By Erick Johnson
The year began with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel slamming actor Jussie Smollett on national television, accusing him of stating a hate crime while damaging the city’s reputation. By the end of the year, Both Johnson and Emanuel were gone after becoming disgraced public figures who had sewn distrust in the people they served.
Grabbing the spotlight was Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former prosecutor who defied the political machine and swept all 50 wards to become Chicago’s first Black female mayor.
The year 2019 was a historic one that ushered in a new era in the city and the state with the legalization of marijuana and a sweeping casino gaming expansion law that has towns placing their bets.
With less than a week left before 2020, the Crusader rewinds this year’s biggest stories that impacted Black Chicago.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT ACCUSED OF STAGING HATE CRIME
On January 29, 2019, “Empire” actor Smollett told police that he was attacked outside his apartment building in Streeterville by two men in ski masks who called him racial and homophobic slurs and said, “This is MAGA country,” referencing President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” Smollett told police that the men “poured an unknown liquid” on him and put a noose around his neck. Smollett was treated and released at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. After a police investigation, on February 20, Smollett was charged by a grand jury with a Class 4 felony for filing a false police report. Police said Smollett staged the incident with the help of two Nigerian men who Smollett paid. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson went on national television to denounce Smollett, saying he damaged the city’s reputation.
On March 26, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx drew heavy criticism after her office dropped all charges as part of a deal that allowed Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond and perform 16 hours of community service with Operation Rainbow PUSH. Foxx recused herself from the case after speaking with Smollett’s family when he was still considered the victim.
The story remained in the headlines throughout the year, threatening to derail Foxx’s re-election campaign for a second term.
Protests erupted when the Fraternal Order of Police and white nationalists called for Foxx’s resignation, while Black leaders supported her at an event at Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
In August, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin agreed with a petition by former appellate Judge Sheila O’Brien, appointing Dan Webb to investigate the State’s Attorney Office’s handling of the case. The appointment gives Webb, a former U.S. attorney, the authority to potentially file new criminal charges against Smollett.
The city later filed a lawsuit against Smollett, seeking to recoup $130,000 that was spent on the police investigation. In November, Smollett countersued, alleging he was maliciously prosecuted by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
HADIYAH PENDLETON’S KILLER GETS 84 YEARS IN JAIL
The man convicted of murdering a King College Prep honor roll student was sentenced to 84 years in prison by a Cook County judge January 14. Mickiael Ward, 24, who was convicted back in August of shooting into a group of people on January 2013, killing Hadiyah Pendleton and injuring two others, sat motionless as his sentence was read. Pendleton’s murder became a national story. She and other members of the King dance team had performed during President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Parade.
CLIFF KELLEY SIGNS OFF SHOW AFTER TWO DECADES
WVON’s Cliff Kelley, the “Governor of Talk Radio,” announces that he is leaving his show that he has hosted for over two decades. Kelley still hosted a segment on WVON on Saturdays supporting military veterans. Kelly says he is not retiring but “rewiring.” In November he was saluted at a black tie gala at the Parkway Ballroom.
ROOSEVELT MYLES DENIED HEARING AFTER WAITING 18 YEARS
A Cook County judge goes against an Appeals Court ruling that gave Roosevelt Myles, a wrongfully convicted man who has spent over 27 years in prison, an evidentiary hearing. Myles waited 18 years for that hearing after a string of public defenders racked up over 70 continuances before Judge Dennis Porter, who agreed with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and said Myles’ claim of ineffective counsel and the state’s recanted eyewitness had no merit. Myles’ attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, filed an appeal and is waiting for a decision.
LIGHTFOOT SETS HISTORIC RUNOFF WITH PRECKWINKLE
On a historic night, Lori Lightfoot overcame odds and emerged as the frontrunner in the mayoral race, winning 17.54 percent of the vote and topping a field of 13 candidates. Lightfoot set the stage for a runoff against second place finisher Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, marking the first mayoral race between two Black female candidates. Bill Daley placed third. Businessman Willie Wilson emerged as an influential candidate after winning 13 predominately Black wards while Preckwinkle won five wards of color. Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th), Howard Brookins, Jr. (21st), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (16th) all faced and eventually won runoff races while Jeanette Taylor won her runoff against Nicole Johnson for the 20th Ward seat.
