A vote to rename 17 miles of Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, Chicago’s first permanent non-Indigenous settler, was delayed again Wednesday after the Chicago City Council erupted in acrimony over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick to serve as the city’s top attorney.
The City Council will reconvene at 1 p.m. Friday, pushing the showdown back 48 hours and bringing relations between the City Council and Lightfoot to a new low.
The meeting came to a grinding halt after Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) moved to block the confirmation of Celia Meza as corporation counsel because of the city’s Law Department handling of the lawsuit filed by Anjanette Young, a social worker whose home was mistakenly raided in February 2019. Forty-three times, Young told the seven male police officers who handcuffed her while she was naked that they were in the wrong home and begged them to let her get dressed.
After several aldermen pleaded with Lopez not to block the confirmation of the first Latina to serve as the city’s top attorney, Lightfoot declared a recess and left her seat on the rostrum and approached Taylor, who was elected in 2019 to represent Woodlawn after leading a hunger strike to convince city and school officials to keep Dyett High School open.
In the back of the City Council chambers, as flashes popped and cameras zoomed in, Lightfoot and Taylor argued for several minutes, with Taylor growing animated as Lightfoot seethed with anger and frustration. The two have been at odds during the past two years, including over protections for longtime residents near the planned Obama Presidential Center.
Taylor said she moved to block Meza’s appointment because the city has refused to settle the lawsuit brought by Young, even after the mayor apologized to her for the way she was treated by both the officers and attorneys for the city and Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said Young’s human rights had been violated.
“This is about their mistreatment of Ms. Young,” Taylor said, adding that Lightfoot accused her of denying an opportunity to another woman of color. “I’m going to stand up for Ms. Young. She deserves to be respected.”
Meza has been serving as corporation counsel since December, and will continue to fill that role until her confirmation.
Young told reporters last week that she felt “disrespected” by Lightfoot after city attorneys suggested they would ask a judge to dismiss her lawsuit rather than settle the case with a $1 million payment.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lightfoot “does not feel like she has to work with us, and that is not how this is going to work,” Taylor said.
Taylor said she told Lightfoot “not to talk to me like a child” and to “put her hands down” during their discussion.
“We are co-workers and she clearly does not understand that, I’ll make her understand that,” Taylor said. “That her who wants to be a one-woman show. I don’t have time for that. Chicago doesn’t have time for it.”
The effort to delay the vote, technically called a defer and publish, automatically sets a vote on the measure for the next City Council meeting, which the City Council set for 1 p.m. Friday. Lightfoot canceled her previously planned news conference after the abrupt end to Wednesday’s meeting.
Lightfoot excoriated the aldermen who blocked a vote on Meza’s confirmation after the meeting in a statement, and blamed them for blocking action on a host of other issues.
“A small group of Aldermen brazenly created a spectacle and did a disservice to their constituents, instead of raising their concerns through the appropriate forum,” Lightfoot said. “As a result of their cynical actions, the City Council failed to pass protections and relief for our hotel workers, primarily Black and brown women, who were most impacted by the pandemic, and our small businesses. On Friday, we look forward to continuing our work on behalf of Chicagoans.”
The Law Department’s handling of Young’s lawsuit did not come up during Meza’s June 16 confirmation hearing held by the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee.
“This looks like a last-minute drive-by,” Chair Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) said.
But Meza did face pointed questions about whether she could represent the entire city after serving as Lightfoot’s counsel and senior ethics advisor in a role created by the mayor when she took office in May 2019.
After Meza’s confirmation was blocked, the City Council unanimously confirmed Acting Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt to lead the Chicago Fire Department. Nance-Holt is the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the department, which has long been a bastion for white male firefighters.
After the abbreviated City Council meeting, Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) vowed to push again for a vote on Friday on his effort to change the name of Lake Shore Drive to DuSuble Drive.
However, Moore said he was concerned that Lightfoot would block a vote Friday when the City Council returns.
“This could be ignored like all of the other rules,” Moore said. “It is democracy that is being trampled on right now.”
Moore acknowledged the delay could give Lightfoot and other opponents of the renaming additional time to try to negotiate a compromise. Proposals include a plan to rename outer Lake Shore Drive “DuSable Lake Shore Drive,” as well as a proposal to rename Millennium Park. It is not clear whether either proposal could win a majority of votes on the City Council.
“This council is not a council of order anymore, this is not a council of rules,” Moore said. “Any and everything goes. I’m sad to say that you’re going to see fireworks in this City Council that we should not have, that the people should not have to deal with. Because I have to stand up and fight for people whose democracy is being trampled on.”
Moore said Lightfoot has her “foot on the necks” of City Council members and has stifled dissent and debate.
The proposal from Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) and Ald. David Moore (18th Ward) would rename outer Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue in Edgewater to 67th Street in Woodlawn.
Lightfoot has 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.
Lightfoot said that would cost $40 million, with $10 million coming from Related Midwest for the long-delayed completion of DuSable Park on a 3.3-acre peninsula adjacent to two planned towers. Former Mayor Harold Washington proposed creating the park to honor DuSable.
Video: Our Spotlight Politics team of Heather Cherone, Amanda Vinicky and Paris Schutz takes a closer look at what exactly happened at City Council and why so many are angry. (Produced by Alex Silets)