Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is it now all up to Willie?

If I were a political operative being paid by mayoral hopeful Jesus Garcia, I would have advised him to do whatever was necessary to get former candidate Willie Wilson on his side, and quickly.

I think it would have been a major political coup for his campaign if he could have had a press conference by Friday with Wilson at his side; with the one-time McDonald’s franchise operator saying how much he backs the concept of “Mayor Chuy.”

IT WOULD HAVE created the illusion of all the non-Anglo residents of Chicago uniting against “Mayor 1 percent,” and given a jolt right off the bat to the Garcia mayoral campaign. It would be perceived that the mayor is staggering back to his corner of the political boxing ring.

Likewise, I’m sure Mayor Rahm Emanuel would also like to have that endorsement, although his priority I’m presuming is to keep Wilson silent and away from taking any sides in the run-off mayoral election that Willie did not qualify for.

All of which means Wilson is probably more important now than he was when he was one of five mayoral candidates on the ballot for Tuesday’s municipal elections.

Wilson only took 11 percent of the vote on Tuesday, but he is perceived as having hurt Emanuel already because of the thought that his backers likely wouldn’t have voted at all – meaning the roughly 220,000 votes he received would have been more than 50 percent, which would have been an outright victory instead of qualification for a run-off.

I EXPECT WILSON will enjoy this newfound attention and his ego will milk it for all it’s worth, particularly if he can get either Garcia or Emanuel to promise to deliver something that was part of his own political campaign’s platform.

The longer he goes without backing Garcia, the less his support would mean to that mayoral campaign.

Personally, I found it intriguing that Wilson on Election Night said he would back Garcia. But now the Chicago Sun-Times is publishing stories saying Wilson took back his endorsement.

And everybody is reporting on how both Emanuel and Garcia made the trip to Wilson’s downtown high-rise condo to make their appeal. Almost like they have to grovel for his support – just like the old-time Democratic Party politicos conducted slating sessions to make would-be candidates beg for their place on the party’s ballot.

WHEN LOOKED AT in that context, I find it amusing – the thought of Rahm down on his knees and kissing the ring, so to speak, to try to get another term as mayor.

But Garcia needs it more!

Because no matter how much people want to say the black vote in Chicago turned on Emanuel, the fact is that he won it on Tuesday. Some 51.8 percent of voters in African-American majority wards preferred the mayor, while only 35.8 percent were willing to go for Garcia.

The county commissioner from the Little Village neighborhood has the perception of being the “Latino candidate” and nothing more, at this point. Tapping into more African-American support is essential for him come April 7.

BECAUSE EMANUEL IS close to being the winner come the run-off election. A We Ask America poll taken for the Chicago Retail Merchants Association shows
Emanuel with 48.65 percent and 13.63 percent undecided. He only needs to get a tiny portion of that in order to win.

Then, there’s the polling done this week for Emanuel by the Global Strategy Group, which shows Emanuel already a winner with 50.4 percent. It wouldn’t matter what the 10.6 percent undecided did – except to determine by how much of a margin Garcia loses by.

My gut feeling says that the people inclined to vote for Garcia already have, and that many of the people who wanted another candidate either will find a way to come around to Emanuel or wind up sitting home in the April run-off.

I still remember the moment from a mayoral debate when Garcia said he likes Wilson because of his down-home approach to life that reminded him of people from his native village in northern Mexico. My guess is that we’ll find out soon how truthful Garcia was when he made those comments.


Friday, February 27, 2015

What can we learn about Chuy from last Little Village neighborhood mayor?

When Barack Obama became president-elect in 2008, I spent the next few weeks re-reading everything I could get my hands on concerning Harold Washington and “Council Wars;” suspecting that Republican reaction to an Obama presidency would bear similarities to the hostilities Washington faced from the City Council.

Some of that background has come in handy throughout the years, even though the modern-day GOP is slightly more subtle in its rhetoric than the Vrdolyak caucus was when expressing its racial contempt for Chicago’s first black man elected to be mayor.

WHICH HAS ME wondering if there are lessons from history that can be learned about what kind of mayor Jesus “Chuy” Garcia would be, should it somehow turn out that he gets himself elected on April 7 as the city’s first Latino (Mexican-American, to be precise) chief executive.

