Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) apologizes to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) for his attempts to stop her from attending a special city council meeting last week during a City Council meeting on Nov. 7, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CITY HALL — A move to censure Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa over accusations of threatening behavior before and during a City Council meeting last week failed to move forward Tuesday by only one vote — with Mayor Brandon Johnson casting the tiebreaker.

The dramatic moment came at the end of a chaotic day at City Hall that began with a committee hearing being recessed amid shouting and heckling from public spectators.

That was followed by a full Council meeting, during which Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) motioned to censure Ramirez-Rosa (35th) for trying to physically block Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) from entering last week’s special council meeting in an apparent effort to deny the meeting a quorum. The Thursday meeting had been called to approve a ballot measure on Chicago’s sanctuary city status.

Ramirez-Rosa has also been accused by several alderpeople of using his position as chair of the council’s zoning committee to threaten future developments in their ward if they attended the Thursday meeting — allegations he has refuted.

The political fallout was swift. Over the weekend, the City Council’s Black Caucus issued a statement calling on Ramirez-Rosa to step down as Johnson’s council floor leader and zoning chair — which he did on Monday.

At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Mitts and Ramirez-Rosa rose to address the situation, with Mitts imploring Ramirez-Rosa to “learn a little wisdom” while he apologized to her and the entire Council.

“I dramatically overreacted to the intensity of what was happening in that meeting. And there’s no excuse for that,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “I sincerely apologize to my colleague, Emma Mitts, for the disrespectful interaction that we had outside the council chambers, and for my overzealous attempts throughout the day to try and convince you not to be part of it.”

But Waguespack still moved to censure Ramirez-Rosa, saying his conduct was “unacceptable in this body” and deserved a formal rebuke.

“I’m calling for this censure because of the obvious need to restore decorum and mete out some form of discipline,” Waguespack said. “This effort is to have this body go on record that we as a body do not accept this type of behavior exhibiting by our colleague Ald. Ramirez-Rosa last week.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd). Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Numerous alderpeople then weighed in, some in favor of the effort and others questioning whether the council’s rules allowed them to censure Ramirez-Rosa.

“There is no precedent, anywhere in City Council history that we were able to find, where an active censure was presented and voted upon by this body for an act that occurred outside of this chamber, not during the meeting in question,” Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said. “And that description applies to the act that we are describing here.”

Johnson, who during council meetings acts as the body’s presiding officer, agreed with that assessment. He ruled a censure would have to happen at the same meeting the alleged infraction took place and was otherwise “improper.”

That triggered a series of parliamentary moves that saw the council successfully appeal the mayor’s ruling — only to then tie 24-24 when voting on the censure itself. Mitts voted against censuring Ramirez-Rosa.

The tiebreaking vote ultimately fell to the mayor, who voted against it, killing the motion.

“The rule that was invoked did not apply. It just didn’t,” Johnson said during a post-council press conference. “Ald. Mitts made it very clear that she’s committed to restorative practices. And she voted with the rest of her colleagues that censorship did not apply in that particular scenario. We stood with Ald. Mitts today.”

Thursday’s special council meeting was called by alds. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ray Lopez (15th) to vote on a public ballot referendum that would ask Chicago voters if they support keeping the city’s sanctuary city status, also known as welcoming city status.

The designation has become a popular target in recent months for people critical of spending public dollars on migrants. Since August 2022, more than 20,000 asylum seekers have been sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other border state politicians, overwhelming the city’s shelters and social services.

Sanctuary city status does not require Chicago to spend funds on migrants or other new arrivals. Instead, it bans police officials from cooperating with federal agents, such as I.C.E., when they arrest a person who is undocumented, according to WTTW News.

Ramirez-Rosa’s actions before and during Thursday’s meeting are still not fully clear.

Video published by CBS 2 shows the alderperson standing between Mitts and a door to City Council chambers and briefly touching her arm before ultimately allowing her through.

Ramirez-Rosa said he did not manhandle or attack Mitts, contrary to claims made by Lopez and others.

“I think the video was very clear that that is not what occurred,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Mitts said Ramirez-Rosa “verbally chastised me repeatedly, dispensed an uncomfortable level of professional threatening, and eventually attempted to physically restrain me and sought to block me from re-entering the City Council chambers.”

Several alderpeople on Tuesday also rose to describe what they said were threats made by Ramirez-Rosa about developments in their wards if they attended last Thursday’s special meeting.

“I’m not OK. I’m not OK because I hate that we are all talking about this right now, that this was even a necessary conversation, that there was a question about whether or not what happened to me happened in this chamber,” Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) said. “I sat in this seat when I got this threat, and that’s exactly how I took it.”

Ramirez-Rosa has denied that he threatened to hold up any zoning changes, which are often needed for developments to move forward.

“In retrospect, as I sit there and think about, you know, the interactions that we had, I can see why they would interpret it in that way. But that was not my intent. I did not mean to do that,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) at a City Council meeting on Nov. 7, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

While Ramirez-Rosa’s resignation as Johnson’s floor leader on Monday was effective immediately, he plans to step down from his role as chair of the city’s zoning committee effective Dec. 1.

The Logan Square alderperson was until this week one of Johnson’s most powerful allies on the City Council. Johnson appointed Ramirez-Rosa to the floor leader and zoning committee chair positions after the mayor took office this spring.

Johnson on Tuesday did not directly say whether he has reached out to other alderpeople to replace Ramirez-Rosa as his council floor leader, but said he has a “deliberate timeline” to install a new one.

“As I’ve always done, I will be deliberate and intentional about making sure that we have strong capable people who can help move the agenda of this administration forward,” Johnson said.

Block Club’s Joe Ward contributed.

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