A Video, An Apology And The Long Road To Accountability

<p>First a video, then an apology. Now Rahm Emanuel's long road to accountability.&nbsp;</p>

Mayor Emanuel apologized.  Said he owned it.  Choked up.  Promised to replace a police culture that tolerates and covers up police brutality, mostly in minority communities, with a department that’s accountable and transparent. And welcomed the help of local and federal experts. 

But the protests and calls for his resignation continue unabated because you can’t erase decades of abuse and disrespect with a 40-minute speech.  

Emanuel’s critics don’t trust him to deliver because he hasn’t.

They expected action, but all they’ve gotten so far is words. 

Recent polls indicate most Chicagoans don’t approve of the mayor’s job performance, don’t believe he didn’t view dash-cam video of the Laquan McDonald shooting before the public saw it, and don’t think he should keep his job. 

City residents, especially in the minority community, are angry, and they’re watching this firestorm more closely than any City Hall implosion in years, and that’s good.

Civic engagement is a pillar of our Better Government Association mission and a key to reclaiming a democracy that’s been hijacked and corrupted by too many political insiders.

Sadly, too few regular citizens hold public officials accountable, in part because our political and electoral systems are designed to keep incumbents in and challengers out.

Fortunately, there are videos that go viral and shock people into action, and laws that facilitate the removal of wayward public officials.

In 1999 Congressional Republicans tried unsuccessfully to oust President Bill Clinton through the impeachment process for misconduct related to the Monica Lewinsky affair.  

Democrats would have made Richard Nixon walk the same plank if he hadn’t resigned in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.

And Illinois lawmakers used impeachment to toss Governor Rod Blagojevich out of office in 2009 for multiple transgressions, including a clumsy attempt to “sell” a Senate seat.

After the Blago scandal the Legislature passed a bill giving citizens the power to recall a governor by referendum.

Which brings us to the local politicians on the hot seat.

Activists have been demanding Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s scalp for waiting 13 months to charge officer Jason Van Dyke with murdering McDonald, not charging the officer who fatally shot another African American, Ronald Johnson, and allegedly mishandling other cases.

Her fate is in the hands of Democratic voters on March 15, when she faces two challengers in the primary election. 

But what about Mayor Emanuel, who’s not scheduled to face Chicago voters until 2019?

The simple answer: He can’t be impeached or recalled because there’s nothing in city or state law to facilitate either draconian measure.

In fact, the only example we found of a local recall was in northwest suburban Buffalo Grove, where officials passed an ordinance that led to the recall of an unpopular trustee in 2010.

That suggests Chicago aldermen could consider a similar measure to recall Emanuel, but City Council rarely challenges a mayor on little things, so a full frontal assault is highly unlikely. 

That may explain why a state representative filed legislation in Springfield last week that would give city voters a chance to recall Emanuel by referendum.  

It’s creating a buzz, but who knows where it’s going.

Still, the incontrovertible reality is that Emanuel is facing his biggest scandal and his toughest political challenge, and both will be exacerbated if U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon’s investigation of the McDonald shooting produces charges against police officers or City Hall operatives for filing false reports, tampering with evidence or participating in a cover-up.

Makes you wonder if Rahm still believes one of his favorite spin lines—“you can’t let a good crisis go to waste”—when this crisis threatens to “waste” him politically.