Why It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Joe Moore

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Photo: Love and Struggle Photos

Once upon a time, they called Joe Moore a maverick. In a City Council full of yes-men, he tangled with Mayor Richard M. Daley, and the progressive voters of Chicago’s 49th Ward felt well served. But when Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago, something changed. That first year, as activists like me chased down aldermen over the Sit Down and Shut Up ordinance — a  bill that gave Emanuel expanded powers to tamp down on protest — aldermen like Moore were busy demonstrating their allegiance to the new mayor by supporting the bill. One of the aldermen I approached about the ordinance told me the bill was sure to pass because Rahm Emanuel was a better dealmaker than Daley had been. “He’s offering a carrot to people who’ve only ever gotten the stick,” he told me. He was right. Tired of only getting the stick, aldermen like Joe Moore were now being offered the option of making a deal with a neoliberal devil — and they were eager to sign on the dotted line.

Sit Down and Shut Up passed. 50 schools were closed. Half the city’s publicly funded mental health clinics were shuttered. Aldermen like Joe Moore, who stood by the mayor when he said that the city could not afford $3 million to save six of Chicago’s twelve mental health clinics, were just as eager to support him when he decided the city would spend $95 million on a new police academy.

Now, as we stare down the possibility of another Mayor Daley (God help us), it’s clear that many on the North Side want a refund on the alderman they’ve invested 29 years in. With a genuine progressive challenger on the ballot, residents just might get the change they’re looking for.

Whatever happens in Chicago’s 49th Ward race, a new era is on the way. After suffering under Rahm Emanuel’s “two Chicagos” style of governance, with every rule in the book bent sideways to cater to developers and those who would privatize public services, Chicago is about to have a new mayor. But what kind of city council will that mayor be met with — or challenged by? In a just world, the members of Chicago’s City Council who cast their lot with Rahm Emanuel would be swept out of City Hall alongside him. Emanuel’s reign was a nightmare for Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, but this piece is not about Emanuel, or about who should succeed him. It’s about a man a lot of people used to believe in, who has overstayed his welcome in government and done plenty of damage along the way.

In 2012, I was one of the protesters who locked arms outside a mental health clinic on the city’s South Side in protest of its pending closure. Twenty-three people had barricaded themselves inside the building. Half of Chicago’s publicly funded mental health clinics were about to be shuttered, and many of the protesters who had locked themselves inside the Woodlawn clinic were patients whose care was under threat. Months prior, two of those patients sat across the table from Joe Moore and told him that they would die without their clinics. I know because I was there. Joe Moore only met with them because I insisted he do so while Joe and I were having a radio debate about his support for the clinic closures.

Why was I having a radio debate with Joe Moore? It was his idea.

After a group I was part of briefly disrupted Moore’s remarks at an event with a “mic check” call and response, he made it known that he wanted to debate one of us on the radio. (If that sounds like a weird response to being protested, trust me, you’re right.) During the segment, I insisted that he meet with some of the patients whose clinics he planned to help shutter and he ultimately agreed. Helen Morley and Jeanette Hanson were among those present at the resulting meeting, and I watched as they told Moore they would die without their clinics. I warned them that Moore was in lockstep with Emanuel, but they had hope he would listen.

Moore voted for those closures. And Helen and Jeanette died. When I brought their deaths up to Joe last year, he publicly mocked me.

When people say that some folks are taking this election too personally, I think it’s important that people understand that this is all very personal. It was personal when we lost those clinics, and when we lost Helen and Jeanette. It was personal when Moore told housing activists who stood silently outside his home, “Since you’ve chosen my home to do your demonstration, I have chosen that—to decide that—that ordinance is never going to come out of my committee as long as I’m chair. You got that?” It was personal when he tried to convince people that my friends and I were lying about troubling conditions, including lead paint, at Gale Elementary Community Academy, even though we had photos. It was personal when we had to FOIA documents, write our own report and go to the press to expose this lead problem, which Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had known about for years, because Joe was more interested in covering up the problem than seeing it addressed. During that effort, Moore repeatedly told people in the ward that the conditions were not as we depicted, or that we were “not part of the Gale community” and thus should be ignored. I hadn’t seen Joe on volunteer day, when my friends and I painted hallways at Gale, and I didn’t see him when we confronted CPS and ensured the fire system would be fixed and the lead remediated. The only role Joe really played in the situation was to attempt to discredit us.

Joe has credited himself with having won Gale a new clinic by reaching out to Loyola University. He doesn’t mention that there was already a letter-writing campaign underway, with Loyola alumni and community members reaching out to the university to ask for a donation for the clinic. In his typical style, he assumed credit for a fundraising drive and community outreach that were bottom-lined by members of the community.

