News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

Surprise: City's Laquan McDonald e-mails show Emanuel's staff trying to cover his ass

There's no "smoking gun" in the mayor's massive e-mail dump—but there is a lot of back-and-forth on how to manage the scandal.



As a public service for the multitudes who didn't see Mayor Emanuel's massive New Year's Eve e-mail dump about the Laquan McDonald case, let me tell you what you missed.


Well, that's not completely accurate.

It's pretty obvious from reading the thousands of pages of e-mails that his advisers and aides have known for months that the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting contradicted the official version of what had gone down.

Or at least it contradicted the version as put out by a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, which effectively became the city's official version since no one, including the mayor, bothered to refute it.

According to the police union's initial statement, officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old McDonald after McDonald charged Van Dyke, even though the video shows McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when the police officer fired.

In any event, the e-mails released New Year's Eve reveal that high-ranking mayoral aides and advisers spent the better part of December feverishly trying to come up with some PR spin that would convince the public that Mayor Emanuel hadn't been sitting on crucial evidence of a potential first-degree murder.

Which pretty much everyone believes.

But before I go into what else these e-mails revealed, let me remind you that Mayor Emanuel didn't release these correspondences out of the kindness of his heart. He released them in response to a slate of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by reporters from media outlets all over town.

I will give Mayor Emanuel credit for this. Rather than haphazardly doling out bits and pieces of the e-mails to individual reporters, he did a massive info dump.

However, he called reporters to City Hall to receive their own personal CD of the e-mails on December 31, when most of the city's news outlets were short staffed and headed for the holidays.

Why would the mayor—who has pledged to run an open and transparent government—release the e-mails at precisely the moment when he knew hardly anybody would be paying attention?

Well, I think that question pretty much answers itself.

Plus Emanuel knew releasing these e-mails on New Year's Eve would keep reporters busy through the night, thus ruining their holiday plans.

So in one fell swoop the mayor tried to bury the e-mails and make life miserable for reporters. My guess is that reporters rank somewhere above librarians but below teachers on the list of people the mayor detests the most.

Why would the mayor—who pledged to run an open and transparent government—release these e-mails when he knew hardly anybody was paying attention?


But back to what the e-mails actually say.

Many of them are exchanges between advisers and press aides, swapping tweets, news articles, and Facebook postings they'd come across in their search for information that might embarrass the mayor.

Then they plotted how they might respond, if at all.

There is no smoking gun in which an aide tells the mayor something like, "Hey, boss, don't let the public see this video until after the election."

Not that Mayor Emanuel would need an aide to tell him this. Or that he'd voluntarily release such an e-mail, if it existed. As with previous e-mail releases from the mayor, there are lots of redactions.

In short, the mayor lets you read the stuff that's largely irrelevant. And lets you guess about the rest.

For instance, just three days before the video is released in late November, Graham Grady, a corporate lawyer, e-mails a suggestion to his old friend, Stephen Patton, the mayor's chief counsel.

"I love Chicago and I'm concerned that the city may erupt when and if the video gets out," Grady writes. So he suggests that the mayor march with Father Michael Pfleger and about 100 or so African-American youth "wearing red mortarboards to symbolize education as the solution."

Thinking it's a pretty good idea, Patton forwards Grady's e-mail to several aides, most of whom react positively.

"Not a bad idea," writes David Spielfogel, the mayor's senior adviser.

"I like the concept," writes Clothilde Ewing, the mayor's chief of strategic planning.

Jenny Rountree, the mayor's deputy chief of staff for public safety, writes . . .

Well, we don't know what she writes because it's redacted.

In response, Ewing writes, "Understood."

So ends that discussion. Guess we'll have to file another FOIA to find out why the mayor's men and women killed Grady's proposal.

Among the other e-mails were a few Chicago Public School officials sent to mayoral aides, seeking guidance as to what teachers should tell students about the Laquan McDonald video. Just in case there's still anybody out there who thinks CPS is allowed to so much as breathe without running it past the mayor's office.

In response to this particular chain of e-mails Rountree writes: "Made significant edits to [CPS officials'] 'lesson plan.' I guess I understand why this is necessary (if they don't send out some version of the facts, teachers may take it upon themselves to lead discussions depending on their personal politics)."

Because lord help us all if we don't have all teachers reading from a script approved by the mayor's office.

As a side note, most of the press aides and advisers exchanging these e-mails make more than $100,000 a year.

If Mayor Emanuel values their counsel, that's fine with me. But at least take them off the public payroll and put them on the mayor's political operation-since they seem to spend much of their time serving his political needs.

Then let's spend their salaries reopening the mental health clinics in high-crime areas that the mayor closed four years ago.

It's about time something good came out of this debacle. v

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Add a comment