$95M POLICE ACADEMY APPROVED AMID PROTESTS
Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed $95 million police academy is approved by the City Council, amid protests from activists, who said the project is a misuse of public funds. The academy will be built in Alderman Emma Mitts’ 37th Ward on 30.4 acres at 3401 W. Chicago Avenue. Mitts supported the proposal, saying the facility would bring jobs and spur development in her ward. Weeks before the vote, campaign records show Mitts in February took a $40,000 campaign donation from Emanuel before she was re-elected on February 26. Lightfoot this month agreed with a U.S. Justice Department report saying the facility is needed and should be even bigger than the original proposal.
JEWEL SUPERMARKET AND NEW DALEY’S RESTAURANT OPEN IN WOODLAWN
Thousands packed Jewel-Osco on Thursday, March 7 as it opened a full-service 48,000 square-foot supermarket in Woodlawn, bringing relief to many residents who live in a food desert. The opening came weeks before the iconic, 126-year old Daley’s restaurant moved into its new space down the street at 63rd and Cottage Grove.
LIGHTFOOT BECOMES CHICAGO’S FIRST BLACK FEMALE MAYOR
Lori Lightfoot was swept all 50 wards to crush Toni Preckwinkle and become Chicago’s first Black mayor, was sworn in the following month at the Wintrust Arena. Chicago’s Black political leaders largely endorsed Preckwinkle as concerns grew about Lightfoot’s commitment to the Black community. Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th), Howard Brookins, Jr. (21st), Roderick Sawyer (6th) all won their runoff races, but Alderman Toni Foulkes (16th) lost to Stephanie Coleman, daughter of former Alderman Shirley Coleman. Jeanette Taylor won the 20th ward race, replacing Willie Cochran who in June was sentenced to one year in jail amid bribery charges.
Maria Hadden (49th), an openly gay Black female candidate, defeated 28-year incumbent Joe Moore. The Chicago Black Caucus now has a record nine Black female aldermen of a record 20 Black aldermen, the most in the city’s history.
JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY
Johnson Publishing Company, which inspired Black America with its Ebony and Jet magazines, on Tuesday, April 9, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Chicago.
In its court filing with the Northern District of Illinois, Johnson Publishing Chairman Linda Johnson Rice said the company had between 200 and 999 creditors, as well as between $10 million and $50 million in both assets and liabilities. In July, Johnson Publishing sold its prized photo archives for $30 million to five foundations.
The moves will bring an end to a declining family dynasty started by John H. Johnson, who in 1942 borrowed $500 off his mother’s furniture to start his media empire. On May 24, Ebony’s new owner, Clear View, a private equity firm in Texas, said it will suspend the print edition of Ebony magazine.
In November, former Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers purchased the company’s iconic Fashion Fashion cosmetics line for $1.8 million with an investor.
12 BLACK ALDERMEN VOTE FOR $6B LINCOLN YARDS
Twelve of Chicago’s Black aldermen voted for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial $6 billion Lincoln Yards project last week during a City Council meeting that was viewed as the first flop for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
The City Council approval means that Lincoln Yards would get up to $900 million in TIF subsidies. The project, along the north branch of the Chicago River, will include shops, restaurants, hotels and a string of skyscrapers, some as tall as 650 feet. There will also be 6,000 residential units, as well as 600 affordable housing units.
Lightfoot backpedaled on her initial opposition against the project, which had come under fire from activists concerned that the project is another example of TIF funds disproportionally serving more affluent neighborhoods on Chicago’s North Side. Lincoln Yards would get up to $900 million in TIF subsidies.
Many of the Black aldermen who voted in favor of the Lincoln Yards TIF fund were given $20,000 political donations by Mayor Emanuel for their re-election campaigns.
LIGHTFOOT MEETS WITH CHICAGO’S BLACK PRESS
Weeks before taking office, Mayor Lightfoot held her first meeting with Chicago’s Black Press. Publishers and journalists of the Chicago Crusader, the Chicago Defender, the Final Call, the Chicago Citizen, N’DIGO, TBT and Bronzeville Life met in a conference room at Lightfoot’s temporary office at the Reid Murdoch building on the Chicago River. The mayor heard their concerns about equal access to press conferences, interviews and media credentials.
