Chicago police officers ejected a leader of the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America from the City Council chambers during Wednesday’s City Council meeting after they said the deal Mayor Lori Lightfoot brokered with Commonwealth Edison “spit in the face” of efforts to fight climate change and prevent corruption.
Sean Estelle told WTTW News that they believed they were “politically targeted” because their remarks angered Lightfoot. After Estelle was removed by officers, Lightfoot failed to marshal enough support on the City Council to fast-track the deal’s approval.
Video: Scroll to watch Estelle's comments.
Representatives of Lightfoot and the Chicago Police Department did not respond to a detailed list of questions from WTTW News about Estelle’s removal. On Feb. 28, Lightfoot will ask Chicago voters for a second term in office while facing eight challengers.
If Estelle was removed because of the political content of their remarks, it would be a violation of their First Amendment rights as well as the City Council’s rules permitting members of the public to comment on the items on the City Council’s agenda without facing retaliation.
Wearing a red jacket emblazoned with the DSA logo, Estelle was the first person to speak in person during the public comment portion of the meeting, scheduled to be the last before the election. After their remarks, they sat in the gallery and waited through hours of honorary resolutions, wanting to witness the introduction of the proposed 15-year deal.
Estelle did not disrupt the meeting at any point, according to footage of the meeting recorded by WTTW News and observed by a reporter. Estelle said they hadn’t even spoken to anyone else at the meeting before being approached by a police sergeant and being asked to leave the chambers.
“It was extremely f------ scary,” Estelle said, adding that they did not know whether they were being arrested or charged with a crime.
The sergeant and other officers, who are stationed at City Hall as part of an increased security presence ordered by Lightfoot after protestors occupied the fifth floor of City Hall outside her office in 2019, declined to answer questions from Estelle about why they were being removed from the chambers.
The officers told Estelle they acted at the request of City Council Sergeant at Arms Alvin Starks, who is responsible for maintaining order in the Council Chambers.
Estelle asked to see, in writing, the rule that they were accused of violating. However, Estelle was only shown a written copy of the City Council’s Rules of Order and said they violated rule No. 50. However, that rule only allows the sergeant at arms to remove members of the City Council who act in “a lewd or disgraceful manner, or who uses opprobrious, obscene or insulting language” and can only be enforced after a two-thirds vote by the City Council.
Estelle’s remarks were neither lewd nor obscene, although Lightfoot may well have been insulted.
Estelle said their protestations were shrugged off, and they eventually left City Hall.
“It was very scary at first and then extremely infuriating,” Estelle said. “I’d been waiting for that moment for five years, and I am angry I was not able to observe the debate.”
In a statement, the leaders of Chicago DSA said they believe the decision by officers to cite the City Council's rule "was a poorly improvised cover for the actual motivation — political retaliation.”
Chicago DSA has endorsed 11 candidates for the Chicago City Council.
Starks reports to 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, who serves as Lightfoot’s floor leader and is the chair of the Rules Committee.
“I was never made aware that … Sean Estelle was being removed yesterday,” Harris said in an emailed statement to WTTW News. “I, nor the Sergeant at Arms and staff had any involvement with the removal of … Estelle from the City Council chambers during the February 1, 2023 meeting.”
Estelle led the effort backed by the Chicago DSA designed to convince city officials to form its own electric utility, allowing it to cut the city’s ties with ComEd. Estelle published their remarks at the City Council online.
Estelle told the City Council during the meeting that the 2020 expiration of the city’s deal with ComEd, inked in 1992, was “a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Chicago to be a true climate leader.”
Speaking on behalf of Chicago DSA’s members and its endorsed candidates, Estelle took direct aim at Lightfoot, saying she is “flagging in the polls, flailing for solid political ground to stand on.”
Estelle accused Lightfoot of making a “backroom deal with the corrupt ComEd leadership” and said she has an “absolute inability to understand the basic dynamics of political leverage.”
Lightfoot, who opposed efforts to cut ties with ComEd, made a deal with the utility giant that “spits in the face of the demands put forward by the #DemocratizeComed campaign and our aldermanic champions,” said Estelle, who lives in the 11th Ward.
The proposed pact would allow the city to end the agreement in five years in order to form its own electric utility, but not before then. In addition, Estelle said a 15-year deal “out of step with the basic reality of climate science and the ways in which we will need to constantly adapt and re-adapt to the material conditions of what influence basic goods and services to keep the lights on and the heat running do to add to the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
Several members of the City Council objected to Estelle’s ejection after they were removed, including Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward), who did so before the meeting ended after it erupted in chaos.
Sigcho Lopez called for Inspector General Deborah Witzburg to investigate the incident.
“Removing a Democratize ComEd leader from Council Chamber underscores this mayor's issues with transparency and public scrutiny,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th Ward), who introduced a measure Wednesday that would require at least 90 days of review before a new deal with ComEd could be ratified.