Chicago’s 35th Ward Alderman Must Go

November 15, 2023

Allowing Carlos Ramirez-Rosa to stay in office will prolong incivility in the Chicago City Council

Today when thoughts turn to Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, opinions tend to differ. To his supporters in the Logan Square neighborhood Rosa represents — hipster grandmas in T-shirts with slogans such as “I believe Anita Hill” or younger bohemians wearing Mao or Che Guevara T-shirts — Rosa is an adored Apollo destined for higher office. Other residents of the 35th Ward view Rosa as wretched, selfish, bombastic, and best know him for his shallow oration and puerile outbursts.

Whether it is his hoards of adoring fanatics or the throng of detractors, most must agree Rosa has had an awful past few weeks. A habitual troublemaker, Rosa recently found himself in a bind over his behavior in a special meeting of the City Council. At issue on Thursday, November 2nd, was Chicago’s "sanctuary city" policy, which some aldermen wished to reconsider for a nonbinding referendum on next year’s spring ballot. Aghast at the notion his colleagues would attempt to whittle down his power as Floor Leader, Rosa was determined to stall the measure.

Rosa started trouble early, and because of his recklessness and meddling, it worsened throughout the day. In advance of the special meeting, Rosa’s plan to thwart any discussion over a referendum began with a morning text to fellow aldermen in an attempt to dissuade colleagues from attending the session. A fierce opponent of the non-binding resolution, in his text, Rosa declared the session would not have a quorum and urged his fellow aldermen to address ward business instead.

Despite his urgent plea to prevent a quorum from being reached, aldermen did turn out to perform Council business. Incensed by the prospect of having to do legislative work and being humiliated by colleagues with the courage to defy him, Floor Leader Rosa threw a tantrum. With aldermen in support of the referendum building on the chamber floor, Rosa hysterically pressured several aldermen, fulminating against them with the threat to block zoning changes if they took part in the special session. When his threats to obstruct zoning matters fell with a thud, Rosa resorted to intimidation tactics and unsuccessfully attempted to physically block Alderman Emma Mitts (37) from entering the Council floor.

An uproar over Rosa’s behavior ensued and over the weekend of November 4th, and realizing he could no longer hold on to his leadership positions — Floor Leader and chair of the Zoning Committee — he was out of both jobs on Monday the 6th. Portraying himself as someone who had transgressed but now saw the light, Rosa, in his carefully self-controlled way, then put himself through ritual public humiliation of an apology to Mitts delivered on the City Council floor. A Kumbaya moment, Rosa admitted his shortcomings and embraced Mitts to resolve the unpleasantness.

Following his staff-crafted apology and acknowledgement of failure, one would have expected Mr. Ramirez-Rosa to lay out a rehabilitation program for his sins. Ordinarily, the offender charts out specific steps to place him on the path of reconciliation. Rosa, however, only mentioned “rebuilding trust” and committing himself to “making amends.” That Rosa avoided specifics only revealed his “apology” was dishonest and was delivered to both minimize any accountability and to inoculate him from too much public opprobrium.

Rosa will never change

Rosa’s apology is welcome, but it does not detract from the revealing aspects of this unpleasant episode. Part of a pattern, this is not the first time Rosa’s big mouth and brutish intimidation tactics have caused a stir.

From the moment of his election to the City Council in 2015, Rosa has used his office to accumulate power, control, and influence. A crude and blustering rabble-rouser, Rosa’s extremism and antics have led to him being jettisoned from Daniel Biss’ 2017 gubernatorial campaign and led to his being thrown out of the Latino Caucus in 2018.

The first Democratic Socialist (DSA) in the chamber, Rosa’s election became a gateway for ignoramuses: Daniel La Spata (1), Jeanette Taylor (20), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), and Andre Vasquez (40) followed in 2019. With the rise of Democratic Socialists, comity in the chamber has suffered terribly.

A man uninterested in bipartisanship, accommodation, or collaboration, Rosa’s tenure on the City Council has been marked by controversy. Though his simpering tones may be intended to make him sound like Mother Teresa, Ramirez-Rosa’s speeches are painful to listen to and are imbued with cheap promises. The City Council groans when he stands.

Shortly after the election of Brandon Johnson as mayor — a moment Rosa had long sought to increase his power and stature — Rosa maneuvered with City Council regulars and progressives to create a new, “independent” committee structure. A ploy to favor progressive and DSA aldermen for committee chairmanships, when the ruse was exposed and Rosa was confronted by fellow aldermen for his underhanded dealings, a heated dispute followed. Far from a friendly disagreement, according to sources, discussions grew so intense, instead of framing his position with hard, uncontested facts, Rosa verbally attacked and shouted down three aldermen, Leslie Hairston (5), Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), and Jeanette Taylor (20) with such belligerence, two of the women were reduced to tears. Hardly a surprise, Rosa saw the three fellow aldermen inquiring over the proposed committee order as obstacles to his advancement. Following the fracas, Rosa swiftly retreated to his office to avoid being confronted by members of the City Council Black Caucus.

Once he was named Floor Leader, Rosa became consumed with the title. A position with no universally understood meaning, the City Council Floor Leader is largely a ceremonial post and does not have either a budget or staff. Unlike a Senate Majority Leader, which has vast institutional and legislative responsibilities, a City Council Floor Leader’s duties are limited to functioning as a conduit for information between the mayor and aldermen and to mobilize council members for key votes. Nevertheless, the position does demand a tinge of leadership skills, particularly a talent to persuade or influence. His failure to articulate a compelling argument to prevent a quorum on November 2nd is precisely why Rosa landed in hot water.

With no capacity to sway colleagues over to his side with the power of his logic or a rational argument to prevent a quorum, Rosa scrapped civility and stooped to intimidation, bullying, and threats to achieve his legislative goals. Had Rosa kept his voluminous mouth shut and allowed democracy to take its course by permitting Alderman Mitts entry to the chamber floor, he would still be serving as Floor Leader and chair of Zoning. Rosa being Rosa, he could not.

We have seen the Carlos Ramirez-Rosa act for eight long years, and it has become tiresome. Rosa’s colleagues on the City Council as well as the public are on to him. We are onto the endless moralizing, the theatrics, the bluster, the empty claims, and his penchant for exaggeration. Alderman Ramirez-Rosa will remain unchanged and so too will his tactics: Lies and deceit, bullying and intimidation. When Mr. Rosa confronted Alderman Mitts, he again revealed who he truly is: A toxic figure who wears the mantle of good intention to disguise his inner malevolence. A power-hungry opportunist who lacks wisdom, judgment, and restraint, Rosa’s behavior has rendered himself unfit for service on the Chicago City Council and he must go.

When Alderman Mitts addressed the City Council over her encounter with Alderman Ramirez-Rosa, she demanded civility return to the city’s legislative chamber. For the rancor, intimidation, and disruptions to harmony to end, and to stop the slide into incivility, Rosa must resign.

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