CHICAGO’S LONNIE BUNCH III MAKES HISTORY AS FIRST BLACK SMITHSONIAN HEAD
Chicago’s Lonnie Bunch, who founded the National African American Museum of History and Culture (NAAMHC) in 2016, made history May 28 when he became first Black Secretary of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Bunch oversees the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers.
Spencer Crew is serving as the Interim Director of the NAAMHC.
GOVERNOR PRITZKER MAKES MARIJUANA LEGAL
Governor Pritzker signed landmark legislation that would make recreational marijuana legal in Illinois January 1. In Chicago, residents will not be allowed to smoke marijuana in the Loop, on the EL and other public spaces, including their front porch. Residents can possess only 5 grams of marijuana. They can purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries.
Pritzker also signed landmark legislation that expanded casino gambling in Chicago and Illinois. The gaming and sports betting expansion bill includes a Chicago mega casino with about 4,000 slot or gambling table seats. It would be privately owned, but the city would get a third of the tax revenue, which would go toward funding police and fire pensions. The measure also permits five other casinos for the state, more gaming positions at existing casinos, slot machines at airports, and a legalized sports betting industry. Matteson, Homewood, and several other towns with large Black populations are pursuing the casino opportunities with proposals.
In July, Lightfoot picked five sites on the South and West Sides to test as possible locations for Chicago’s new casino in a move that reaffirms her commitment to rebuilding the city’s struggling, overlooked neighborhoods.
For the first time in nine years, Pritzker signed into law, a $45 billion, six-year capital infrastructure plan to address deteriorating roads, bridges, buildings, and public transportation.
LIGHTFOOT PRAISES ORDER TO TOSS OUT SUIT AGAINST OBAMA LIBRARY
Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised a recent June 11 federal court decision that threw out a lawsuit that aimed to block the Obama Foundation from building the Obama Presidential Center and Library in Jackson Park in South Shore.
In a 52-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey wrote that the plaintiff, Protect Our Parks attempted to “twist this public benefit into a private purpose,” arguing that the Museum’s mission merely seeks to “preserve and enhance the legacy of the former President and his wife.”
Lightfoot said “Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service, and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city.”
In February, residents in South Shore voted in favor of a community benefits referendum to address concerns of rising rents and jobs as construction of the Obama Presidential Center and Library gets closer to a start date.
FBI AGENTS RAID ALD. CARRIE AUSTIN’S OFFICE
Alderman Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward office on the Far South Side on Wednesday, June 19 was raided by federal agents.
After obtaining a search warrant, federal agents stormed Austin’s office at 111th and Normal, where they removed what appeared to be computer equipment in cardboard boxes. Men and women in slacks were seen moving in and out of the office before moving the items into SUVs parked in front of Austin’s office.
The FBI is reportedly investigating Austin on how she and her staff spent and invested campaign donations. Austin once chaired the City Council Budget Committee and Operations. Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced her with Alderman Pat Dowell.
Austin in news reports said she did nothing wrong. In August, Austin said she is a victim of political and media persecution.
Austin is the second longest serving alderman after Ed Burke who was indicted in January after he allegedly tried to shake down two Burger King owners in exchange for a permit to renovate the fast food restaurant at 41st and South Pulaski.
CHICAGO DEFENDER PUBLISHES LAST PRINT EDITION
After 114 years, the Chicago Defender published its last print edition on July 10. The final print edition featured a picture of a hand holding a smart phone. The phone’s screen included an image of a woman looking at a table with the headline, “Chicago Defender Moves Iconic News Content Digital.”
Hiram Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, which publishes the Defender, said the newspaper made significant investments in digital media because of changes in the publishing landscape.
Founded in 1905, the paper was designed to serve the interests of the Black community. It was a daily paper from 1956 to 2003 when it transitioned back to a weekly publication.
CRUSADER GETS THREE SUMMER INTERNS FROM GENERAL MOTORS PROGRAM
The Chicago Crusader hosted three college summer interns as part of General Motors’ Discover the Unexpected summer internship program.