When many of us were in the streets, protesting Laquan McDonald’s murder at the hands of former police officer Jason Van Dyke, Joe Moore was reaching out to Rahm Emanuel, offering to help mop up the PR mess the mayor created by suppressing footage of Laquan’s death until after the election. In what Chicago magazine described as “a stream of suck-up-laden paragraphs,” Moore told Emanuel, “It’s been a rough few days watching the media kick the shit out of you,” and offered to be a champion for his mayor with the press if he was “brought in early and given the information needed to be an effective defender.” Moore noted that he tried to do an MSNBC interview defending the mayor, but was preempted by coverage of the San Bernardino mass shooting. Moore presented the massacre as having an upside for Emanuel, saying, “The good news for you is the anti-Rahm feeding frenzy ended, and the cable news outlets moved on to their next obsession.”

About a year ago, the #NoCopAcademy campaign came to Rogers Park to hold Moore accountable for his support of a $95 million academy for Chicago police. In light of his consistent support for Rahm Emanuel’s austerity policies, Moore should be embarrassed that $95 million can even be scrounged up for this wholly unnecessary project, but as usual, the plot sickens.

The cop academy is one of two bad deals that Rahm Emanuel is trying to push through before he leaves office. The other is a massive tax steal for developers through the new Lincoln Yards TIF — and these efforts are very much entwined. Moore, as you may have guessed, has continued to support Emanuel’s efforts to build the cop academy. After all, Moore has voted in lockstep with the mayor 98 percent of the time.

Moore has shown his true colors repeatedly during this aldermanic campaign. He has mischaracterized his opponent’s positions in his ubiquitous mailers, using photos for those mailers without the permission of the photographers who took them — including a local movement photographer who is staunchly opposed to his candidacy. Moore’s campaign claims that one of the photos was fair game, copyright wise, but the photographer’s lawyer disagrees. Moore and his people have refused to comment on the second photo they used without permission — a photo of LAPD officers (with the letters on their badges blurred) interacting with Black children that was used in a mailer about Moore’s community policing efforts. In a race where Moore has compiled a $907,106.48 war chest (in contrast to progressive challenger Maria Hadden’s $195,711.30 worth of spending power), it’s absurd that Moore’s people wouldn’t simply pay for a stock photo, rather than grabbing whatever they want off the internet, regardless of copyright. But the theft is consistent with Moore’s style of governance since Emanuel came along.  

Most of the accomplishments Moore touts in his mailers are actually the product of community work. Nearly every accomplishment Moore cites that he did play a pivotal role in happened a decade or more ago. Something he hasn’t bragged about is his attendance rate at City Hall — likely because he only shows up for meetings 51 percent of the time.

In 2012, Moore used a parliamentary maneuver to block the elected school board, in accordance with Rahm Emanuel’s wishes. At the only debate between Moore and Maria Hadden, Moore reiterated his support for the appointed school board model — in spite of a referendum demonstrating that Chicagoans strongly support an elected school board model — and his support for charter schools. (A charter school organization has thanked him generously with campaign donations.) Moore’s answers at the debate were not extraordinary, but here’s what was: Over 600 people showed up and packed a school auditorium to see Moore and progressive challenger Maria Hadden square off about the future of Rogers Park. I was there that night, and I can tell you that in all of my years of watching and participating in Chicago politics, I had never seen anything like it. “Joe must be worried,” I thought, because when hundreds of people pack an auditorium to watch an aldermanic debate, it’s not because they want to maintain the status quo. It’s because they want change.

I have known Moore’s challenger Maria Hadden for years. She’s a grassroots organizer and a powerful presence in the community-building work I’ve witnessed on the North Side and elsewhere in the city. I consider her a friend, and while she’s not the first friend of mine to run for public office, she is the first candidate I’ve publicly endorsed. Because while Joe Moore was defending his support of the Sit Down and Shut Up ordinance, Maria was sitting in a community space, talking with me and others about how we could protest the bill — a distinction that speaks clearly to who these candidates are. I believe in Maria Hadden, and I am proud of the campaign she has run in the face of Moore’s shady maneuvers and baseless attacks.

I recently sat down with Maria to talk about the campaign, where things were headed, and what she wants the community to know in these final days of the race. She told me, “Our democracy flourishes when the voices of people most impacted are brought to the decision-making table. Silencing or ignoring those voices not only goes against what elected representatives should be doing, but also harms our city. I will use the office of alderman to listen to the needs of people in our community, take action where I can, and build coalitions to fight for change where necessary so we all can have the city that we deserve.”

That sounds like the kind of leadership that’s needed on the Chicago City Council, and to be honest, it’s about damn time.