CHICAGO (CBS) — After an unusually lengthy and heated discussion on Thursday, a City Council committee signed off on a plan to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the Black man credited with founding the city of Chicago.
The proposal was approved unanimously by the Transportation Committee, though could see some technical changes before the next full City Council meeting, to ensure the city only renames the outer portion of Lake Shore Drive between Hollywood Avenue and 67th Street, while Inner Lake Shore Drive would remain unchanged.
Ald. David Moore (17th), the chief sponsor of the proposal, grew incensed when the Lightfoot administration offered a last-minute substitute ordinance that he had not seen before, even though he first proposed renaming Lake Shore Drive in October 2019.
Moore ripped the Lightfoot administration for presenting what he described as a “last day game plan.”
“We shouldn’t even be here,” he said. “It’s racist bulls***.”
Moore’s profanity drew a rebuke from several aldermen who shouted out “decorum,” and prompted Transportation Committee Chairman Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) to briefly recess the meeting.
Several aldermen have raised concerns that renaming Inner Lake Shore Drive would force tens of thousands of homeowners to have to change their addresses. Moore said his intent is only to change the name of Outer Lake Shore Drive, and won’t move forward with the plan until he’s worked with CDOT to make sure the proper legal language is adopted.
Moore said changing the name of Outer Lake Shore Drive only would affect the addresses of only a handful of harbors and parks on the lakefront. Originally, he sought to rename all of Lake Shore Drive, but settled on only the Outer Drive in light of his colleagues’ concerns about how many people would have to change their addresses if the Inner Drive were renamed as well.
“There’s always room for compromise, and you listen to people, you listen to your colleagues, you listen to their constituents, and you listen to your constituents, and that’s what we did,” he said.
Moore also later apologized for his profanity, noting that children who support the plan to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive after DuSable could have been listening.
“As an alderman, as a leader, such language should not be used where they can hear it,” Moore said.
However, Moore was not the only alderman angered that the Chicago Department of Transportation didn’t offer a substitute ordinance sooner.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said if the Lightfoot administration had concerns that Moore’s ordinance would change the name of Inner Lake Shore Drive as well as Outer Lake Shore Drive, they should have approached Moore and co-sponsor Ald. Sophia King (4th) sooner.
“I’m confused on why this was not brought to the sponsors way before today,” Taylor said. “You all are being very disrespectful to something that these aldermen have worked really hard on.”
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said he agreed it was “absolutely racist” for the Lightfoot administration to wait until the day of the committee meeting to propose changes to Moore’s ordinance, after he’d already agreed to delay a vote for months.
“It is also racist to have to hear the screams of ‘decorum’ or tonal policing when someone is accurately and righteously incensed because they have been working on it for two years, and the administration didn’t make calls,” he said.
Vasquez (40th) said the last-minute changes sought by the Lightfoot administration show they don’t respect aldermen as the city’s legislative branch, and their ability to get things done.
King said the pushback sponsors of the DuSable Drive proposal have received reminded her of the opposition to renaming Congress Parkway after African American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells in 2019.
“We got the same pushback that people would have to change their addresses, that it would be too costly, that the city does not have jurisdiction, that Congress Parkway is too iconic, that there would be confusion at Wells and Wells, whatever it was thrown at us,” she said.
Originally, King wanted to rename Balbo Drive for Wells. Balbo Drive, named for Italian pilot Gen. Italo Balbo, who supported fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, remains unchanged after King switched gears to rename Congress Parkway instead.
“We should be leaders and do what’s right, and turn Lake Shore Drive into DuSable Drive, which will set our city aside in a very distinct way, but by celebrating it and by celebrating its true diversity, and making our city even more iconic in my opinion,” King said.
CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi later apologized to Moore and his colleagues for not presenting a new version of the ordinance earlier.
Biagi said the department’s intent was only to create the proper legal language to support Moore’s intent of renaming only Outer Lake Shore Drive.
“That’s all it’s trying to do is get it right,” she said. “It also steers us clear of the concerns about inner and outer and addresses.”
“The language we’ve put forth was just intended to support what we understood to be what the alderman was trying to achieve, and we’re happy to work together to get it right,” she added.
Supporters of the push to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive after DuSable have been calling in to virtual meetings of the City Council and various committees for months urging aldermen to approve Moore’s ordinance.
Ephraim Martin, leader of Black Heroes Matter coalition, called the committee’s vote to approve the plan, “One of the biggest victories for Chicago and its people.”
Martin said creating DuSable Drive “will lay the foundation to say to the world Chicago has laid aside vanity, fears, and has taken a lead to end systemic racism in this great city of ours.”
“You are not just voting to rename a street, you’re voting to bring communities together,” he added.
The vote to rename the Outer Drive came as Mayor Lori Lightfoot has presented her own plan to honor DuSable, including renaming the Chicago Riverwalk after DuSable, installing three statues on the Riverwalk, and to finally complete construction of DuSable Park, first proposed by Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s. That park is being created just south of Navy Pier, on the site where the now-defunct Chicago Spire project once was slated to be built.
Lightfoot made no mention of renaming Lake Shore Drive when she discussed her plan to honor DuSable earlier on Thursday.
“It goes without saying that DuSable has not been properly recognized, in my view, as the founder of the city. We don’t exist if he doesn’t come set up a trading post with his wife, Kitihawa, who obviously helped him navigate with the Pottawatomi tribe,” she said.
The mayor said her plan not only would rename the Riverwalk after DuSable and complete a park with his name, but would connect the two sites and allow year-round programming to bring people to the downtown area to learn about DuSable.
“I’m very excited about the proposal that we’ve pushed the team to come up with. We’ve just unveiled this this week to members of the City Council,” she said. “One way or the other we’re going to go forward with this plan, but I want the members of the Council, as well as the other stakeholders – some who care about the park, some who care mostly about honoring DuSable in an important way – to actually get an opportunity to see and hear the plan.”
The mayor’s plan was only briefly mentioned during the Transportation Committee meeting, when Moore said he viewed it “as a complement to what we’re doing, not an alternative, not a substitute.”
The proposal to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive now goes before the full City Council next month, although Moore and King said they will continue to work with CDOT to amend the ordinance, if needed, to guarantee Inner Lake Shore Drive is not renamed as well.