The list of finalists to become the next superintendent of the Chicago Police Department had been narrowed to three candidates, who were all selected by the Police Board. In the end, however, none of those finalists proved sufficient for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has selected someone else for the job, according to media reports.
On March 27, city council officials announced that Emanuel had selected Eddie Johnson, the department’s chief of patrol, to become interim superintendent, even though Johnson hadn’t applied for the position and city law requires the mayor to select only those finalists chosen by the Police Board. Johnson, a 27-year veteran police officer, could possibly become the mayor’s permanent selection, various media outlets have reported.
According to a Chicago Tribune report, “For a week, Emanuel considered the slate of candidates his hand-picked Police Board culled for him, and sources close to the administration said the decision came down to either hiring Cedric Alexander, a public safety director in suburban Atlanta, or finding his own alternative.”
In the run-up to the mayor’s selection, black and Latino aldermen were pressuring the mayor to open up the appointment process to greater scrutiny, with the Chicago City Council Black Caucus requesting to interview candidates for the job.
Some West Side officials, such as Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) urged the mayor to appoint former 15th District Commander Eugene Williams, currently a deputy chief with the department, to the position.
“Deputy Chief Eugene William’s approach and dedication to police and community collaboration should not be ignored,” Davis said during a press conference held last week. “Mr. Williams has risen through the ranks of the Chicago Police Department, which has generated support from his peers and subordinates.”
According to various media reports, Emanuel may have balked after his initial decision to offer Alexander the job due to pressure among residents, community leaders and aldermen to offer the position to someone from within the department — preferably a minority.
Some Latino aldermen were already incensed that the current interim superintendent, John Escalante, who is also Latino, wasn’t included among finalists, even though he had applied for the job. Escalante is expected to continue serving in a high-ranking capacity under Johnson, according to media reports. Johnson, Alexander and Williams are African-American.
The mayor’s circumvention of the appointment process has angered some prominent religious leaders on the West and South Sides, although city officials have noted that they plan on nonetheless following the letter of the law.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the mayor could “meet the letter of the law” by “rejecting the original finalists, appoint Johnson to replace John Escalante as interim superintendent, then ask the Police Board to conduct a second search,” which would include Johnson as a finalist and eventually, if the mayor has his way, the permanent superintendent.
“Rahm Emanuel’s sudden appointment of a new Chicago Police superintendent proves that Rahm does whatever he wants to do, and that rules, processes and laws are for everyone else to adhere to,” said Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin.
“I have nothing personally against Eddie Johnson, I don’t know enough about his credentials to judge him as a candidate, but the manner in which this mayor chose the superintendent subverted the process of one of our most important institutions.”
“Eddie Johnson might be a great pick to lead Chicago’s troubled police department, but the process in which he was selected undermines the product,” noted a statement put out by Rev. Jesse Jackson in the wake of Emanuel’s selection.
“By circumventing the long established procedure for picking the city’s top cop, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has loaded Chief Johnson down with baggage that reeks of backroom deals.”