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Judge denies city’s request to extend gag order on Chicago police union head

FOP President John Catanzara called on city councilors to overturn the mayor’s vaccine mandate

Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 President John Catanzara Jr. at his office on June 18, 2020.

By John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The head of Chicago’s police union came to City Council chambers Monday and called on aldermen to take back from Mayor Lori Lightfoot the power to decide whether city workers should be required to report their vaccine status.

With Lightfoot looking on, local Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told aldermen to stand up to the mayor.

“It is not a queen on that throne, it is a mayor,” said Catanzara, who has engaged in a public fight with the mayor over the mandate in recent weeks.

Aldermen introduced an ordinance calling for Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate to be voided and requiring City Council approval for “all policies, rules and regulations governing discipline of city employees.” Sixteen of the council’s 50 aldermen had signed on as co-sponsors by 10:30 a.m.

Also Monday, a judged ruled that she would not extend a temporary restraining order against Catanzara that banned him from making public statements discouraging union members from complying with the city’s vaccine rules.

Catanzara predicted Lightfoot officials will try to quash the ordinance, introduced by Southwest Side Ald. Silvana Tabares and Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano, but said the union hopes to force aldermen to take a roll-call vote on it “so we know who we’re going after in 2023,” referring to the next city elections.

“The city cannot be run by one dictator on the fifth floor anymore,” Catanzara said.

After calling on City Council supporters of the ordinance to raise their hands, Catanzara said the union is “taking a report card, and anybody who does not raise their hand, you will be challenged in 2023. We are coming for every one of your damn seats.”

Aldermen in chambers, meanwhile, generally milled around in conversation with one another or sat there passively. Reporters did not see anyone raising their hand during Catanzara’s remarks.

Also Monday, several dozen FOP protesters lined up outside City Hall to push against Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate for city workers and advocate for an ordinance that would give aldermen approval powers over future vaccine rules.

One counterprotester walked among the FOP supporters while carrying a sign that read, “Opposing vaccines? Support and protect, my ass.” FOP backers responded by chanting, “Screw your mandate!”

And Southwest Side Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, introduced a resolution calling on the city to ensure that dependents of any city employees placed on no-pay status for failing to report their vaccine status do not lose health care benefits.

That resolution and the proposed ordinance to give aldermen power over the vaccine mandate were sent to the council’s Rules Committee.

As of Monday, 23 Chicago police officers have been placed on no-pay status for refusing to comply with the city’s order that they report their vaccine status, which they were supposed to have done by Oct. 15. A week ago, that number that number stood at 21. Those who are unvaccinated can instead undergo regular COVID-19 testing for the rest of the year.

The number of police officers who have filled out the form has risen slightly over the past week, from 65% to 70% compliance with Lightfoot’s reporting mandate. Police Superintendent David Brown has said many staffers are choosing to comply after speaking with higher-ups about how the mandate works.

But the lack of bigger movement in the numbers reflects the ongoing conflict between Lightfoot and the FOP, and could end up posing a challenge to the city’s public safety if the standoff escalates further.

The Chicago FOP has refused to cooperate, with Catanzara repeatedly urging members to disobey the city until a Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order last week barring him from such public statements.

Late Monday, though, Judge Cecilia Horan ruled that there was no point in extending the order now that the city’s vaccine reporting deadline has passed.

“Whether encouragement of noncompliance with the policy is effectively calling for an illegal strike, as alleged by the city, is of no moment,” Horan wrote in her ruling. “At this point, any Lodge member who has not submitted their vaccination status to the city is in violation of the policy as it is written. Any present concern that comments by Catanzara or Lodge officials will influence Lodge members to violate the policy is moot since they are either already in violation or not.”

In two hearings Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, an attorney for the city, Michael Warner, reiterated that it wanted to extend the restraining order against Catanzara and expand it to other FOP officials, who Warner said have been speaking out instead of Catanzara as a way of “getting around the order.”

Warner called Catanzara’s remarks to FOP members so far “fighting words ... that threaten the public safety of the city of Chicago.” But FOP attorney Joel D’Alba argued that the FOP president is “simply trying to tell people what’s going on.”

D’Alba sought again sought to transfer the case from Horan to another judge.

But the FOP’s motion to change judges was denied Monday afternoon by Judge Moshe Jacobius, presiding judge of the Chancery Division. Jacobius denied the motion partly on the basis that “judge shopping is frowned upon,” though he added that he wasn’t accusing the FOP of doing so.

“Once a judge has ruled, the judge should be able to keep that case,” Jacobius said.

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