Chicago's Lake Shore Drive renamed for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable

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CHICAGO — Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive it is. Or rather, will soon be.

Two years after a South Side alderman introduced an ordinance to rebrand the landmark Chicago Lake Shore Drive to honor DuSable because he was upset he didn’t hear the Black founder of Chicago mentioned during a river boat tour, the City Council on Friday ended months of racially charged debate by adopting a compromise to make it so.

The vote was 33-15, with “no” votes coming from 12 white and three Latino aldermen.

The ordinance calls for the renaming to happen immediately, but a city spokesman did not respond to questions about how long it would take to change the signs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed Alderman David Moore’s initial plan to rebrand the iconic lakefront ribbon of concrete “DuSable Drive” on the grounds it would make the city tougher to market. But she got behind the late “DuSable Lake Shore Drive” deal rather than risk taking a total loss in the 50-member council.

Moore and other DuSable backers agreed to the compromise instead of trying to hold together a majority in the face of pushback from the mayor and opponents on the council, or risking Lightfoot using her first veto to further impede them.

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, said the lack of proper honor for Black leaders has a harmful impact on Black children. Naming the road for him “is a small but important step to addressing racial injustice,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

The protracted street rebranding fight came as Chicago faces many pressing problems, from rising violent crime to crushing financial shortfalls coming out of the pandemic.

But in a city where symbolic representation has long been a measure of political strength, Moore and supporters of the change saw winning as a point of pride for Black Chicagoans and others who think DuSable hasn’t gotten his due. Capitulating to opponents would have been another indignity in what they see as long-running underappreciation of African Americans’ contributions.

“It’s been argued not to change the name Lake Shore Drive because it’s so iconic,” said Alderwoman Sophia King, 4th, who co-sponsored the ordinance. “I argue just the opposite. Let’s rename it because it’s so iconic.”

Backers of the change chose a particularly contentious target for the DuSable name. It’s one champions say befits the Black man who became the area’s first nonnative settler when he set up a trading post along the Chicago River in 1779, but which opponents argued would besmirch an emblem of the city as beloved as the Sears Tower or Marshall Field’s.

Downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd, pointed out DuSable already has a bridge, a museum, a harbor and other things named after him in the city, and said his constituents “would prefer to keep the name Lake Shore Drive.”

“I can tell you the feedback I’ve been getting about the proposed compromise is that it’s a very long name, and it could be even more confusing,” Reilly said.

And Alderman Brian Hopkins, 2nd, said a proposal to instead rename Millennium Park would “vastly exceed” the honor of rechristening the road.

The outcome was unclear until the vote took place. A prior attempt to pass the “DuSable Drive” version got blocked by opponents in May.

It was then supposed to get an up-or-down vote at Wednesday’s council meeting, but Lightfoot adjourned that one after two aldermen used a maneuver to stall her pick for corporation counsel in protest of the Law Department’s treatment of Anjanette Young in her lawsuit over an infamous botched police raid.

Celia Meza’s nomination to be the city’s top lawyer also passed the council Friday.

Backers of renaming the famous street “DuSable Drive” announced Thursday they would be open to Lightfoot’s proposed compromise name, as long as the vote happened Friday.

They said they had the votes to pass their version, but were worried opponents of the plan would keep using various maneuvers to hold it up.

For example, an alderman against the change could have moved to re-refer the proposal back to committee.

A Lightfoot veto would have required 34 votes to overcome it, a much steeper hill to climb.

The “DuSable Drive” ordinance could have failed, with a couple different alternative plans floating around, among Reilly’s Millennium Park plan and Lightfoot’s competing proposal to rechristen the downtown Riverwalk for him.

Or, given recent raucous City Council get-togethers, they worried the body wouldn’t be in session long enough to take up the DuSable motion.

At her postcouncil news conference Lightfoot said she helped forge the compromise on Lake Shore Drive because that’s what democracy is about, but said she agrees with Reilly that the council has more important issues to deal with.

She also defended her administration’s legal dealings with Anjanette Young, saying “you can’t settle with someone who doesn’t want to settle.”

And she praised Meza, her corporation counsel, as “the embodiment of integrity.”

Also Friday, Lightfoot’s package of rule changes for local businesses also passed, including a ban on liquor sales at stores after midnight.

But aldermen stripped her proposal of a key provision allowing businesses to put up signs without full City Council approval.

Reilly successfully moved to pull that portion out of Lightfoot’s business ordinance in a micro-battle over aldermanic prerogative, Chicago’s informal tradition that aldermen defer to each other on matters in their wards, which Lightfoot has repeatedly challenged.

Lightfoot has said the sign issue isn’t about stripping aldermen of their power but helping businesses. Aldermen voted to take her sign proposal out of the business package, by a 25-24 vote. They then passed the rest of the package 49-0.

A vote on the sign measure by itself was put off for another month by two aldermen.

A day after 22 aldermen sent a letter to Lightfoot, calling on her to consistently follow the council’s rules of order and saying failure to do so is “not only unacceptable and illegal, but also a manipulation of our democratic process,” Alderman Anthony Beale introduced an ordinance to give aldermen their own parliamentarian to interpret whether council rules are being properly followed.

Several aldermen were upset at what they deemed inconsistencies by Lightfoot in rulings during Wednesday’s raucous meeting, which prompted Beale’s move.