By Kim Bellware
CHICAGO — In a surprise move, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rejected the city police board’s three picks for a new police superintendent and selected his own candidate from within the force to replace the current interim top cop.
The Chicago Sun-Times and NBC Chicago, citing unnamed sources, reported that Emanuel will appoint Eddie Johnson, a well-regarded veteran cop who currently serves as CPD’s head of patrol, to the role of interim superintendent.
The pick comes at a critical time for both Emanuel and the Chicago police force. The mayor remains deeply unpopular. He and the CPD continue to face criticism in the wake of the Laquan McDonald scandal, while morale is low among the department’s rank and file.
The previous police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was unceremoniously ousted in December as fallout continued from the killing of McDonald, a black teenager. Even considering longstanding tensions between the department and the city’s black community, McCarthy faced especially harsh criticism for his handling of the killing. Dashcam footage of the incident showed a white officer shooting the black teen 16 times.
A spokesman for the CPD said the department had not been formally notified of the mayor’s actions and referred comments to Emanuel’s office. A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
If Emanuel does want Johnson for the job permanently — not just as interim superintendent — the unusual move appears to be a roundabout way of securing his own pick.
Per city law, a vacancy in the superintendent role is filled only after the Chicago Police Board nominates three candidates to the mayor. If the major rejects them, the board nominates another round of candidates until the mayor selects one and the city council confirms the candidate.
Johnson reportedly did not apply for the top job, nor was he among the board’s chosen candidates. For him to legally assume the job permanently, he would need to apply for the next round. At that point he would presumably be selected by the board, approved and ultimately confirmed by city aldermen, who overwhelmingly vote in step with the mayor’s wishes.
Dr. Cedric Alexander, police chief of DeKalb County, which encompasses Atlanta, was one of the first-round candidates. He said Emanuel initially offered him the job Thursday but called him late Saturday and rescinded the offer.
“At the end of the day, the decision was made. I accept it as it is and move forward,” Alexander said, according to Atlanta’s Live 11 News.
Sources told the Chicago Tribune that Police Board Pressolisident Lori Lightfoot backed Alexander’s hiring and that he had also impressed the mayor. But after calls came into to City Hall seeking to confirm Alexander had the job, Emanuel became “infuriated,” according to the Sun-Times. Upon returning to Atlanta, Alexander told a journalist he thought he had locked in the job, the Sun-Times reported.
The two other candidates were CPD Deputy Police Superintendent Eugene Williams and Anne Kirkpatrick, a retired police chief of Spokane, Washington.
John Escalante, McCarthy’s deputy who assumed the role of interim police chief in the wake of his boss’ firing, was passed over and is due to return to his former position as deputy superintendent. That angered the Chicago City Council’s Latino caucus, who said the job should go to Escalante permanently. The first round of candidates did not include a Latino, though it included two black men and one white woman.
“The fact that there wasn’t a Latino in the final three candidates, that’s not only disappointing, it’s insulting,” 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis told ABC Chicago.
“We are tired of the Latinos being used for interims,” said 31st Ward Alderman Millie Santiago. “They are very good enough to be the leaders in certain situations — especially where there is a crisis in Chicago — but then they are not good enough to be promoted.”
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