has the backing of state Rep. Mary Flowers (31st). He said he doesn’t know yet which other legislators will also get on board. That’s something ultimately left up to their constituents, he said.
“People should call their state representatives and ask them to co-sponsor it and they should show their support for it,” he said. “I think they should continue to protest and continue to prove that they’re serious and this is what they want.”
According to a recent poll commissioned by the The Insider newsletter, more than half of likely voters in the city believe the mayor should resign.
According to a recent Ogden & Fry poll, only 18 percent of likely voters approve of the mayor’s performance in office, while 67 percent disapprove. And more than 60 percent noted that they didn’t believe Emanuel when he claimed not to have seen the McDonald murder tape before it was released to the public.
But Ford insisted that his bill isn’t solely about Mayor Emanuel.
“This bill isn’t just about Rahm, it’s about mayors in general,” he said. “This would give the people the ability to recall the Mayor of Chicago. What we have here is a vehicle for people to have more control of their government.”