South and West side residents were at the Chicago City Hall ahead of the Nov. 7 special meeting to demand the aldermen put a referendum on Chicago's Sanctuary City status on the ballot. | Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

The West Side aldermen were split on whether to censure Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) over trying to block Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) from entering the council chambers Nov. 2, a move the Black Caucus called “bullying” and “unprofessional and unbecoming of his role.”

Ramirez-Rosa also reportedly threatened three aldermen, including Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).

At the contentious meeting, a group of aldermen called for Chicago to reconsider its status as a sanctuary city and want to put it to vote next year.

Five days later, Chicago City Council came within one vote of censuring the former floor leader. He stepped down from that role ahead of that vote.

 Mayor Brandon Johnson and his allies oppose the idea, and Ramirez-Rosa used heavy-handed tactics to try to make sure there weren’t enough aldermen in the council chambers to reach a quorum.

CBS2 news cameras captured Ramirez-Rosa blocking Mitts as she tried to enter the chamber. Four other aldermen – Taliaferro and Alds. Michelle Lee (11th), Felix Cardona (31st) and Desmon Yancy (5th) have said he threatened to block votes on zoning issues in their wards.  City council committee chairs have a broad discretion when it comes to setting agendas and can put off votes for years.

 During the Nov. 7 meeting, Mitts has said that Ramirez-Rosa didn’t “manhandle” her, but the interaction was still “uncomfortable” because she was “literally blocked at that door.”

“I felt like I was back in the South,” Mitts, who grew up in Elaine, Arkansas in the late 1950s and early 1960s, said at the time.

She said that Ramirez-Rosa has apologized, and she said she accepted his apology. Later during the meeting, he said that, while he “cannot take away the mistakes [he] made last week,” he was committed to trying to make amends with Mitts and his other colleagues.

In a statement, Mitts added that she appreciated that support she has received, and while she forgave him, she also believes Ramirez-Rosa could do more to make amends to her and the other aldermen.

“All Chicago Alders and everyone everywhere should be held accountable for their actions and be transparent,” Mitts said. “We must all be governed by the same high professional and ethical standards which are demanded of City officials — regardless of our different positions regarding legislation proposed by Council lawmakers.”

Still, the confrontation with Mitts led to push back from the city council’s Black Caucus and West Side faith leaders and community activists. Pastor Ira Acree, co-head of the Leaders Network coalition of West Side faith leaders, denounced Ramirez-Rosa’s “bullying tactics.”

“Alderman Ramirez-Rosa’s actions are not only disrespectful to Alderman Mitts but also an insult to every senior citizen, every woman, and every Black person in Chicago,” Acree said. “The Black woman has been a champion in American society, and Alderman Mitts herself has shown remarkable resilience and leadership in her community.”

He also told Austin Weekly News that he thought that by voting down the censure motion, the city council missed a chance “to send a resounding message that there is no place for playground bullies in our city council.”

“We appreciate Alderman Emma Mitts for taking the high ground and refusing to vote for the censuring of Alderman Ramirez-Rosa,” he said. “However, I was very disappointed that the city council didn’t stand up for her when the vote was tallied. At the very least, the city council should have reprimanded him for his disrespectful treatment of his senior colleague.”

Here’s how West Side alders voted on the measure:

  • Mitts. No
  • Taliaferro. Yes

He told Austin Weekly News after the meeting that he believed “the censure was very proper” – and the fact that the vote was “very split down the middle” showed that a significant portion of his colleagues agreed.

  • Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Black Caucus chairman. No
  • Ald. Water Burnett (27th) and vice mayor. No
  • Monique Scott (24th). Yes

Scott said during the meeting that it was important to acknowledge that Mitts and others were “victims,” and she wanted to have an honest conversation about bullying behavior and pressure tactics on the council. She also said she wasn’t entirely convinced that Ramirez-Rosa would’ve been as contrite if circumstances were different.

“While I appreciate your apology, if we didn’t have a tape, would it be sincere?” Scott said.

Neither Ervin nor Burnett explained their votes at the censure meeting.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...