Embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a political ally and former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, has found himself in an unusual position. Emmanuel, known for keeping vise-like control over Chicago and his own political image, has had his base turn against him and is facing calls for his resignation over the city’s handling of a police shooting.
But Emanuel has said repeatedly that he will not step down — and he holds an ace up his sleeve. Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, has no process for a mayor to be recalled.
In other words, Emanuel isn’t going anywhere, and there’s nothing the electorate can do to make him.
A state lawmaker from Chicago introduced a proposal Wednesday to allow for a recall, but it isn’t expected to be passed. Democrats hold a huge vote advantage in both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives, and are unlikely to turn on their own.
And most of the cries for Emanuel to resign have come from grassroots activists and residents, not from the city’s political powerbrokers. The next election — should he seek another term — isn’t until 2019.
On Wednesday, the mayor used a special meeting of the Chicago City Council to try to calm the firestorm, apologizing for the fatal shooting of a black teen by a white officer and promising “complete and total” reform.
“I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. And if we’re going to fix it, I want you to understand it’s my responsibility with you,” Emanuel said during a sometimes-emotional speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. “But if we’re also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step.
“And I’m sorry.”
The remarks were Emanuel’s lengthiest and seemingly most heartfelt since the public got its first look last month at the squad car video that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald veering away from officer Jason Van Dyke before Van Dyke began shooting, hitting McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder.
Critics have repeatedly accused Emanuel of keeping the footage under wraps until after he won a tougher-than-expected spring election for a second term.
Emanuel’s contrition did little to ease the anger in the streets. Hours after the speech, protesters overflowed an intersection in front of City Hall, then marched through the financial district and blocked a major intersection for a short time as police directed traffic around them. Officers guarded the doors to the Chicago Board of Trade as demonstrators approached.
Outside City Hall, retired schoolteacher Audrey Davis carried a sign reading, “Mayor Emanuel is morally corrupt!”
Calling the speech “politically expedient,” Davis said, “I don’t want to hear anything from him except, ‘I tender my resignation.'”
Davis, who is black, said she fears for her 25-year-old grandson when he comes home from college.
“Each time he comes home, my heart is in my throat in case he meets up with a racist cop,” Davis said. “We shouldn’t have to live like this.”
Since the video emerged, Emanuel fired his police superintendent after days of insisting the chief had his support. He also reversed course on whether the U.S. Justice Department should launch a civil-rights investigation, saying he would welcome it only after pressure from other top Democrats.
In news conferences, he has appeared worn down, fumbling answers to reporters’ questions or avoiding them entirely by walking away, with cameras rolling.
The mayor won re-election in April by a healthy margin, but only after suffering the embarrassment of not getting a majority in a five-candidate February election, forcing the first mayoral runoff in decades.
At the time, he pledged to listen more and to “bridge the gaps between the things that divide us.”
In the months that followed, his public schools CEO, who oversaw closings of about 50 schools that angered many residents, was indicted on corruption charges. Emanuel also pushed through the largest tax increase in city history to deal with a budget crisis.
His administration has warned of massive mid-year layoffs in the public schools and is in the midst of rocky contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union. This week, union members are voting on whether to authorize a strike. They could hit the picket lines as early as March.
After the video was made public, other flashpoints kept coming. Footage was released of another police shooting — this one deemed justified by prosecutors — and of another man who died in police custody. A review by the city’s quasi-independent police watchdog agency showed that of 409 shootings involving police since 2007, the agency found only two with credible allegations against an officer.
The Associated Press contributed to this article