Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that he would not resign, despite growing criticism for what some are calling his botched response to video footage showing a Chicago police officer last year firing 16 times at Laquan McDonald, who was walking away from officers.
“No,” he said, during one of several testy exchanges through the course of a nearly hour-long discussion with POLITICO’s Mike Allen and POLITICO Illinois’ Natasha Korecki. “Because I really so much looked forward to this interview and I wanted to have it. I just felt so good saying that to you. We have a process called the election. The voters spoke. I’ll be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I make.”
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The Chicago mayor is struggling to quell the controversy, and on Tuesday dismissed police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, even though Emanuel still spoke highly of the police chief’s record during a press conference. He also appointed a new “police accountability task force.”
While Emanuel and his lawyers have fought for much of the past year to keep the police dashboard video of the October 2014 shooting from public eyes, citing concerns the footage could compromise the investigations into McDonald’s death, a Cook County judge’s ruling forced the release of the video last week. The outrage was swift, prompting days of protests surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.
Speaking at the POLITICO Illinois breakfast event in Chicago on Wednesday, Emanuel declined to entertain the notion that he might not have been reelected had the video been released prior to his April runoff election against Jesús “Chuy” Garcia.
He struck a defensive tone in explaining why he did not watch the video before its release to the general public, saying there is a balance of two competing principles.
The first, he said, is the right of the public and the media to see the footage, while the second is to protect the integrity of investigations.
Asked by Korecki why he would wait until more than a year after the shooting to release the video, Emanuel responded that Korecki is “reflecting the immediacy of cable television.” Additionally, he said, the issues plaguing Chicago with respect to the relationship between the police and the communities it serves are not unique to the city, but that the town “has its own history and narrative.”
Emanuel also responded to comments from the office of Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, which told POLITICO Illinois on Tuesday that they did not tell the city to take up a legal fight to keep the video from the public. “They asked us our position in telephone calls — we said it was not our preference to release it, but it was ultimately their decision because of the FOIA,” Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly told POLITICO in the report published Wednesday. “We’re not party to the litigation on the FOIA.”
Emanuel reiterated Wednesday that his only knowledge of details surrounding the video of McDonald’s shooting came from testimony from city attorney Stephen Patton delivered in April to the City Council, before the approval of the city’s $5 million settlement with the McDonald family.
“I did not see the tape. I know what happened on the tape based on Steve’s testimony and what he had briefed me on,” he said.
In a sign of the pressure Emanuel is under, the New York Times late Tuesday issued a scathing editorial entitled “The Chicago Police Scandal” in which the paper said, “All along, Mr. Emanuel’s response, either by design or because of negligence, was to do as little as possible — until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand. The residents of Chicago will have to decide whether that counts as taking responsibility.”
Emanuel on Wednesday elaborated on his decision to ask for McCarthy’s resignation, saying it had nothing to do with McCarthy’s overall performance.
“Well, as I said yesterday and I’ve said over the two years, a lot of people over a year asked me, or two years, to fire the superintendent,” Emanuel said, noting the department achieved the lowest homicide rate in the last 50 years in 2014 and further reductions in that rate, adding that there has been real progress.
“He has become the issue rather than dealing with the issue,” Emanuel also said, remarking that while he is “loyal” to McCarthy, he is more loyal to the people of the city of Chicago.
Following Emanuel’s announcement, Illinois Attorney Lisa Madigan on Tuesday requested that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division investigate the city’s police department practices.
“Chicago cannot move ahead and rebuild trust between the police and the community without an outside, independent investigation into its police department to improve policing practices,” Madigan wrote. DOJ has said that it will review the request.
On Wednesday, Emanuel suggested that the city does not need that investigation right now.
And in addressing why he did not plan to attend the ongoing climate talks in Paris, Emanuel said that it was not the right time, “even though I believe in the issue of climate change. It’s current and pressing. It’s not in the distance, it’s now.”
“I’m not going to go to Paris, I’ll deal with the issue appropriately, consistently do what we need here in the city, consistent with what I think is a tough issue, but I’m going to also deal with the issue that’s front and center for the city,” he said, listing one-on-one interactions with constituents in grocery and department stores in the last week.
Asked whether he would consider firing any more people, as Rev. Jesse Jackson suggested Tuesday, Emanuel remarked that “this is not the end of the problem but the beginning of the solution.”
Further wrongdoing “hasn’t been brought to anybody’s attention at this point,” he told Allen and Korecki.