Specifically, I’m wondering about the story of Anton Cermak – whom I’m sure some people only know of as the guy for whom 22nd Street was renamed following his death in 1933.

A part of me sees similarities between former Mayor Cermak and Garcia and wonders if there is some larger lesson that can be learned about what kind of public official we would get should voters decide to make Chuy our mayor.

Now I’m sure some people will claim there is nothing in common between the two men. But I see similarities, and not just because both Garcia and Cermak came out of the same Little Village neighborhood southwest of downtown.

BACK IN CERMAK’S time, Little Village and Pilsen were eastern European enclaves – which is why it was natural that when Austria-Hungary-born Cermak came to Chicago, he settled there.

Why also it became the base on which he got elected in the early 20th Century to the Illinois House of Representatives, the City Council and then the Cook County Board where he moved up to being county board president. Garcia also is a pol who has served as alderman, state senator and county commissioner -- prior to running for mayor.

It was a collection of immigrant families who felt they were being ignored by the political establishment of the time that ultimately backed Cermak’s desire to be mayor in 1931.

Just as how now it seems to be a collection of immigrant families (albeit from the Americas instead of eastern European nations) who are the base of those who want Garcia to succeed in his mayoral aspirations against a candidate whom they feel ignores their concerns and is too focused on an elite of Chicago.

OF COURSE, TIMES change. Situations evolve. Back when Cermak made his mayoral bid, the political establishment was Irish and not interested in sharing much of anything with other Chicagoans.

Then-Mayor William Hale Thompson seemed unwilling to listen to others, and tried dismissing Cermak’s candidacy by attacking his credibility because he was so ethnic. A “bohunk,” to use the terminology of the time. “Pushcart Tony.” The guy who should be delivering your vegetables, rather than running the city.

I’m sure we’re going to get our share of tacky one-liners in coming weeks about how ridiculous it is to have a “filthy Mexican” in charge, instead of just contacting federal immigration officers to have him deported.

Let’s hope the mayor has enough sense not to go down that path himself, although I’m sure there will be political operatives willing to do just that.

CERMAK OVERCAME ETHNIC hostility by putting together a political coalition of people from all the ethnic and racial groups in Chicago whom the white Irish establishment didn’t want to bother with. It wound up being enough to win him re-election, and was the origin of the current political “machine” in Chicago that got Emanuel elected in 2011.

Garcia’s chances of winning could well be because he could unite the Latino population that accounts for about 30 percent of city residents with those African-American residents and even white ethnics who feel they have been forgotten about at City Hall.

For all I know, the matter may well be the descendants of the people who 84 years ago gave us “Mayor Cermak!” Which would be the ultimate bit of irony if it took this city’s diverse ethnic composition to help revamp the city political structure that it created way back when.

Garcia has implied that if elected mayor, he wants to put an emphasis on the neighborhoods, and in getting more police officers hired. Similar to how Cermak used his own political influence to get the then-brand-new Criminal Court building erected in his home neighborhood.

WHICH WOULD BE different from the string of mayors we have had for decades. Both Richard J. and M. Daley got hit with the same criticisms about favoring “the Loop” over the neighborhoods that we now hear aimed at Emanuel.

Could it take a Garcia to give Little Village (or perhaps we should now call it La Villita?) something for its character, other than living in the shadow of the county courthouse and jail?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Personally, I find author Gary Rivlin’s book “Fire on the Prairie” to be the best in telling the story of black political empowerment in Chicago and the days of “Council Wars.” If anyone has any suggestions of worthy books about the Cermak days, I’d be interested in knowing of them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Will ’15 run-off be a boost for Latino political empowerment in Chicago?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel deserves one bit of credit as he begins campaigning for re-election in the run-off election to be held April 7 – he seems to have a clue as to what the political challenge is before him.

He needs to appeal to Latino voters, and on Election Night Rahm used Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to introduce him – a Latino face talking up Rahm, and even reverting to the Spanish language for part of it.

A REMINDER TO those Latinos who voted for Emanuel in Tuesday’s municipal elections who are now going to face pressure to vote in the run-off for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Who is going to try, amongst other tactics, to make this the chance for the roughly 30 percent of Chicagoans who are of Latin American ethnic origins to assert ourselves politically and elect “one of our own” to the mayor’s post!

