Crusader Staff Report
Last week’s Crusader investigative report about eight Black aldermen who took campaign donations from Mayor Rahm Emanuel has drawn praise from readers across Chicago. Called “Bought for Silence?,” the 2,000-word story reported that eight Black aldermen took nearly $300,000 from the mayor. Some of the Black Aldermen said the donations were used to help Emanuel get reelected to a second term in 2015. But the Crusader story raised questions whether the funds also bought their loyalty and silence as the Chicago City Council quickly approved the $5 million settlement to the estate of Laquan McDonald without debate. The teenager died after being shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was found guilty of second degree murder on October 5.
Written by journalist Erick Johnson, the Crusader story was published one day before the officer was convicted and locked up. The three month-long investigative report included graphs and screenshots of political contributions that are documented on the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform website. The non-profit organization gets its information directly from the Illinois State Board of Elections, which requires candidates and elected officials to disclose their donors and their campaign donations. The data is public information and is accessible to anyone.
As an institution of the Black Press, for 78 years the Crusader historically has supported its Black aldermen with positive stories on what they are doing for the Black community. But as emails to their respective offices went unreturned and unanswered questions about about their silence during the approval of the $5 million settlement, the Crusader decided to launch an investigation to serve its readers and the community. Some Black Aldermen have criticized the article, but the Crusader stands by the story.
Readers flooded the Chicago Crusader office with phone calls, thanking the newspaper for its investigation. Others visited the office to purchase copies and take out new subscriptions to the Chicago Crusader’s print edition. The overwhelming response from the story surprised the Crusader staff, which struggled to handle the volume of calls occurring since the story broke last week.
Major, front page stories of the Chicago Crusader average about 1,500 views on the newspaper’s website. But as of press time Wednesday, the Crusader website had generated nearly 76,000 views. By Friday, the number jumped to 102,000. The Crusader’s circulation manager made several trips to Walgreens replenishing papers after stacks of copies sold out hours after they were delivered.
On social media readers reacted with outrage. Jesse Jackson Jr. posted the story on his Facebook page, where readers expressed their anger at the Black aldermen. Some readers named specific aldermen who they don’t trust.
“They’re walking us backwards every day! Wake up, stand and take the lead,” said Rita McCrae. “We need political cleansing!,” said Erick Nickerson. “Term limits would certainly be appropriate in this case.”
Keena Renee’ Carson wrote, “They all gotta go.”
In the comment section on the Crusader’s website, Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr. wrote, “Get your story straight.” He included a link to a Chicago Sun Times article that quoted him demanding the release of the dashcam video of the shooting one day before the settlement vote on April 15, 2015. (According to transcripts the Crusader obtained of a Chicago Finance Committee meeting held two days prior, Brookins attended the meeting but said nothing about the $5 million settlement proposal before the Finance Committee okayed it and sent it for approval to the City Council. Brookins was among 47 aldermen who unanimously voted for it in four seconds with no debate.)