By Erick Johnson
Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward) took a $40,000 campaign donation from Mayor Emanuel two weeks before the city’s planning commission approved funding for a $95 million police academy that will be built in her ward. The commission approved the funding two days after Mitts was elected to a sixth term.
The donation, which was given February 15, came just before a three-day holiday weekend where state offices were closed. That made Wednesday, February 20, the deadline for Mitts to report the $40,000 campaign donation to Illinois State Board of Elections. That date was also the press deadline for the Crusader. The Crusader did not learn of the donation until after it went to press with its election edition that was published during a short work week.
By press time Wednesday, March 6, Mitts did not respond to an email from the Crusader to comment for this story.
It was the latest political maneuver by Mitts, an ally of the mayor, who took another $40,000 in total campaign donations before voters went to the polls to decide her fate. The donations came during Emanuel’s final term, where City Hall was rocked by the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Like many Black aldermen, Mitts won re-election anyway, defeating challenger, activist Tara Stamps, grabbing 54 percent to her 40 percent of votes.
Fresh off her election victory, Mitts defended her approval of the $95 million police academy, which will be built on 30 acres in West Garfield Park. The academy will be named after Commander Paul Bauer, who was killed in the line of duty in February, 2018.
Supporters say the facility is needed after a scathing 2017 U.S. Justice Department report concluded that Chicago police officers were poorly trained in de-escalating intense situations.
But activists and mayoral candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot opposed the facility.
Both called on the Planning Commission to delay its decision, saying the city’s next mayor would be burdened with finding funding for the controversial decision. Black Lives Matter activists showed up at the meeting protesting the decision, saying the money could be spent on Chicago’s underserved communities.
On February 22, Preckwinkle sent a letter to Alderman James Cappelman, Chairman of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. In the letter, Preckwinkle urged Cappelman to cancel the committee’s vote on the facility.
“I believe it is ill-advised for the Committee to tie the hands of an incoming administration on a large-scale capital investment as the city faces acute budgetary challenges,” Preckwinkle wrote. “Two days after Chicagoans go to the polls to choose new leadership and a new direction is the wrong moment to advance a major capital investment.”
Alderman Cappelman approved the funding anyway, five weeks before his April 2 runoff against Marianne Lalonde, who publicly opposed the project.
“This facility needs to be in the center of the city where there is woundedness and distrust. The task of the consent decree is to help restore the trust of many people of color, who have had too many experiences where their lives have been threatened and trust has been broken,” Cappelman told the Sun-Times. “My wish is that, as the police and those in the community they serve have more opportunity to interact with one another, possibly some healing can begin.”
Lightfoot argued that Emanuel’s top-down plan that threw “a bone to Emma Mitts” was “flawed from the beginning.”
Also Lightfoot was quoted in the Sun-Times: “We have 38 schools that are massive that are sitting on the city [tax] rolls,” she said. “We have lots of abandoned property in neighborhoods that absolutely need economic development. There’s lots of things we can think of to re-purpose existing land and property. This doesn’t make sense to me. Our police work all over the city. They live all over the city. Does it make sense for us to have one location on the Far West Side? It’s a conversation we have to have. It didn’t happen because it was an idea that was cooked up on the fifth floor of City Hall instead of engaging relevant stakeholders and thinking through this in a way that is thoughtful and really serves the needs of our police department.”
During her interview with the Crusader editorial board last month, Lightfoot expressed her frustration with the proposed $6 billion Lincoln Yards project, which will receive $1.3 billion in TIF funds to build on the North Side.
“I don’t hear a single Black alderman stand up and say one damned thing negative about that proposal. Not one. Not one that says fine, but what about us?
Mitts in the Sun-Times argued that the new police training facility would bring jobs, contracts and security to her ward on the West Side.
“I’m talking about bringing the ward the things that are asked about most, by the young and the not-so-young alike: jobs, additional resources and hope. The public safety academy will bring this and more. Including community meeting and recreational space open to all,” Mitts said.
“We need this training facility. This will be the very first major city agency facility ever built in the community. … We’ve seen and heard the protesters. … Where is their plan to reduce the relentless violence plaguing our community?”