I believe that if Garcia hadn’t have done as well as he did in the first part of this election cycle (34 percent of the vote, when many polls had him finishing with somewhere between 17 and 24 percent political support), we wouldn’t have heard from Gutierrez.

It was, after all, an odd match-up – the fact that Gutierrez backed Emanuel’s re-election was more a statement that he thought none of the challengers had what it took to be mayor.

LET’S NOT FORGET that when Emanuel served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, he was the one that was the brunt of Gutierrez’ constant attacks on Obama’s failure to address immigration reform.

The perception amongst many Latino activists is that it was Emanuel not wanting to be bothered with the politically divisive issue – and that he was willing to let a significant Latino concern (many perceive opposition to the issue as a sign of disrespect in general toward the Latino segment of our society) be continually put on the backburner to try to appease conservative ideologues.

Emanuel as mayor has had to address Latino concerns and try to win over those in Chicago who are primarily of Mexican and Puerto Rican ethnic origins.

Now, Emanuel is going to have to run for re-election against a progressive-minded Democrat (the mayor is more centrist, no matter what the conservative ideologues want to believe about him) born in Mexico and raised in the ethnic Pilsen and Little Village enclaves.

ALL OF THAT is going to come into play during the next six weeks until the final municipal election. That is why Gutierrez got trotted out to be Emanuel’s face!

Gutierrez should be acknowledged for a bit of honesty Tuesday night – he admitted that back in 2011, he was amongst Emanuel’s opponents and was among the roughly 60 percent of Chicago Latinos who voted for one of the two Latino candidates (Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle) who were seeking the post.

Now, he’s going to be amongst the people trying to persuade his constituents to take Rahm seriously. It makes sense for him to be a key player in coming weeks.

Because when one looks at maps of Chicago showing which mayoral candidate prevailed in each of the city’s 50 wards, it becomes clear that Emanuel was the winner across the city EXCEPT for those Southwest Side Mexican-oriented wards and the Northwest Side Puerto Rican-based wards.

THEY ALMOST MATCH up perfectly with the parts of Chicago that are within the weird-shaped congressional district that makes Gutierrez the chief political representative for Latino people.

There are a couple of exceptions – Garcia also prevailed in the 49th Ward of the Rogers Park neighborhood and the 10th Ward at the far southeast corner of Chicago that contains some of the city’s oldest Spanish-speaking enclaves.

In that latter ward, there also was a run-off resulting from the aldermanic election – 10th Ward Ald. John Pope will have to face off against Susan Sadlowski Garza, a career educator and official within the Chicago Teachers Union.

Pope is either praised or criticized within the ward for being an Emanuel backer (a 100 percent voting record of supporting the mayor), while Garza follows the lead of union President Karen Lewis in backing Garcia.

I MENTION THAT ward because it seems Garcia took a slim margin in the mayoral race (48 percent, to 38 percent for Emanuel), while in the aldermanic race Pope prevailed with 44 percent of the vote, compared to 24 percent for Garza.

That would make it seem that there were at least a few (the ward is 63 percent Latino) people who cast their ballots for both Garcia and Pope. Could it be that at least a few of those Latinos will wind up finding it within themselves to back Emanuel come April 7.

City-wide, Emanuel took about 37 percent of the Latino support, compared to just over 52 percent for Garcia. If Emanuel can’t gain a good portion of the remaining 11 percent Latino vote, then he is destined to be a mayoral one-termer just like Michael Bilandic or Jane Byrne.

While Chicagoans at-large will have to endure at least four years of stupid Star Wars-themed jokes about our new mayor’s nickname.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When it came to mayor, did two-thirds of city's electorate channel their inner Rhett Butler and "not give a damn?"

As I write this late Tuesday, it seems that Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to take a majority of the ballots cast in Chicago's municipal election.

He clearly got more votes than any other individual candidate. But his vote total came to about 46 percent early in the evening, and eventually dropped to 45 percent by night's end.

IT SEEMS THAT the mayor will have to face off one-on-one against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who came in second in the mayoral race taking 34 percent of the vote.

