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Chicago police chief fired after Laquan McDonald killing announces bid for mayor

Garry McCarthy's track record makes him a longshot, but his candidacy will keep Emanuel's scandals in the spotlight.

Garry McCarthy, right, was fired as Chicago's top cop by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, after the attempted cover-up of an ugly police killing failed and implicated both leaders' offices. (CREDIT: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Garry McCarthy, right, was fired as Chicago's top cop by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, after the attempted cover-up of an ugly police killing failed and implicated both leaders' offices. (CREDIT: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If he’s going to get the third term he wants, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) will have to fend off a challenge from the police chief he fired over a scandalous police killing and cover-up that implicated both men’s offices.

Former police superintendent Garry McCarthy formally announced his candidacy for mayor on Wednesday night in a video message posted to his website. McCarthy has been exploring a potential run for months, inviting renewed scrutiny of a decades-long policing resume that looks shiny from afar but tarnishes fast under close examination.

The video is mostly your standard self-introductory stuff. It opens with old family photos, cutting between grainy old photos and a shot of McCarthy sitting in a well-appointed kitchen describing his parents as “the epitome of the Greatest Generation.” He particularly emphasizes his father’s reputation among his fellow Marines and police officers as a tough, fearless man “they trusted with their lives.”

“Unfortunately, Chicago’s city government has lost our trust because of failed policies and the endless politics of bluster and bullying,” McCarthy says, as negative headlines pop up next to a frowning Emanuel.

One of those headlines invokes the police killing of Laquan McDonald during McCarthy’s tenure. Cops at the scene and higher up in the department sought to cover for former officer Jason Van Dyke, who now faces murder charges after video evidence emerged to show he and numerous other cops lied about the circumstances of the killing.

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It’s unclear why McCarthy would think that fault for the scandal would rest at Emanuel’s door but not his own, but close observers of the story will likely be aware that McCarthy was fired in part due to quiet criticisms of Emanuel after emails emerged showing his office had known videos existed disproving the false police narrative of the killing during the closing months of his last election campaign.

“I ran New York City’s crime strategy for seven years,” McCarthy continues. “With skilled men and women in uniform, I helped bring down violent crime rates in New York, Newark New Jersey, and here in Chicago.” Again, headlines matching his words pop up on the screen.

McCarthy’s ad doesn’t include the headlines that followed, months after those initial dips in statistical measures of crime. The headlines alleging his numbers were juiced, relaying findings from the city’s Inspector General that McCarthy’s team “underreported aggravated assaults, batteries in 2012.” A detailed investigation by Chicago Magazine likened the sudden, wall-to-wall drop in crime rates under McCarthy to “a chronically mediocre student all of a sudden earning straight As” — and proceeded to detail a system one police lieutenant nicknamed “the washing machine,” whereby city police recategorized, downgraded, or outright discounted violent incidents in order to generate the “straight As” that are the foundation of McCarthy’s reputation.

Whatever McCarthy’s qualifications or closet skeletons as a cop, his decision to challenge the first boss who ever fired him marks a major career shift.

But it’s not clear how voluntary the jump from law enforcement to politics has been. In the two years since McCarthy took the fall for City Hall’s apparent coverup of the McDonald tapes, he was briefly linked to the search for a new head of London’s Metropolitan Police and reportedly considered for an appointment to the federal marshal’s service after President Donald Trump’s election. But with the McDonald stain still fresh, McCarthy didn’t find another job in uniform and instead formed a security consulting firm that worked with another former Chicago cop reputed to have mob ties.

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Now, McCarthy’s got about a year to drum up enough support to bump off Emanuel. The field is likely to be crowded enough that even if McCarthy finishes far off the top in initial voting, former alderman Dick Simpson told the local CBS affiliate, he could siphon away a key bloc of white voters who have supported Emanuel in the past. The mayor’s team, meanwhile, has already sought to sandbag the challenger by tying McCarthy to Trump.