For three weeks, Tedarius Abrams, Sharon Joy Washington and Elae Hill attended press conferences, and researched and wrote stories to experience a real-working Black newsroom.
DOROTHY BROWN NOT RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION
Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown decided not to seek re-election in 2020, ending a 20-year career that overcame many challenges and political battles.
Brown was first elected in 2000 and was re-elected three times as she gained a reputation as an unsinkable elected official who shared a special bond with Black voters who stuck by her in good times and bad.
Brown was facing an ongoing federal probe into pay-to-play allegations in her office. She said that wasn’t a factor in her decision not to seek re-election.
KAREN FREEMAN-WILSON NAMED CHICAGO URBAN LEAGUE CEO
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on August 13 was named President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, the organization announced. Gary’s first Black female mayor will begin her new job after her term as mayor ends on December 31, 2019.
Wilson will succeed Interim President Barbara Lumpkin, who introduced her successor at the Urban League’s annual banquet in November where Chicago’s Chaka Khan performed before 1,500 guests. The organization’s banquet raised $2 million.
LIGHTFOOT ANNOUNCES $1B DEFICIT IN CITY BUDGET
Mayor Lori Lightfoot faced her toughest battle yet as she announced a budget deficit of at least $1 billion. In November, the Council passes Lightfoot’s $11.65 billion budget, which includes Lightfoot’s reforms to help Black and minority drivers. Under the reforms, parking tickets for cars without a city sticker were reduced from $200 to $50 to help minority drivers, many of whom have their licenses suspended and file bankruptcy for unpaid traffic and parking fines. Drivers who pay after the expired deadline will pay a small, $50 penalty. The city also implemented a 15-day grace period after stickers expire to give drivers more time to renew.
EUGENE JONES ABRUPTLY RESIGNS AS CHA CHIEF
Chicago Housing Authority CEO Eugene Jones Jr. on Tuesday, August 20, abruptly resigned, becoming the second high-ranking official to leave the department under Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The next month, Jones was tapped as the new CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Jones’ decision comes one month after CHA Board Chairman John T. Hooker announced his resignation after his four-year term expired in July. In November Lightfoot named Angela Hurlock as the new CHA Board Chairman.
Lightfoot has yet to name a new CHA chief.
South Side Community Arts Center Executive Director Maséqua Myers left September 13 after making the center a thriving institution that received a $3.5 million grant to expand the center in Bronzeville. In 2018,
SSCAC was named a National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, the
SSCAC was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
THOUSANDS OF CPS TEACHERS STRIKE AFTER TALKS COLLAPSE
Chicago Public Schools was thrown into chaos Wednesday, October 16 when deteriorating contract negotiations ended as the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a final offer, sparking a massive teacher’s strike that forced the district to cancel classes for students and brought to a halt the nation’s third largest school system, whose majority students are Black and Hispanic.
Mayor Lightfoot gave four contract offers to CPS teachers, who had been offered a 16 percent pay raise, but they demanded less crowded classrooms, as well as more nurses and social workers. The back and forth negotiations escalated tensions between Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union, whose public support began to weaken as the strike dragged on.
The strike lasted for 11 days and ended when the Chicago Teachers Union agreed to make up just five days that were lost during the strike.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS ASKS BLACK GROUP TO MOVE AFTER WHITE CUSTOMER COMPLAINS
Several employees at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville were accused of discrimination in a story that made national headlines. On October 26, a group of 18 Blacks was holding a birthday party after returning from a youth basketball game. A white customer who sat next to the group said he didn’t like Black people sitting near him. One employee asked one of the Blacks his ethnicity. A manager told the group that the tables were reserved even though Buffalo Wild Wings doesn’t take reservations. The group left the restaurant and celebrated at a Hooters restaurant instead. They told their story on Facebook where it went viral.
Buffalo Wild Wings fired the employees and apologized for the incident. Benny White, Naperville’s only Black member on the City Council, spoke out on the incident. On November 11, Reverend Jesse Jackson threatened to lead a boycott of Buffalo Wild Wings if the chain fails to increase the number of Blacks and minorities in its executive ranks.
