Emanuel, McCarthy feeling the pressure after latest shootings
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com February 2, 2013 3:43PM
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy speaks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference about gun control at City Hall in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, December 20, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:44AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel struggled for the better part of last year to control a spike in homicides that became a media obsession in Chicago and around the nation.
Now that the bloodbath fueled by gang violence on Chicago streets has a beautiful face in 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, it spells political trouble for Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
“We need more cops on the street to saturate particular areas. If this isn’t dealt with soon, the mayor is gonna be forced to do something about McCarthy, or this could potentially become his snow issue,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.
“The mayor has assured us he’s doing everything he can to get more police on the street. He says McCarthy has a plan to combat this violence. I just don’t know how long aldermen will be able to refrain from publicly criticizing McCarthy. In our caucus, we’ve already had minor flair-ups and yelling matches with the superintendent. Those things may go public if they don’t get a handle on this soon.”
Former Ald. Dick Simpson (44th), head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the steady drumbeat of headlines undermines the political narrative Emanuel has tried to write about Chicago’s revival under his leadership.
“We’ve been the most segregated city in North America. We’ve also been the most corrupt city. Now, we’re becoming the murder capital of the U.S. That does affect the image we have here and abroad,” Simpson said.
A promising sophomore at King College Prep, Hadiya was shot in the back Tuesday afternoon while hanging out with friends at a park a few blocks from the high school and less than a mile from President Barack Obama’s Kenwood mansion.
Hadiya’s murder shined another unflattering international spotlight on Chicago and Emanuel because she was an honors student, a volleyball player and a majorette who went with her high school band to Obama’s second inauguration.
She lost her life to the very gang violence she had condemned in a 2008 public service video.
Like Dantrell Davis, Benjamin Wilson and Derrion Albert before her, in death Hadiya has become an international symbol of shame for a city in danger of losing its soul and killing off its future.
“It’s hard to have empathy for gang banger vs. gang banger, although you don’t want those crimes either,” Brookins said.
“But when you see a person who, by all accounts, appears to be an innocent victim — someone doing the right thing at the right time — people think it could be their kid or their granddaughter. It brings crime home.”
Emanuel responded on all cylinders to the high-profile murder that ended Chicago’s most deadly January in a decade.
David Axelrod, who worked together with Emanuel in the Obama White House, said he has never heard his friend of 30 years “more determined or more sober about anything” as he is about the gang violence that cost Hadiya her life.
“He spends an awful lot of time talking to parents of lost children. It weighs on him. This is a heartbreaking situation for the entire community. It’s a stubborn, horrific problem. You just have to keep slugging away at it,” Axelrod said.
Axelrod said it’s “a little crass” to speculate on the political fall-out when there’s “so much suffering going on” in Chicago.
But he said of Emanuel, “He is very determined and very focused. He’s gonna continue to try a variety of strategies to cope with this. He’s prepared to be judged on the efficacy of what he’s done. What the people want to know is, are you trying everything you can? It would be hard to make the case that he’s been indifferent or lackadaisical about this. It’s just a stubborn and difficult problem.”
Emanuel called Hadiya’s mother to let her know she was not alone, then denounced Hadiya’s killer as a gang-banger and a “punk” who had gunned down a young woman who embodied what was best about Chicago. That evening, Emanuel paid an hour-long house call to console the grieving family.
The following day, the mayor and McCarthy hastily announced plans to shift 200 police officers from desk jobs to street duty and assign them to “area saturation” teams that replaced the Mobile Strike Force McCarthy disbanded.
McCarthy insisted the move was not a concession that he was wrong to abolish those units. Area saturation teams have “geographic integrity,” he said. They don’t do what the Mobile Strike Force did: swarm in, make mass arrests and leave, alienating local residents.
The news conference at Area Central headquarters to announce the police shuffle attracted 16 television cameras. That’s the kind of media heat that moves mayors into action.
Emanuel acknowledged the obvious when he said, “We have to get our hands around the gun violence and gang activity to give everybody a chance at what this city can be.”
The mayor also conceded that the negative headlines were hurting the image of Chicago as a livable city on the move. The following day, a woman was shot to death inside a van on a ramp off Lake Shore Drive, shutting down the roadway during the morning rush.
“Tourism is up. Hotel construction is up because our convention business and our tourism is up,” the mayor said.
“That said, while I am worried and concerned about kind of an image, my main … priority isn’t the image. It’s getting the results I need so there’s a sense of community here at home … for our residents. Then, the public relations will take care of itself.”
At times, Emanuel appeared to be following the blame game playbook of his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, who faced similar heat after the 1992 sniper shooting of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis, who was gunned down on his way to school near Cabrini Green.
Whoever gets appointed U.S. attorney, Emanuel talked about the need for that person to get involved in the war against Chicago’s increasingly fractionalized street gangs, ignoring the impact federal prosecutors have already made in that area.
Emanuel also talked, as Daley did, about the need to have an “uncomfortable” discussion with Hollywood about the “culture of violence” being glorified in movies. If the mayor truly believes that, he could start with a call to his own brother, a Hollywood super-agent.
After the Connecticut school massacre, Emanuel beat the drum for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, criminal background checks, tougher penalties for gun crimes and mandatory reporting when guns are lost, stolen sold or transferred.
He browbeat public pension funds, banks and investment houses to pull their money out of companies that manufacture assault weapons.
Now, he must confront a crisis in his own city on his own watch. The political clock is ticking.
“If the problem goes unresolved, say another year, the police superintendent’s position would be in jeopardy,” Simpson said.
“He’s very pragmatic. He wants results. He’s not guided by other principles. If there has to be a sacrificial lamb, he would dump the police superintendent,” just as he did Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.
Simpson said it’s too soon to say whether Chicago’s gang-fueled homicide epidemic could trigger a “Harold Washington-style revolt like the one that unseated Jane Byrne” in 2015. But, he noted that Emanuel is simultaneously confronting the political quagmire of school closings, which could also touch off a fire storm in the black community.
“If the gang problem is still out of control, as it is at the moment, that’s a political problem for anyone who holds office,” he said.
“The gang problem is very intractable. It’s not easy. But, citizens will demand it be managed. Whether it’s hiring more police or a different policing strategy, something additional is gonna have to be done. He has paid attention and he cares. But, in this area more than any other, the city has failed.”
Former state senator and mayoral candidate James Meeks does not believe either Emanuel or McCarthy will or should wear the political jacket for the gang violence. That’s because they don’t control the “inherent problems” behind it: failing schools, a proliferation of firearms and single-parent households, he said.
“By the time a child — especially an African-American male — reaches the 7th grade, he’s already three grade-levels behind. By the time he’s a sophomore, he drops out. Combine an uneducated kid with a fatherless kid and you’ve got a dangerous product of the street at 15. It’s that product of the street that’s causing all of this violence,” Meeks said.
“Unless the White House, the mayor or somebody comes up with a program designed to reach products of the street, we will never turn it around. You’re dealing with hopelessness. These young people don’t have any hope or any fear.”