CITY HALL — With a mayoral election looming and a national gaze on Chicago's crime stats, it was a busy 2014 in City Hall.
Here are some of the stories Chicagoans were talking about:
1. #CrimeIsDown: With only a few days left to the end of the year, murders in Chicago were on pace to be the lowest since, well, as Police Supt. Garry McCarthy put it two months ago, the lowest since the Bears won the NFL championship in 1963.
That's more than 50 years, math majors.
The city didn't quite maintain that pace. Through mid-December, the Police Department had logged 380 murders, down 4 percent from last year and 22 percent from the spike that ultimately produced more than 500 murders in the city two years ago. According to Police Department spokesman Marty Maloney, that was on pace to be the lowest since 1965, still almost a half-century.
2. The Lucas Museum lands here — or does it? After Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration had courted George Lucas — and his Chicago-based wife, Mellody Hobson — for months, the "Star Wars" auteur announced in June that he would accept the city's offer of lakefront property between Soldier Field and McCormick Place as the location for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, saying simply, "I am humbled."
Yet others were outraged, led by Friends of the Parks, who filed suit against the museum's proposed location in November. Others took issue with the museum's initial design, although Emanuel called it "bold."
The prospects for the suit are iffy, although some have threatened the museum could be located in another city if it succeeds and the museum is deprived of the lakefront location Lucas originally accepted. However it turns out in the months and years ahead, for the moment it can no longer be called a "done deal."
3. Emanuel runs for re-election: Last month, the mayor formally filed to run for re-election in the Feb. 24 municipal election, joined by no fewer than nine challengers who would be king (or queen) of Chicago. They are still in the process of being narrowed down through petition challenges, but it seemed certain Emanuel would face two top contenders, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago), after Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis bowed out to be treated for a brain tumor.
4. Jane Byrne dies: As if in awareness her days were few, a groundswell of support to give overdue recognition to Chicago's first and only female mayor began over the summer, with her old City Council ally Ald. Edward Burke (14th) leading the move to rename the Water Tower Plaza in her honor. Gov. Pat Quinn followed suit a month later, decreeing that the Circle Interchange, commonly called the "Spaghetti Bowl," for the twisted area where the Kennedy, Ryan and Eisenhower expressways come together at Congress Parkway, would be formally named the Jane Byrne Interchange.
The 81-year-old Byrne made a rare public appearance for that event, but three months later she was dead. At the funeral at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Lincoln Park, both Byrne's daughter, Kathy Byrne, and Monsignor Kenneth Velo said her last days had been brightened by the attention and honor she'd received after decades out of the public spotlight.
5. The city finally gets out from under the Shakman decrees: Oddly enough, it was Burke who said on the day of Byrne's death that her capricious hirings and firings had led to the Shakman decrees, the 1983 court order setting strict standards for political hires after Michael Shakman had first filed suit against Chicago patronage in 1969. For decades, the city struggled to achieve compliance on unbiased hiring, paying millions along the way in what some called "pinstripe patronage" for well-connected lawyers and court-appointed officers. In May, Shakman himself declared the city in "substantial compliance," and a judge agreed a month later, lifting the legal entanglements the city had been operating under for three decades.
Yet some said patronage was simply hidden, especially in the City Council, which had never been subject to the Shakman decrees. Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan pushed that attitude, filing suit against the city for failing to adequately fund his office, and tangling with aldermen over accusations of political work done on city time, at one point accusing Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of calling a top staffer by a sexist barnyard epithet.
Some aldermen responded by suggesting Inspector General Joseph Ferguson could monitor the council as well, making Khan's post unnecessary, but it didn't seem as if their battles with him were over just yet.
6. Rahm takes the plunge — in the midst of the Polar Vortex: In the first weekend of the new year — remember all the way back then? — arctic weather swooped down from the north and sent temperatures below zero for 37 hours. It proved to be only the beginning of a brutal 2014 winter that found the city labeled "Chiberia." In the midst of it, the mayor said he'd appear on NBC's "Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" — if Fallon agreed to join Emanuel in the Polar Plunge, which the mayor had committed to do after Chicago schoolkids had read 2.1 million books over the summer. It was still plenty cold when they took the plunge in March, in the process helping to raise $1 million for the Special Olympics.
When Emanuel paid up, appearing on "The Tonight Show" in June, he issued another challenge: for Fallon to bring the show to Chicago. In September, he repeated the challenge, after schoolkids read another 2.7 million books over the summer, and a few days later NBC announced the deal was done.
No formal dates have been set yet, but it would seem we have that to look forward to as well in 2015.
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