Howard Brookins Jr. was an attorney who represented victims of police abuse before he was elected to the City Council from the independent-minded 21st Ward in 2003. But after Mayor Daley watched the City Council reject Brookins’s plans to bring a Wal-Mart to the ward, the alderman seemed to retreat into a strange “me-against-the-world” political philosophy, railing against unions and supporters of the big-box minimum-wage ordinance while also antagonizing Daley. He almost proudly told reporters the story of how the mayor had threatened him for backing a couple of independent aldermanic candidates on the south side. “I’ll see you on the battlefield,” he said Daley told him. 

Then Brookins was forced into a runoff with a labor-backed challenger–and accepted Daley’s endorsement and more than $40,000 from a Daley-affiliated PAC. He held on to his seat.

So Brookins surprised a lot of observers yesterday when he cut off Ike Carothers, the Daley yes-man who chairs the council’s police and fire committee, as Carothers began to introduce the mayor’s plan to give himself control over the Office of Professional Standards, the body responsible for investigating police misconduct.

Currently OPS is housed within the police department–which only makes sense to those who remember that it was created because allegations of police abuse were once investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs division, which reported to the police chief, which reported to the first Mayor Daley. That didn’t work.

Neither does OPS in its current form. This Mayor Daley now agrees, even though he’s the one who appoints the person who nominally runs it, and that person only runs it as long as the mayor says so. That’s how every other public agency in Chicago works, and it’s how OPS works as well. 

In that respect, maybe it wasn’t as bold as it appeared for Brookins, backed by mayoral annoyance Joe Moore and newbies Bob Fioretti and Pat Dowell, to move to “defer and publish” the OPS reform proposal. That puts off any action on it until at least the next full council meeting on July 19.

In an interview immediately after the move, Brookins insisted that Daley’s willingness to talk about any reform of OPS was “a huge step” that Brookins would never have thought possible when he was a rookie four years earlier.

Fioretti, a trial lawyer who has represented people wrongfully convicted, strode up to Brookins’s side and joined the interview with more pointed language: “I do think we need a clearly independent body–taking it from the police department to the mayor’s office is not sufficient,” he said. 

Channel 7’s Andy Shaw then directly asked Brookins if the aldermen were saying that Daley has too poor a track record–as mayor and as the state’s attorney who did nothing about police torture under former commander Jon Burge–to be responsible for the agency that polices the police. 

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Brookins said, but added: “Clearly we have seen throughout the time that Mayor Daley has been mayor that there have still been police officers who have had problems in the past that we may have been able to stop, and the city has then been liable for millions of dollars. We have to send a clear message here.”   

Daley would later scoff at the notion that he shouldn’t be the one to oversee OPS directly, saying, “Who should it be–the pope? . . . Who are you going to give it to, an alderman?” Yet he claimed he wasn’t upset about the delay, calling it part of the legislative process.

The truth is that Daley isn’t used to following a legislative process that involves aldermen defying him, even for a month. And he certainly doesn’t like it.

As Brookins and Fioretti were talking to reporters, Daley aide Lance Lewis, one of the few straight shooters I’ve met in the mayor’s administration, was standing in the middle of the throng with a recorder that captured every word they said. “When I take notes, I can’t read my own writing,” he explained. I asked why anyone from the mayor’s office needed to write down OR record what aldermen were saying to the press. “Well, if the mayor gets asked questions about it, he needs to be prepared.”

This one, Lance, I can’t buy. The mayor’s press conference was held within a half hour, and it seemed pretty unlikely that anyone was going to transcribe the Brookins-Fioretti interviews in time for the mayor to review them. 

Almost lost amid the OPS frenzy was another council move: approving the Daley administration’s plan to expedite the process for selecting public art, putting most of the decision-making process in the hands of aldermen and itself. 

Despite weeks of controversy (scroll down) over the measure, including a defer-and-publish move at the last council meeting by First Ward alderman Manny Flores and the 22nd Ward’s Ricardo Munoz, it passed yesterday without a single word of debate.

On the one hand, for the first time since I’ve been attending council meetings, the roll call began with five straight “no” votes–from aldermen Flores, Fioretti, Dowell, Toni Preckwinkle, and Leslie Hairston. Nays were also cast by rookies Sandi Jackson (7th Ward), Scott Waguespack (32nd), and Brendan Reilly (42nd) as well as veterans Munoz, Moore, and Rey Colon (35th).

On the other, 38 aldermen, including union-backed newcomers Toni Foulkes (15th) and Joann Thompson (16th), voted with the administration, and 43rd Ward alderman Vi Daley courageously skipped the vote altogether. It struck me as a possible preview of the vote on the OPS reforms and a whole lot of other administration policies over the next few years.

Later, when the mayor was asked if the 11 “no” votes bothered him, he engaged in a classic Daley deflection. “No, I think public art is really important in Chicago,” he said. “I think we need more of it.”

“Right, but they don’t like the way you’re going to choose the artists,” said Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times.

“I’m not choosing the artists. I’m not choosing the artists. [Cultural Affairs commissioner] Lois Weisberg is,” Daley said. “We have more public art in Chicago than in most cities in the country. If you look at our public art, it’s all over. I mean, it’s really fantastic . . . “

After several more minutes, the question was pressed again, this time at a much higher volume: Were you concerned with the 11 no votes?

“No,” Daley said. “No, no.” He hurried out of the room.