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Alderman questions whether stroke influenced Kirk’s plan for gang arrests

Ald. Carrie Aust| Sun-Times files

Ald. Carrie Austin | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:24AM

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) may have been suffering from the aftereffects of the devastating stroke that nearly killed him — and sidelined him for a year — when he suggested the mass arrest of 18,000 Gangster Disciples, a powerful black alderman suggested Tuesday.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, acknowledged that U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) should have chosen his words more carefully when he called Kirk’s plan an “upper-middle-class, elitist, white-boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”

But Austin was every bit as passionate in her denunciation of Kirk, who made a triumphant return to the Senate in January after a grueling, yearlong rehab.

“I don’t think it’s a white-boy syndrome from the North Side. I don’t make statements like that. I think that’s awful for [Rush] to say something like that. But, nevertheless, maybe the stroke affected” Kirk, she said.

“To make a statement like that — lock up 18,000 African Americans without a blink — something affected his thinking to make a statement like that. . .. You say you’re gonna work to find $30 million to lock up 18,000 African Americans? There are other uses you can have for $30 million. What happened to rehabilitation? All you know how to do is lock up Africans?”

Rush was the first to blast Kirk’s plan, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that it was “headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic.”

Austin agreed — to a point.

“I don’t think he should have made it as racial as he did, but he was just as passionate about it as I am. How dare you?” she said.

Lance Trover, a spokesman for Kirk, refused to comment on the alderman’s broadside. Access Living, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities, also refused to comment.

Last week, Kirk asked U.S. Attorney-nominee Zachary Fardon to redouble the battle against street gangs and put the heat on Chicago’s largest gang, the Gangster Disciples.

Kirk said he would ask the Senate Appropriations Committee for $30 million “to go after gangs like the GDs . . . and pick the biggest and baddest for a federal effort.”

“I think it’s completely within the capability of the United States government to crush a major urban gang,” Kirk said at a news conference with Fardon and U.S. Senator Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

“Just think of what the greatest generation did here in Chicago, pretty much crushing the Capone organization.”

Before going public with his plan, which would overwhelmingly affect African-American gang members, Kirk did not seek any buy-in from the three Illinois members of Congress who are black and whose districts would likely be most affected by the sweep.

The three Democrats — Rush, Danny Davis and Robin Kelly all have been critical of Kirk’s idea.

If there is $30 million for Congress to spend, better most of it be allocated for “job creation and job training,” to address the gang problem, Rush said.

Rush’s House district includes communities plagued by gang violence. He said his criticism of Kirk is “not to excuse their activities.”

Rush said an arrest sweep “is not going to work. . . . It is not a law and order, lock ’em up solution.” Kirk and Rush are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Washington to hash out their differences.

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