By Keith Chambers and City Editor Erick Johnson
The word is out on Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).
Two years after many of Chicago’s Black aldermen stood silent amid accusations of the city’s cover-up of the Laquan McDonald case, Austin is defending Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She becomes the first Black political leader to come out and do what activists suspected all along.
Austin isn’t talking to the Crusader, but in a story in the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 11, she vehemently defended a mayor who is growing more confident in being re-elected to a third term despite a string of scandals during his second term in office.
The latest one involved his friend and ally, Forrest Claypool, who was forced to resign on Dec. 8 as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools after an investigation cited him for serious ethics violations leading to his resignation. CPS Chief Education Officer Dr. Janice Jackson was appointed as interim CEO.
The move was the latest round of developments that continue to dog Emanuel, who made a cameo appearance on CBS’s, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Emanuel’s image plummeted in 2016 after a judge ordered the release of dash cam video that shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times. The video contradicted the officers’ claims the teenager was walking towards them with a knife in his hand.
As protests ripped through Chicago putting the city in the national spotlight, Emanuel fired his Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. And after waiting over a year to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder, voters ousted then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and elected Kim Foxx to the position.
Emanuel is the only figure left standing who was accused of suppressing the video as he campaigned heavily in the Black community to get re-elected. After he defeated opponent Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the run-off, the city approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family before a lawsuit had been filed. In numerous protests at City Hall, Black leaders and activists called for Emanuel’s resignation.
Activists shouted, “16 shots” whenever Emanuel appeared at events on the South and West Sides of Chicago. In January 2017, he did not attend Rev. Jesse Jackson’s annual interfaith breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
In community townhall meetings attended by a Chicago Crusader reporter, the city’s Black aldermen were silent when they were asked about their support for Emanuel. They were also drilled with questions about whether they knew about the video and a settlement that was viewed as a paltry amount from a brutal murder that triggered a scathing U.S. Justice Department report.
Despite these concerns, Chicago’s 18 Black aldermen remained silent as Black activists and residents grew more disillusioned with their leaders, Chicago police and the justice system.
That silence ended, at least from Austin, in a story where she vents her frustrations and defends the mayor.
“Just like Harold Washington, I wish people would stop using Laquan McDonald. The young man, Laquan, who was killed, that was done by one individual, not by the city of Chicago. Why is the mayor being held accountable for him? I think the officer is the individual we should be talking about.”
For three days, the Crusader tried to reach Austin—four times by emails and messages left with her staff—and was told she was busy in a meeting on Wednesday morning. She did not respond by press time late that evening.
Kofi Ademola, a Black Lives Matter activist, said he was offended by Austin’s comments.
“Her comments have no merit,” Ademola said. “We know for a fact that the mayor suppressed the video as he sought re-election. We know that grassroots campaigns pressured the mayor into firing McCarthy for his role in the case. It’s gross and disgusting that she would use Harold Washington’s name in that way.”
The mayoral and aldermanic elections are in 2019. No big names have announced their plans to run against Emanuel. The mayor’s biggest threat, Garcia, had planned on running against him, but decided to run to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who announced he’s stepping down after spending hours in conference with the mayor at City Hall.
On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Emanuel talked about his opposition to President Donald Trump and Chicago being a sanctuary for city for immigrants. He kept the conversation free of the city’s shootings and the battle to implement police reforms after he promised former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch that he would enter a consent decree in the courts. When he backpedaled on his promise, activists and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit to forced police reforms under court oversight.
After spearheading development projects in underserved neighborhoods, Emanuel, in the past year, increased his appearances at events in the Black community. Questions remain whether the mayor’s re-election hopes are still certain.
In the Tribune, Austin, said, “I would never say the mayor is vulnerable, but I also don’t think he or any of us here are in a good spot. We’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions; decisions that our public may not understand fully. He does not have an easy job. We’ve all done our best, and sometimes your best isn’t good enough as far as how the public sees it.”