The other candidates all came in far lower than that, although there are some political observers who are crediting black businessman Willie Wilson (11 percent) with costing Emanuel an outright victory. The assumption being that most of those people wouldn’t have voted for anybody – which means Emanuel’s vote total would have surpassed the “50 percent plus One” standard that would have been instant victory.

I have to admit that these figures don’t particularly interest me. The one that catches my attention is the fact that it seems voter turnout in this mayoral election reached a record low.

Lower than the 33.08 percent that was reached in 2007 when Richard M. Daley ran for his final term in office against opposition to whom even the label “token” would be an overstatement.

THE EARLY ESTIMATES was that about 31 or 32 percent of all the registered voters in Chicago bothered to use an early voter facility or show up at a polling place on Election Day.

That makes about 68 percent of the would-be voters (I’m not counting city residents who are too lazy to even register) who couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots.

For all those people who are waking up Wednesday with a disgusted mood because of how the election turned out (either because you’re establishment enough that you wanted Emanuel re-elected, or you’re contrarian enough to think that any of the mayoral challengers were going to do better than they did), I’d have to say “stifle” (the Archie Bunker in me comes out at times like this).

So many of you couldn’t be bothered to take a stance.

IF ANYTHING, IT would appear that candidate William “Dock” Walls  (a.k.a., "Mr. 3 percent") may have been correct in making his concession statement, while also saying he has no intention of making a fourth bid for mayor come the 2019 elections (I’m skeptical of that statement).

“You can’t save people who aren’t ready to be saved,” Walls told those who gathered for his Election Night event. It’s up to the electorate to act. If they fail to do so, then complaints truly aren’t worth hearing.

Talk truly can be cheap!

I must admit to finding one benefit to the fact that so many people didn’t bother to vote – counting votes really went by quickly.

I SPENT MY time watching election results on a CLTV/WGN-TV combo Tuesday night, and that 46-34 percent tally for Emanuel/Garcia was reached by 7:50 p.m., with ballots in 71 percent of precincts citywide having been counted by 8 p.m.

Many aldermen already knew by that point that they had been re-elected, while Rey Colon of the 35th Ward knew he lost to Carlos Ramirez-Sosa.

Emanuel had Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., introduce his Election Night speech at about 9:30 a.m., partly in Spanish. Which I suspect was meant to thwart any possibly rhetoric about how this was a Latino electoral victory to have a Chuy vs. Rahm run-off.

Emanuel, the man once despised by Latino activists and Gutierrez himself for the way he as White House chief of staff discouraged President Barack Obama from taking on immigration reform as a priority, now wants us to think he loves Latinos.

I CAN’T EVER recall an election cycle where it was so obvious so early how things would turn out. Considering there were precincts on the North lakefront and Northwest sides of the city that remained open late because of technical problems, we literally had some people still casting ballots when things were already settled.

Yet for many Chicagoans, it probably didn’t matter. I’m sure they had other issues they considered much more interesting than a mayoral campaign. They may claim the weather insurmountable – temperatures expected to drop as low as 1 degree below zero on Wednesday.

Which is when the Chuy vs. Rahm brawl that culminates April 7 begins!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EXTRA: Which Jesus was bigger news

“Jesus” was definitely a name in the news on Tuesday, but I suspect most people were more interested in Davila than Garcia.

Garcia, of course, is the mayoral hopeful whom it seems has finished in second place in the municipal election. Because it appears Mayor Rahm Emanuel finished a few percentage points short of a majority, the two are now running against each other come April 7.

YET THE “JESUS” who was all over the television news throughout the day Tuesday was Jesus Davila.

The suburban Naperville resident was the big winner of a record-high prize ($265 million) in the Mega Millions Lottery game, and he chose to come forward and claim his prize on Tuesday.

Because he’s choosing to take his prize in one lump sum rather than distributed over the next couple of decades, he’s getting a smaller amount. Taxes also will be deducted.

But the 70-year-old man is still in line for a $127 million payout. Which I’m sure intrigues the general public more than the 34 percent of the vote that Garcia seems to have taken toward his mayoral aspirations.


What happens to opponents following the Tuesday municipal elections?

