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Chicago's Top Stories Of 2015

By Staff in News on Dec 30, 2015 9:29PM

From the Cubs' surprise winning streak to the CPD's tragic missteps, it's been a year of ups and downs for Chicago. Here are the key stories that shaped the city in 2015.

via Getty Images

Rahm Emanuel Won The Mayoral Race, But Now Even More People Want Him Out Of Office

He raised nearly $25 million. He donned a fuzzy sweater. He even got his former boss, President Barack Obama, to tell Chicagoans what a great job he had been doing. While Rahm Emanuel might’ve thought he’d have an easy time winning a re-election, he certainly had to pull out all the stops to secure that victory, especially after being forced into an unprecedented runoff, where he faced challenger Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia.

"You voted for a second term and a second chance," said Emanuel in his victory speech, after securing a second stay on the 5th floor of City Hall with 56 percent of the vote. "I have had the good fortune to serve two presidents. I have had the good fortune to be elected to Congress. Being the mayor of the city of Chicago is the greatest job I have had."

The victory wasn't exactly a surprise, considering Emanuel's fundraising juggernaut. However, since the runoff, critics have continued to hammer him on the issues that dogged him throughout—and before—the election. His decision to close half the city’s mental health clinics will haunt him, especially now that the police have fatally shot an unarmed and mentally ill civilian. A potential second teacher’s strike looms large, and calls for his exit are louder than they were during his campaign, in part due to the police department's lack of accountability. —Aaron Cynic

The State Budget Never Got Passed

In February, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed a budget that was friendly towards businesses, and made huge cuts in social services and state worker pensions. It’s been ten months since then, and Rauner and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature have still not been able to reach a compromise with the legislature’s Democrats. The state will go into 2016—maybe quite a bit into 2016—without a budget.

Stopgap funds have leaked out of Springfield on occasion, but various state programs have been harmed by the budget’s nonexistence: subsidized childcare, services for domestic violence victims, and a widely-beloved program that helps rehabilitate juvenile offenders. The state lottery also started issuing literal IOUs to winners, pending a new budget. The whole mess is bad news for everyone—especially this political reporter who won’t shave his beard until the state has a budget. He must look like Rip Van Winkle by now. —Mae Rice

Homan Square Was Alleged To Be A "Black-Ops" Interrogation Site

Reports that Homan Square was an off-the-books interrogation site—where police used “black ops’ techniques and kept detainees from their lawyers—broke in February, thanks to an investigation from The Guardian. The paper’s team continued to break news on the site all year. In August, they reported that at least 3,500 people had been detained at Homan Square between August of 2004 to June of 2015, 82 percent of them black; in October, they reported that the city had actually detained more than 7,000 people in that time period.

The facility remains a divisive topic. The Chicago Police Department claims nothing untoward happens there; on the other hand, this month, the Cook County Board held a hearing where one Homan Square detainee testified that during his questioning, “they turned the temperature up and I was zip-tied to a bench.” The Department of Justice probe into the CPD’s inner workings could make this Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s next big, national scandal—or, just as easily, not even touch this. —Mae Rice

Marriage Equality

The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country was a big cause for celebration in Chicago. The June 26 decision came just before the city geared up to celebrate its biggest annual Pride Parade yet, and Chicagoans feted the occasion around the city. The decision validated a lot of work Chicagoans in particular have put into getting marriage equality extended in Illinois a year prior, as we chronicled in this handy timeline. —Rachel Cromidas

The Saga Of The Disgraced Fox Lake Cop

One of the biggest local stories of the year has all the makings of an epic, soap-operatic drama: A revered local cop's mysterious shooting death sparks a national manhunt and a hero's funeral. Leads grow cold. Hope runs out. Weeks later, federal investigators reveal that evidence points to the shooting actually being a suicide, staged to look like a struggle to the death in order to cover up years of criminal activity. Fox Lake's Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, 52, was found dead from a gunshot wound from his own weapon on Sept. 1, shortly after he radioed that he was in foot pursuit of three suspects. On Nov. 4, federal investigators said Gliniewicz staged the shooting death to cover up years of embezzlement from a police youth training program, sexual harassment and a possible plot to have a public official offed. —Rachel Cromidas

Protests following the Laquan McDonald video release. Braden Nesin/Chicagoist

The City Releases Harrowing Video Of The Police Shooting Of Laquan McDonald

Unfortunately, the Chicago area's bad cop stories only began with the Fox Lake lieutenant. The fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald is technically a 2014 news story, but the layers of misconduct and wrongdoing that resulted in his tragic death and the effort to suppress video of his shooting for over a year only mean the story only made national news this November.

