Aerial view looking south of the East 31st Street bridge crossing South Lake Shore Drive. The road would be renamed after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable under an ordinance pending before the Chicago City Council. | Brian Ernst/Sun-Times
“We do have the votes. … That’s why there’s all of these moves to try and … deter our colleagues from their first inclination,” Ald. Sophia King said, calling the more costly alternatives that have been suggested “kind of insulting.”
The votes were there last month to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable and they will be there again on June 23 to forge ahead over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s strenuous objections, Ald. Sophia King (4th) said Thursday.
“We do have the votes. We had ’em then [last month]. We have ’em going forward. That’s why there’s all of these moves to try and … deter our colleagues from their first inclination,” King told the Sun-Times.
The plan to rename Outer Drive in honor of DuSable, a Black man who was Chicago’s first permanent, non-indigenous settler, hit a parliamentary roadblock at last month’s City Council meeting.
When Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) declared his intention to delay the vote, King demanded a roll call. Lightfoot ignored her request and recognized Hopkins.
On Thursday, the alderman calmly explained why she expected better from Lori Lightfoot.
“The rules of order for the City Council were not taken into consideration. I felt that this was inequity playing out,” King said.
“We just saw, not 10 minutes earlier, her zoning chair do the same thing that I did and she deferred to him. It’s insulting … as a Black woman, to see that happening. But she deferred to him and I expected that same deference when it came to me. That wasn’t done.”
King and co-sponsor David Moore (17th) had threatened to call a special meeting to push the high-profile name change through. But ultimately, they decided the best way to hold their coalition together was not to drag aldermen back to a special session, but to wait until the next regularly-scheduled Council meeting, on June 23.
Moore has accused Lightfoot’s administration of trying to block the ordinance with an alternative he views as having “racial overtones”: renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway instead.
Lightfoot also offered to spend $40 million to complete DuSable Park, establish an annual “DuSable Festival,” rename the downtown Riverwalk in honor of DuSable and install monuments, sculptures and educational exhibits in DuSable’s honor.
King said the mayor’s offer is no substitute for a name change.
“To come up with $45 million to not rename Outer Lake Shore Drive … is kind of insulting. It smacks of some of the same historical barriers. … It really highlights the inequity in this city. As a black woman — and she’s a black woman, too — I expect her to understand that more than most,” King said.
“I can give you concrete examples [of] the same thing that was done. Meaning, ‘We’ll give you a lot of money or other things, but you can’t have this particular item or thing.’ It was the same thing when I was landmarking the Johnson [Publishing] building, better known as the Ebony-Jet building.”
Lightfoot fears changing the name of Chicago’s most iconic and picturesque boulevard — made famous in song and movies — could hurt marketing of the city and be costly and cumbersome for homeowners and businesses.
“It’s one of the most iconic assets the city has. When you say Lake Shore Drive, people know you’re talking about Chicago. I think that’s very important,” the mayor told reporters last month.
King doesn’t buy it.
She noted the same arguments were made before Congress Parkway was renamed for Ida B. Welles after Italian-Americans blocked plans to rename Balbo Drive for Welles.
“We will be seen as an even greater city. We’ll be even more marketable. In this day of Black reckoning and really trying to understand our history and stand up to all of the racial barriers of the past, this would be a great time to say that Chicago is a diverse city and we celebrate diversity and we understand that it only makes us stronger,” King said.
“And oh, by the way, this was our founder, who just happened to be Black.”
King also made it clear she’s not done challenging Lightfoot’s decision to terminate the city’s 15-year-old redevelopment agreement with Mercy Hospital, paving the way for Trinity Health to sell the facility to Insight Chicago.
The alderman acknowledged the city’s right to unilaterally terminate the agreement without City Council approval if Mercy “breaches any other of the covenants in the RDA,” such as through a sale.
But she said the attorneys she has consulted have branded it an “anticipatory breach” that was “planned.”
There are “legal repercussions for doing that,” she said. “They all knew that this was the path they were going to take. I think that’s wrong. I think it sets a bad precedent.”