Emanuel rejects top cop finalists, to name Johnson new interim superintendent – Chicago Tribune
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to install veteran cop Eddie Johnson as the city’s interim police superintendent while rejecting the three finalists the Chicago Police Board sent him, according to four sources familiar with the process.
It remained unclear whether Emanuel will seek to hand the top cop job to Johnson permanently, but his move to circumvent the three candidates presented to him from the Police Board’s national search for a new police superintendent came among heightened pressure from black and Latino aldermen to make the hire from within the department.
Johnson, a prominent African-American who currently serves as chief of patrol, did not apply for the superintendent job, two sources close to the Emanuel administration said.
Under city code, Emanuel is required to select the city’s police superintendent from a slate of candidates presented by the Police Board, which is appointed by the mayor. Emanuel’s decision to reject the three candidates, who were chosen by the board among the 39 who applied for the job, resets that process.
If Emanuel wanted Johnson to be in contention for the job permanently, Johnson first would have to apply for the job and the Police Board would have to make him one of the candidates it submits in a second round of recommendations.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn confirmed the mayor’s decision to reject the three Police Board finalists. Quinn declined to comment on whether Emanuel had selected Johnson as the new interim superintendent or if he was the mayor’s preferred candidate to hold the job permanently.
“While each of the finalists had strong qualifications, the mayor did not feel that any of them were the complete package that Chicago needs at this time, and thus none were offered the position,” Quinn said. “The mayor called each of them individually late Saturday to let them know of his decision.”
Emanuel spent last weekend interviewing the three finalists the board recommended — Eugene Williams, chief of the Chicago Police Department‘s bureau of support services; Anne Kirkpatrick, an FBI instructor and former Spokane, Wash., police chief; and Cedric Alexander, the public safety director for DeKalb County, Ga., in suburban Atlanta.
Sources close to the administration have told the Tribune that Police Board President Lori Lightfoot had pushed for Emanuel to hire Alexander but that some top mayoral advisers were not satisfied with the applicant pool the panel selected from.
Lightfoot has denied she had a favored candidate. She released a statement Sunday morning, saying the board had not been notified of any decision by Emanuel.
“The Police Board has not received formal communication from the Mayor regarding the three nominees it submitted for the position of Superintendent of Police,” Lightfoot said in the statement. “The Board will be taking no action until it receives such notification. Until then, we will have no further comment.”
Alexander, viewed in some circles as the front-runner if Emanuel selected one of the finalists, told NBC-Ch. 5 that he had multiple meetings with Emanuel last week and that the mayor offered him the job before later changing his mind.
Emanuel’s decision to make Johnson the interim police superintendent — and possibly put him on a track to keep the job permanently — comes after African-American and Latino aldermen spent the last week either criticizing the three finalists, the selection process or both.
The Latino Caucus first demanded that interim Superintendent John Escalante be installed in the job permanently, even though the Police Board didn’t name him one of its three finalists. On Thursday, members of the Black Caucus held a City Hall news conference where they called on Emanuel to let them interview all three finalists before he presented the City Council his choice for an up-or-down vote.
The Black Caucus also said it wanted an African-American from inside the Chicago Police Department to get the job but stopped short of endorsing Williams, the only one of the three Police Board-backed finalists to meet that description. On Friday, the Latino Caucus joined the call for more input on the front end, demanding a public hearing with all three finalists to discuss their qualifications and answer questions, and Lightfoot on hand to talk about the Police Board’s process.
There are currently 17 African-American aldermen on the council and 11 Hispanics, so they could block Emanuel’s selection for superintendent if nearly all of them voted against the nominee. But several council members from each of the caucuses are mayoral loyalists. Still, as Emanuel tries to mend his relationship with Chicago’s minority communities at a time violence is on the rise in the city, it would not be good political optics for the mayor pushing through a pick for superintendent over the objections of a large number of African-American and Latino aldermen.
A source with knowledge of Emanuel’s selection of Johnson as interim police superintendent said black and Latino aldermen met over the weekend and decided Johnson’s selection “was a good thing for the city.”
Asked about Emanuel’s decision not to accept any of the finalists presented by the Police Board, another source with knowledge of the move said the mayor acted decisively in putting Johnson in the post.
“The safe bet would have been to pick one of the finalists and say ‘that’s it,'” the source said.
If chosen by Emanuel to be Garry McCarthy‘s permanent successor, Johnson will be the first top cop chosen from inside the department since 2003, when then-Mayor Richard Daley tapped Philip Cline to be his superintendent.
Johnson, who remains well-liked among many aldermen, has been on the rise through the department in recent years. He was a violent crimes sergeant on the West Side, supervising homicide investigations. In the late 2000s, he became commander of the Gresham patrol district, which covers South Side communities like Chatham and Auburn Gresham and has long been one of city’s most crime-ridden.
McCarthy eventually promoted Johnson to be a deputy chief of patrol. After McCarthy got fired by Emanuel in December, Escalante promoted Johnson to be the chief of patrol, the department’s highest-ranking position to oversee beat patrols in all 22 districts.