McDonald may have been engaged in some criminal activity when police found him on an October, 2014 night—police say he was carrying a knife and breaking into trucks—but he was not threatening anyone, and didn't attack anyone, and did not justify the use of lethal force, let alone the 16 bullets officer Jason Van Dyke emptied into his fatally wounded body. Van Dyke is now pleading not guilty to six murder charges, police chief Garry McCarthy has been ousted, and this is likely just the beginning of a new era of scrutiny on the Chicago Police Department, thanks to a new federal probe and the hard work of relentless activists, journalists and Freedom of Information Law attorneys.

Or is McDonald's death catalyzing a new era of police accountability? Last week's fatal accidental shooting of 55-year-old Bettie Jones and 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, who likely suffered from mental health problems, shows change is not coming easily for CPD. —Rachel Cromidas

Getty Images

The Cubs Emerge As Serious National League Contenders

We won't be forgetting the 2015 Cubs any time soon. A season of rebuilding for the Chicago Cubs turned into a Wild Card game win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, an improbable victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (NLDS) and three NL post-season awards: Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Manager of the Year. Even though they didn't make it all the way this year, the team's amazing offseason signings, including free agents Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, have diehard and casual fans more hopeful for next year than ever. —Kate Shepherd

"Fare Thee Well": The Grateful Dead Host Epic Goodbye At Soldier Field

The legendary rock band reunited for the first time in nearly 20 years to play a series of farewell concerts in honor of their 50th anniversary. Lucky Deadheads in tie-dye shirts converged on the city during the 4th of July weekend. More than 70,000 fans a night showed up to hear the "core four" Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir plus guests Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti play epic and satisfying sets. —Kate Shepherd


Medical Marijuana Actually Went On Sale

Illinois’ medical marijuana program got off the ground, and by year’s end, it had rolled into Chicago. Though our first dispensary, Andersonville’s Dispensary 33, was expected to open before it had any weed in stock, it pulled off a reversal worthy of an inspirational basketball movie: when its doors opened earlier this month, it had a variety of strains available. At this point, purchases are very tightly regulated, though—buying at a dispensary requires a special state ID, verifying that you have one of the 39 medical conditions that make people eligible for medical marijuana. —Mae Rice

Photo of the Maggie Daley Park climbing wall via Jim Bochnowski

A Golden Age Began for Chicago Public Parks

Besides The 606, three major public parks opened or underwent renovations this year. In May, the first two blocks of the $100 million Chicago Riverwalk expansion project opened, running from State Street to Clark Street. Also in May, Maggie Daley Park unveiled a new 40-foot climbing wall with bouldering and top-rope options, designed for experienced climbers (and newbies who want to pay $29 for a lesson). Then, in early fall, Northerly Island—known for its contentious history and for hosting a Backstreet Boys concert in 2013—completed the trifecta. The island opened a new 40-acre park to the public in September, home to a 5-acre lagoon as well as plenty of pedestrian and bike paths. —Mae Rice

Against Me! at Riot Fest, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Riot Fest Moves To Douglas Park
Riot fest and Ald. Roberto Maldonado came to blows earlier this year, ultimately leading to the city’s largest independent music festival getting the boot from its home in Humboldt Park. Even though later emails showed that there was probably more community support for Riot Fest than Maldonado was willing to admit. Organizers found a new home for the festival in Douglas Park and everything seemed fine, until a hospital neighboring the park tried to halt the music in the eleventh hour, claiming the noise would disturb patients. Luckily, a last-minute compromise was reached and Riot Fest powered through three days of great music in their new home. Things went so well that Douglas Park will house the fest’s return next year. —Jim Kopeny

