Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 (FOP), the labor union that represents Chicago police officers, endorsed 19 candidates running for local police district councils – including three candidates running in Austin.
It isn’t unusual for FOP to endorse political candidates in Chicago elections, but what makes these races different is that the district councils are meant to be intermediaries between the police and the community. They will have a role in selecting the members of the city-wide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which will be responsible for selecting candidates for police superintendent, the head of the Community Office of Police Accountability, which is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct, and the Chicago Police Board, which has the final say on any disciplinary measures against police officers. That said, a union involvement in elections that affect its members isn’t unprecedented, either – the Chicago Teachers Union has been actively involved in electing Chicago mayors, who appoint members of the Chicago Board of Education.
All police commission endorsees are running for district councils in police districts that represent Austin. Retired fire district chief Carmalita Earls is running in the 15th District, which encompasses the portion of Austin south of Division Street, while elementary school teacher Edgar “Edek” Esparza, of Belmont-Cragin, and attorney Pericles “Perry” Abbasi, of Galewood, are running in the 25th District, which includes Galewood and other portions of Austin north of Division Street. The 25th District candidates both said they welcomed the endorsements and emphasized that police officers are their constituents, too.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, FOP spent a total of $25,000 to pay two attorneys, Abbasi and Frank Avila, to try to throw some district council candidates off the ballot. Abbasi told Sun-Times that the union helped him collect signatures for his own nominating petitions. Out of the six candidates Abbasi helped challenge, two were thrown off the ballot.
Abbasi insisted to Austin Weekly News that he didn’t have any agenda beyond representing a client, pointing to the fact that he served as an attorney for both objectees and objectors in district council and aldermanic races throughout Chicago.“[FOP] are just one of many clients I’ve had this cycle,” he said. “I worked with progressive, Democrats, Republicans everybody, I’m not, as an election attorney, I’m not tied to anything.”
In an earlier interview with Austin Weekly News, Earls said she decided to run “to be a bridge, because I understand the urban myths of the community, and I understand the history of the 15th district.”
She said that, as a fellow public safety officer who worked with police officers in the past, she understood that many officers deal with trauma they won’t seek help for because they worry it might affect their careers.
“We don’t want to be labeled as disabled,” Earls said. “We don’t want to be removed from our positions, or appear soft to our colleagues.”
It is this trauma, she argued, that is the root cause for use of force. That is why, Earls said, it was important to not only hold the officers accountable, but make sure they get the professional support they need.
“I’ve had subordinates whose behavior was corrected through counseling [and] giving them an accountability partner,” she said, adding that she could only think of a handful of cases where that didn’t work and she had to fire them.
As a life-long West Sider, Earls said she was conscious of the history between the community and the police in the 15th District – but she also believed that accountability was a two-way street.
“I do believe [we need to] restore mutual trust, and I do mean mutual, because our community has to be accountable,” she said.
Earls didn’t respond by deadline to a follow-up question about her feelings on the FOP endorsement.
Esparza told Austin Weekly News that addressing crime was his priority, and he believed that having a police presence in schools and parks, and keeping the officers consistently on the same beats would go a long way toward improving the relationship between the community and the police.
“[I feel] that police officers have a role to play in all of our institutions, especially public schools,” he said. “I feel like there’s this misperception, that youth and police are sort of antagonistic to each other, and it isn’t the message I’m getting [from elementary and high school students], and I want to correct that image.”
Esparza said that he was “really honored” to get the endorsement.
“The union endorsed me because they believe in my commitment to have the diverse communities of the 25th Police District and our men and women in blue work in tandem to bring about safer neighborhoods, transparency and progressive reforms,” he said.
Abbasi said that he welcomes the support of “any labor union” and pointed to the fact that “there are a lot of police officers who live in the 25th distinct and they can vote in a race.”
“I welcome their endorsement, but I’m going to represent the voters,” he said. “I’m not going to take orders from any group, even if they endorse me.”
This year, FOP endorsed candidates in 25 out of 50 wards, including three on the West Side.
In the 24th Ward, which includes most of North Lawndale, they endorsed firefighter Drewone Goldsmith, one of the seven candidates running against incumbent Ald. Monique Scott, who was appointed in the summer of 2022 to replace her brother, Michael Scott. In the 37th Ward, which includes parts of West Humboldt Park and most of Austin east of Central Avenue, they are endorsing police officer Howard Ray, one of the three candidates running against longtime incumbent Ald. Emma Mitts. Mitts was a vocal supporter of the controversial Joint Public Safety Training Center, 4433 W. Chicago Ave., which opened in January 2023.
The union didn’t endorse anyone in the 29th Ward, where incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro, a former police officer, faces four challengers (two of who are running as write-in candidates).
But perhaps most notable name on the endorsement list was nurse Beverly Miles, who got thrown off the ballot but could mount a write-in campaign. Abbasi represented her in the petition challenges.