CHICAGO — Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told ward bosses to put their hands up — or else — during Monday’s City Council meeting.
“We are coming for every one of your damn seats,” he warned any aldermen who refused to support an ordinance aimed at repealing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for all city employees.
The Big Bad Wolf act didn’t seem to scare anybody in the council chambers. Aldermen did not abide by Catanzara’s order for each one of them to immediately raise their hand, so he could put their response on a political “a report card.”
“Anybody who does not raise their hand — you will be challenged in 2023,” he said.
Ultimately, the proposal to nix the vaccine mandate failed in 20-30 vote, leaving one question: Does the Fraternal Order of Police actually have a political arm of its own capable of making good on Catanzara’s threats?
Of course not. The police union doesn’t have an overflowing political war chest. Cops mostly have a voting advantage in suburban-adjacent wards on the southwest and northwest part of town. There’s not much evidence that the FOP has the ability to assert its influence beyond those borders.
But do you know who does have access to cash and campaign workers to try to get the job done?
Orphaned insiders connected to former house speaker Michael Madigan’s powerful political organization and the deep pockets of City Council’s longest-serving ward boss, indicted Ald. Ed Burke.
Ald. Silvana Tabares, for instance.
Her sudden emergence as an unlikely vaccine mandate freedom fighter seemed to quietly signal that Catanzara’s verbal threats to run for mayor and organize to oust ward bosses who defy his demands has a new political sponsor — friends of Mike Madigan.
Tabares, a former journalist, was reared by Madigan’s political organization. She was elected as a Southwest Side state representative with Madigan’s support, and theblessing of Burke.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Tabares to the City Council to replace longtime Madigan ally, Ald. Michael Zalewski, who retired in 2018 — a year before his term expired, and the feds raided his house.
Her campaign war chest hasn’t just received about $150,000 donations from political funds controlled by Madigan. Tabares also funneled more than $188,000 back to Madigan-controlled campaign funds, according to public records.
Since Madigan resigned from public office and relinquished control of the state Democratic Party after being identified — but not indicted — as the target of the fed’s massive public corruption probe, Tabares has been a politician without Madigan clout or any discernible connection to a City Hall voting clique.
If you haven’t heard of Tabares, it’s not your fault. The last time WBEZ reported on ward boss attendance, the news organization found Tabares showed up to only 44 percent of City Council meetings in the months after she took office. During her tenure, Tabares hasn’t made many headlines.
Until, that is, she became the lead sponsor of the ordinance to not only to repeal Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate but also strip the mayor’s ability to make any executive orders that would place city workers on a no-pay status.
Suddenly, Madigan’s hand-picked alderwoman has emerged at the center of a City Hall power struggle reminiscent of “Council Wars,” when a coalition of 29 aldermen led by Burke and former Ald. Ed Vyrdolyak wrestled away power from Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington.
Burke, a former Chicago police officer, sided with Tabares’ failed ordinance.
He also introduced a separate proposal that calls for the city to allow any employee who might be stripped of pay for violating the vaccine mandate to keep medical benefits — a move that, if approved, might inspire additional officers to join in protesting the mayor’s citywide mandate.
In interviews, Tabares has tried to avoid having her proposed ordinance directly tied to the FOP’s fight against the vaccine mandate. She told WGN’s John Williams that the purpose of her ordinance is to “ensure a check on executive power.”
It’s no wonder Catanzara has amped up his political rhetoric, with suggestions that he’ll run for mayor in 2023 and mount a campaign to oust any alderman who sides with Lightfoot.
A ward boss from the Madigan machine is on his side, advocating for legislative checks and balances on a Chicago mayor.
It feels like 1983 all over again.
Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Award-winning series “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” He was a producer, writer and narrator for the “Chicagoland” docuseries on CNN and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary “16 Shots.”
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October 25, 2021 at 07:26PM