The 606 - Photo by Braden Nesin / Chicagoist

The Bloomingdale Trail Is Transformed Into The 606

On June 6, The 606, a new trail built on the footprint of the Bloomingdale train line, became the city’s newest public park. The 2.7-mile trail runs between Ashland and Ridgeway, reaching from Humboldt Park into Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park. Many were excited, but some speculated that the trail was rushed open, leaving quite a bit work to still be done. The narrow elevated path also forced bikers, runners, pedestrians and packs of strollers to figure out how to coexist peacefully without killing each other. As the year draws to a close, it’s fairly obvious that despite it’s bumpy debut, the Trail is a success. Even its haters have a pretty good sense of humor. —Jim Kopeny

Chi-Raw - Teyonah Parris and John Cusack in "Chi-Raq." (Photo: Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

Chi-Raq Riles Up Everyone
The press had a field day with the title of Spike Lee’s new film Chi-Raq, and we've long pondered whether the term Chi-Raq is offensive or not. However all the public hand-wringing, and mayoral disdain for Lee’s choice of a title, culminated in a debut that landed with a thud. Ultimately, people realized Lee’s retelling of the Greek tale of Lysistrata was a snooze, and the only real provocation was in his choice of a title. But hey, Lee obviously is the real winner here, since for a few months people cared about his movie career again. —Jim Kopeny

The Drink Menu at Taco Bell Cantina.

Taco Bell Brings Its Peculiar Brand Of Booze To Chicago

We’ve rarely seen Chicago more riled up about a restaurant story than it was when
the news broke that Taco Bell was bringing Taco Bell Cantina to Wicker Park. Taco Bell Cantina, in case you lived under a rock during the fall, is the first-in-America version of Taco Bell that serves alcohol, as well as a few new “upscale” appetizers.

We hung on every single detail. When people peeked in the window to get a shot of the menu, we were right there. And after it opened, we made the ultimate sacrifice and tried the entire menu of boozy slushies and single-serving wines.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the place opened, it stopped being a story. Why? Because the drinks are fairly terrible, a little bit expensive and you can’t get them to go. The moral of the story: Taco Bell is food for when you’re already drunk, but if you have no better place to sit and have a $8 drink than a fast food joint in Wicker Park, you should re-evaluate your life choices. —Anthony Todd

The New York Strip. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

Chicago Uses Up The World’s Entire Supply of Expensive Steak

There was one story that dominated restaurant news this year, and that was the seemingly-unending proliferation of steakhouses. They came all over the city, with all styles of décor and service, and the only thing they had in common was a shared commitment to pushing the price of a steak ever upward. If the price of a steak in Chicago is any indication, the recession is definitely over. Chicago Magazine even had to make a chart so we could keep track of them all.

Some of these places were genuinely great. Boeufhaus made our best restaurants of the year list, thanks to a combination of trend-busting reasonable prices and an intimate atmosphere, and STK Chicago surprised us with some pretty decent steaks. Others, including the hotly anticipated Swift and Sons, failed to impress . We haven't made it to them all yet, but if our arteries and wallets allow, we'll visit more in 2015—especially since the steakhouse trend isn't over. GT Prime, Chef Giuseppe Tentori’s steak spot, is supposed to be opening in 2016. —Anthony Todd

Paul McGee behind the bar at Milk Room. Photo by Clayton Hauck.

The Best Bar Ever Opens in Chicago

The biggest restaurant news of the last month of the year was the opening of Milk Room, the exclusive 8-seat bar in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Why is Milk Room worthy of so much attention? Well, a tiny bar with cocktails by superstar Paul McGee would be newsworthy by itself, but when you throw in the opportunity to try antique spirits ranging from 20-70 years old, you’ve really got something. —Anthony Todd


Local Foods (and A Few Other Places) Are Changing Grocery Shopping

For the past few years, the only real story in the Chicago food shopping landscape was the proliferation of Mariano’s. That changed in 2015, as Local Foods, the all-local west side grocery store, finally opened. They brought in Butcher & Larder (which left its Chicago Avenue location), opened a companion café called Stock, and generally impressed everyone with their ability to source awesome food year-round.

They weren’t the only local grocery game changer. Co-Op grocery stores focused on local and organic food finally started to get a toehold in the city. The second co-op in all of Chicagoland, Sugar Beet Co-Op in Oak Park, opened its doors in July, and Dill Pickle, the scrappy, tiny spot in Logan Square announced a move to a new 10,000 square foot location. —Anthony Todd