Video: “Chicago Tonight” discusses the proposal to rename Lake Shore Drive with Ald. David Moore and Etzer Cantave, president of the DuSable Heritage Association. (Produced by Nick Blumberg)
Members of a key city panel voted unanimously Thursday to rename 17 miles of Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, Chicago’s first permanent non-Indigenous settler, after a raucous hearing that featured accusations of racism and several profane exchanges.
First proposed by Ald. David Moore (18th Ward) in 2019, the measure gained new life amid the nationwide reckoning with systemic racism prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020 and the widespread protests that followed.
For more than a year, members of the Black Heroes Matter effort urged aldermen to act with urgency to address the lack of proper recognition for the Haitian-born DuSable.
“You’re not voting to change a street name, you’re voting to bring a community together,” said Ephraim Martin, the effort’s founder.
The measure, which would be the largest street renaming in the city’s history, is scheduled to advance to the full City Council meeting set for May 26, despite the opposition of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
At an unrelated event before the meeting of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Lightfoot said a better way to honor DuSable and his wife, Kitihawa, a member of the Potawatomi tribe, would be to complete the long-delayed DuSable Park along the Lakefront and connect it to a Riverwalk renamed in DuSable’s honor. Three statues would mark the way, Lightfoot said.
However, Lightfoot’s proposal was all but ignored by aldermen and leaders of the Chicago Department of Transportation during the rowdy debate over a revised measure designed by transportation officials to rename only outer Lake Shore Drive rather than the entire roadway in order to avoid forcing thousands of residents and businesses to change their addresses and government-issued identification cards.
Moore erupted in anger when Deputy Commissioner Tom Carney read the proposed ordinance to aldermen, calling it inappropriate for transportation officials to release a new proposal just minutes before the long-scheduled vote and asserting that it would block the name change.
Twice, Moore called the revised measure “racist b-------” before using other expletives, prompting a brief recess and calls for him to follow the City Council’s rules of order.
In turn, that prompted Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) and Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) to call those calls for “decorum” racist.
Once order was restored, Carney told aldermen that the proposal crafted by the department was designed to properly identify outer Lake Shore Drive, which he said was not defined in the city’s code. Carney also acknowledged that the measure they submitted to aldermen improperly identified Lake Shore Drive as extending nearly to the Indiana border.
Moore said his proposal would rename outer Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue in Edgewater to 67th Street in Woodlawn.
That would only force three harbors along the downtown lakefront to change their addresses, Moore said.
Transportation Committee Chair Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) said the unanimous vote Thursday was to approve “the spirit” of Moore’s proposal and then at some point a measure “fixing it” and “making it legal” will be introduced before it goes to the full City Council on May 26.
That confused several aldermen, including Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th Ward), who was indicted on seven charges that he lied to federal bank regulators and filed false tax returns in connection with a federal probe of Washington Federal Bank for Savings, a Bridgeport bank that failed in 2017, during the meeting.
“I just want to know what it is I am supposed to be voting on,” Daley Thompson said. “I just want to know what it is I am supposed to be voting on.”
Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) said the procedural hurdles facing the plan to rename Lake Shore Drive were familiar to her from her 2019 effort to rename Congress Parkway for Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights icon.
“We should be leaders and do what is right,” King said, adding that DuSable will celebrate Chicago’s “true diversity” and make Chicago even more iconic.
King dismissed procedural concerns, reminding her colleagues that they voted to significantly change the massive Lincoln Yards development just hours before the City Council vote.
There can be no doubt that racism is a factor, King said.
“Let’s do this, let’s do this today,” King said. “Let’s stop the shenanigans and move forward.”
Note: This story was originally published April 29. It has been updated to include our conversation on “Chicago Tonight.”