Chicago voters elected 62 people Tuesday to serve on the city’s first civilian police oversight councils, most of whom were supported by the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression.
Another eight winners were endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.
The councils are expected to hold meetings and get feedback from residents and others about policing and crime and bring those concerns back to the city and Chicago Police Department leadership. In addition, the councils will help develop and implement community policing initiatives and then nominate a seven-person Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to oversee CPD.
Anthony Driver Jr., interim president of the community commission, said Wednesday afternoon he was happy to see that some candidates got over 10,000 votes in their races. He had been worried people would disengage and not vote to fill the positions.
“The turnout citywide was pretty low, but I was happy to see people actively engaged in voting for district councils,” Driver said. “I got a chance to stop by one of the celebration parties, and folks seemed pretty upbeat about the state of the races.”
The winners will be inaugurated in May and start training with the community commission, members of the police department, Police Board and Civilian Office of Police and Accountability, Driver said. The councilors will also form a process to select their nominees for the community commission to present to the mayor, and then the mayor will select seven of those nominees to form the commission.
The community commission will help select and remove heads of the police department, which will especially be important given police Superintendent David Brown announced his resignation Wednesday afternoon, following Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s election loss on Tuesday.
“First Deputy Eric Carter will be appointed as interim superintendent until the new mayor is sworn into office. We ask the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to immediately begin the search for a new superintendent so that the new mayor will be able to make a selection as soon as possible,” according to a written statement from the mayor’s office.
Four districts — the Central District (1st), Calumet District (5th), Gresham District (6th) and Shakespeare District (14th) — only had two candidates for the three spots. To fill vacancies, the other members of the council will be asked to submit names of three qualified candidates to the commission, which will recommend one to the mayor, who will fill the vacancy.
The Town Hall District (19th), which had six candidates running, had the most votes: 103,339. The Harrison District (11th), which had three candidates running, had the fewest votes: 11,469.
In the Near North (18th) police district, six people ran for the three spots that represent parts of downtown, the Near North Side, west to Cabrini-Green and north to Lincoln Park. There were 57,102 votes in the district.
Robert Johnson, who came in 3rd, securing the last spot for the district, and two of the other candidates — Karen Kane and Kimberly Lynn Bowman — ran on a slate supported by Ald. Brian Hopkins of the 2nd Ward. Kane came in second behind Brad Kessler.
“It was a close race, and I’m happy with the results, obviously. And I’m looking forward to working with the two other persons on the team to make effective change,” said Johnson, a 78-year-old retired fire chief from Ohio who also worked as a police officer. “I think the city really needs help. The police really need help, and I think there are things we can do to help it move along and make change.”
Many of the districts had candidates who ran with support from the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, said Frank Chapman, executive director and a field organizer for the Chicago branch. The alliance didn’t necessarily endorse candidates, he said, but helped many people exercise their democratic right by helping them set up their campaigns.
“We had candidates that did not have a campaign manager, did not have a campaign office, did not have a campaign treasurer chest. They were mostly poor, working class people. And so we supported the field operations. They didn’t even have the ability to do their own field operations,” Chapman said. “So given all of these financial and economic handicaps, I think candidates did great. Even the ones that lost, I think they did great, too, because we still reached a lot of people with the message.”
The organization helped put 71 people on the ballot, and about half of those were elected, Chapman said. There was opposition, including 19 people endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Kane, a 67-year-old CPA and financial consultant, said she was elated when she heard that she was one of the three winners in the 18th district.
”It was a hard-fought race. I think all of the candidates in the 18th district were very qualified and strong candidates,” Kane said. “The focus that we will probably have is No. 1 to start listening to the members and residents of the 18th district and have them share their needs and suggestions on what they consider to be the most important elements of police strategies.”
Chapman said he was especially proud of election in the Grand Central District (25th), where two out of the five candidates were endorsed by the FOP, but neither won.
Driver, interim president of the community commission, said while he’s been particularly disappointed and frustrated at times with the leaders of the FOP, it is their right to run candidates. But he said he hopes that the people who did win the district council elections are aligned with equity and justice.
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This type of election is the first in the history of the United States, Chapman said. The fact that it occurred in Chicago, despite so many high-profile police brutality cases in its history, is remarkable.
This is a process that has never been done before, Chapman said. No one knows how it is going to turn out ahead of time, but the people have a right to hold the police accountable.
Driver agreed, adding that the city has tried everything else when it comes to police accountability such as different versions of COPA and changing of police and city leadership, but this is the first time the city has given power to the actual citizens, who are enduring the violence and have to live with the decisions that the government makes.
“I think giving power to actual everyday residents, is the right call,” Driver said. “And I’m very confident that this will help us and it won’t just be another layer of bureaucracy.”