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Of course police chief Jody Weis named an African-American as his top deputy this morning. The deal was struck weeks ago.
In the January edition of her monthly newsletter for constituents, Sixth Ward alderman Freddrenna Lyle wrote that things had been “a little strange” around City Hall. Most notably, she said, “The Mayor selected an FBI agent to head the Chicago Police Department.”
Weis is white, and now that he’s winning praise for surrounding himself with a diverse group of experienced cops, it’s almost hard to recall that plenty of black leaders were dismayed last fall when Mayor Daley picked him for the top job. Daley, these leaders believed, should have named an African-American as Phil Cline’s successor—if only to show he understood police relations were at a crisis point in some of their communities. Others were doubly upset because it seemed Daley had made the choice out of his zeal to host the 2016 Olympics—as an FBI man, Weis would appear to have better terrorism-fighting credentials and thus impress the selection committee more than a regular old police officer who’d built a career in Austin or Englewood.
Of course, the City Council had to approve the appointment before it became official. While that was never in doubt, several aldermen did raise a a bit of a stink by complaining that Weis was evasive and unimpressive during a police and fire committee hearing. Then a few threatened to vote against him in the full council meeting a couple days later. But Daley’s council lobbyists went to work, huddling with the reluctant in the lounge behind council chambers up until minutes before the vote. In the end, only the Third Ward’s Pat Dowell opposed him.
In explaining her own rationale for supporting Weis, Lyle, who is black, unintentionally outlined what had happened for a few of her colleagues as well: “When [Weis] appeared before the Police and Fire Committee Monday afternoon, I had some very serious questions which he could not answer,” Lyle wrote in her newsletter. “On Tues. and Weds. the Mayor’s Office provided me with most of the answers and I voted to confirm.”
She continued: “After the vote to confirm, the Mayor spent 5 minutes thanking us for the hard questions and assuring us that Weis will respond to and provide better services to every community.”
In a subsequent interview, Lyle said she’d been concerned that Weis had never been a cop—in Chicago or anywhere. The mayor’s office promised her that he would hire veterans as top aides. “I was assured his first deputy would be someone from the Chicago Police Department,” she said.
Some aldermen have said privately that they were also assured the first deputy would be an African-American, though they weren’t allowed to talk about it while Weis publicly and repeatedly refused to commit to the idea.
And most of the late converts gave other accounts of their decisions. “I had to think about it,” said 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, a former cop. “I found myself in dual roles. As a police officer, I struggled with someone else [outside the department] doing the job. But I supported the idea of bringing in a new dynamic. So I decided to support Mr. Weis for being the professional he is.”
A mayoral spokesman told me no promises were made except that Weis would find the best deputies possible. Police department spokeswoman Monique Bond did not return any of the half-dozen messages I left her about this over the last couple weeks.
Ike Carothers, the chairman of the council’s police and fire committee, had said that he hoped the top deputy would be black. But as I’ve mentioned before, he mostly stuck to the company line that Weis is truly an independent operator. “I don’t think he’ll be beholden to anyone,” was how Carothers put it. “He’s not a product of Chicago politics or anything like that.”