Thousands said goodbye to Reverend Dr. Clay Evans, who died November 27. He was 94.
He was a powerful minister whose influence stretched beyond religion and Chicago. He went against city officials, and many Black ministers, and welcomed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Chicago in the 1960s. Against a climate of opposition, Evans founded the powerhouse Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, where he ordained Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and counted Mayor Richard M. Daley as a friend. Evans recorded numerous gospel albums; he appointed Charles Jenkins as associate pastor in 2000.
Evans touched the lives of thousands of Blacks in Chicago. His death sparked a week of mourning that included a week of events that celebrated his life and immense contributions to the ministry and the community. His funeral was held to a packed crowd at the mega church Faith Apostolic Community Church in Bronzeville.
MAYOR FIRES POLICE SUPT. EDDIE JOHNSON FOR “INTOLERABLE ACTIONS”
Nearly one month after he announced his retirement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot—citing an inspector general report and videotape—fired Superintendent Eddie Johnson for “intolerable actions.” She accused him of lying to her and the public when he gave shifting explanations after he was found slumped over in his vehicle near Aberdeen and West 34th Street on October 17. Johnson first blamed the incident on his new blood pressure medication, but a video surveillance tape captured Johnson drinking and kissing Officer Cynthia McDonald at Ceres Café in the Chicago Board of Trade building hours before he was found in his vehicle.
A Crusader story reported that before he visited Ceres Café, Johnson visited a Black-owned bar in the South Loop where he drank with a handful of officers.
After police responded to a 911 call at the intersection of Aberdeen and West 34th Street, the Crusader reported that McDonald performed oral sex on Johnson as he sat with his head laid back giving the appearance that he was asleep in the car. When the officers approached the plain, black police SUV, Johnson flashed his badge before he drove away. Last year, Officer Donald filed for divorce.
After 31 years in various positions on the force, Johnson will still collect his pension because he did not commit a felony that led to a conviction.
Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was appointed Interim Chief.
On December 11, a long wait finally ended for residents in South Shore as Local Market, Shop and Save’s high-quality, full-service supermarket finally opened for business to a throng of customers. After six years of waiting and lots of hype, the 64,000-square foot Local Market began its first day as a much-needed anchor in the beleaguered Jeffrey Plaza. Traffic was backed up and the parking lot packed with cars as the line grew longer by the minute.
The opening ends a long six-year battle to replace the vacant Dominick’s supermarket after parent Safeway closed all of its 15 Dominick’s stores in the Chicago area in 2013. Most of the stores have since been replaced by Mariano’s and Whole Foods.
LIGHTFOOT BLOCKS BLACK ALDERMEN’S EFFORTS TO DELAY MARIJUANA SALES
After a contentious meeting at City Hall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday, December 18, led an effort to pass an ordinance that would allow cannabis sales January 1 with no Black-owned dispensaries.
Alderman Jason Ervin (21st), chairman of the Chicago Black Caucus, led the opposition to the ordinance and wanted the sales delayed to July 2020. Ervin believed he had enough votes to defeat the proposal, but some aldermen switched their vote to support the proposal at the last minute.
None of the current 55 medical dispensaries in Illinois and 11 in Chicago, are Black-owned. The owners of those current medicinal dispensaries will be allowed to apply for a second location for the recreational industry. Black aldermen are concerned that Blacks will be shut of the industry when it takes effect next year.
There is a gradual plan to boost minority ownership of marijuana dispensaries, but the number of Black owners will not happen overnight.
KILLERS OF 9-YEAR-OLD TYSHAWN LEE GET 90 AND 65-YEAR PRISON TERMS
Two gang members convicted in the shocking 2015 revenge slaying of Tyshawn Lee in a Chicago alley received long prison sentences December 22 that will likely keep them behind bars the rest of their lives.
Dwright Doty, 22, who was convicted of first-degree murder for luring the boy from a park into the alley and shooting him point-blank in the head, was sentenced to 90 years in prison and three years of supervision.
Corey Morgan, 31, who prosecutors said ordered the hit — believing the gang that Tyshawn’s father belonged to was behind the killing of Morgan’s brother — was sentenced to 65 years in prison with three years of supervision, the prosecutor’s office said.