Ex-cop now running Streets and San
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com October 6, 2012 9:52AM
6-16-06 Chicago Police Headquarters. 3510 S. Michigan Avenue. Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Police Press Confrence to Announce Drug Arrests. Chicago Police Deputy/Supt. Charles Williams meets with reporters after the press conference Friday afternoon. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times
Updated: November 8, 2012 12:00PM
Charles Williams — a former high-ranking Chicago Police officer with no experience in the nuts-and-bolts of snow removal or garbage collection — has been chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be the city’s $157,092-a-year Streets and Sanitation commissioner.
Williams, 60, newly departed director of security at the Merchandise Mart, replaces Tom Byrne, a former Chicago cop who was one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s favorite troubleshooters.
A 2007 finalist for the police superintendent’s job that ultimately went to career FBI Agent Jody Weis, Williams will become the highest-profile African American in an Emanuel cabinet with a glaring shortage of blacks.
“Obviously, that won’t be missed on people but, first and foremost, he knows how to get the garbage picked up, the snow plowed, the trees trimmed, the rodent baiting done ... and see through the type of reforms and management that I want to see,” Emanuel said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
But how can Williams know snow removal and garbage collection when he’s never done it? Isn’t Emanuel taking a risky political gamble in the hope that it will be another unseasonably mild winter?
“Tom handled a tough winter. Tom handled a light winter. You hope for that whether Tom is there or Charles is there,” said the mayor, who acknowledged having texted Byrne at 2 a.m. during snowstorms warning him to be on the side streets by 4 a.m.
Noting that Byrne had no background in Streets and San either, Emanuel said, “Tom has shown to be the exact right model, and Charles is exactly the right guy to pick up the baton and take it to the next generation.
“They’re good managers. They’re also neighborhood guys attuned to servicing a neighborhood ... Charles has the background. He has the experience. He has the sensitivity. He comes from Chicago and he’ll be perfect for this.”
Williams could not be reached for comment.
For more than a year, Byrne has been pushing to get off the hot seat of running the city’s third-largest department.
At the mayor’s behest, he stayed on to oversee critical cost-cutting initiatives, including: work-rule changes; managed competition on recycling between city employees and private contractors; the switch to grid-based garbage collection and tree-trimming and a crackdown on chronic absenteeism.
Now, Emanuel is prepared to let Byrne go — but not too far away.
Byrne will assume the lower-key job of security chief for the Chicago Park District after a transition period expected to last more than a month. He’ll be on call if Chicago gets buried in snow again, the mayor said.
“He’s tired … He’s gonna go from fourth gear to second gear,” Emanuel said of Byrne.
“If he went to zero gear, his wife would kick him out of the house. He’d walk through the front door and keep going through the back door. This is exactly at the pace he wants.”
Williams is a former chief of patrol who was one of three finalists for police superintendent in 2007, after Phil Cline was forced out in the wake of the controversy surrounding police handling of two barroom brawls involving off-duty officers.
Daley ended up rejecting the board’s first three offers, ordering a second search for the first time in Chicago history, then going around the Police Board entirely and choosing career FBI Agent Jody Weis.
The rejection was a bitter disappointment to Williams, who had been the favorite on the strength of the time he spent in the Internal Affairs Division investigating police wrongdoing and on the community ties Williams forged as commander of the public housing unit.
“When he walked into public housing, it was a shambles. He had a lot of building of community trust to do and did just that. He’s used to dealing with all sorts of people and has a very even temperament,” a police source said of Williams.
“He’s a guy who expects people to be accountable and will hold folks accountable. But, he’s going to do it in a way that’s respectful of the individual and institutions.”
Byrne was summoned to City Hall in 2005 to clean up a Transportation Department hard hit by the Hired Truck and missing asphalt scandals.
Four years later, he was shifted to Streets and San to replace longtime Commissioner Michael Picardi, who was swept out after complaints of lavish snow removal spending, lax field supervision and allegations of continued personnel abuses.
Byrne came under fire for the Blizzard of 2011 fiasco that shut down Lake Shore Drive. But, he has cracked down on absenteeism under Emanuel while forging a productive partnership with Laborers Union Local 1001.
“We have probably the most significant partnership with labor in the city on the type of work rule reforms and wage reforms necessary” to cut costs, the mayor said.