Jesus Garcia may wind up being the “big” winner of this election cycle, even if he doesn’t wind up winning a mayoral election either Tuesday or in April.

Garcia has been on the local political scene off-and-on for the past three decades, and has served at City Hall, the Statehouse in Springfield and at the County Building.

THE LATTER IS his current place of political occupancy – he’s been a county board member for the past four years and just got himself re-elected to another four-year term back in the November election cycle.

Which means he doesn’t face political oblivion if he doesn’t win on April 7, or finishes lower than second place on Tuesday.  If anything, he’s now a county board member with a bit of the public spotlight glowing off him.

He has a chance to be one of the power players on the county board; and definitely one of the more significant of the 17 commissioners.

He’s probably not going to become the equivalent of Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, in terms of being significant in the way Cook County government does its business (the Daley brother is the county board’s finance committee chair).

BUT HE’S CERTAINLY going to draw more attention than someone like Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview, whom I wonder if even northwest suburban residents are aware of who he is.

A return to the county board following the municipal elections could give Garcia the chance to have so many political observer eyes focused on him that he becomes someone significant.

If he handles himself right, he could become a political powerbroker in his own right. People could wind up benefitting in the key issues and the constituency that he claims to represent during his mayoral campaign.

If anything, I wonder if he could wind up being one of the most successful mayoral also-rans on the local political scene.

CURRENTLY, I’D HAVE to say that niche is filled by Timothy Evans.

Remember when he challenged Richard M. Daley back in the late 1980s when the future mayor was trying to win his first term (actually, the right to finish what was left of the late Harold Washington’s mayoral stint)?

Evans was a significant part of Washington’s allies in the City Council, and he managed to dominate the African-American vote the same way Harold did. Only he couldn’t take any significant white or Latino vote like Washington, so he wound up losing.

Yet Evans is now the chief justice of the Cook County court system. Which isn’t a bad post to have. I can think of a lot of political people whose over-bloated egos would be thoroughly satisfied if they could wind up with such a position some day!

IT’S NOT LIKE some of the other Daley challengers throughout the years, such as Danny Davis or Bobby Rush – who remain in Congress but clearly have shown they will never advance any further than their own particular neighborhoods in terms of being taken seriously.

Garcia, if he conducts himself properly in coming weeks, could provide himself a chance to move up in authority. Or else he could be the guy who quickly gets forgotten except for the confines of his home Little Village neighborhood.

We’ll have to wait and see.

As for the other mayoral challengers, I’m not sure what to think. Second Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti had to give up a chance to keep his City Council post in order to run for mayor, and I suspect his outspoken demeanor as an alderman will ensure the powerbrokers will go out of their way to keep him outside the political structure.

IS HE THE new member of the “ancient history” club that now includes people such as Richard Phelan and Jack O’Malley -- the one-time county board president and state's attorney, for those who have forgotten?

Willie Wilson likely also will not have much of a political future. Although I’ll admit it would be interesting if whoever does wind up winning the mayoral post were to consider making the one-time McDonald’s franchise operator-turned-millionaire into some sort of adviser to government.

He does have some ideas worth considering (albeit not his suggestions of doing away with the police superintendent’s post) and he speaks for a constituency that does not get listened to often enough.

And as for William “Dock” Walls? We’ll likely see him again in 2019 when he again tries running a token bid for mayor and takes 2 percent of the vote – making him the 21st Century equivalent of Lar “America First” Daly, who ran for mayor and so many other political posts during his life without ever winning a thing!


Monday, February 23, 2015

Who will win? It all depends on who bothers to turn out Tuesday to vote

I’m not about to predict how the mayoral election will turn out on Tuesday.

My gut feeling says it shouldn’t be a surprise if Rahm Emanuel manages to come up with a bare majority – enough votes to win re-election outright, rather than have to go through a run-off come April 7 against whoever manages to finish in second place on Tuesday.

THEN AGAIN, THE number of people who are detested by the very thought of another Mayor Emanuel term could be just enough that we have to go through another election just over a month from now.

Which is something that many voters in Chicago will have to do anyway, because there are several wards in the city that have competitive aldermanic races. Some people are going to have to vote a second time to decide their City Council representation; why not hit them up to cast another mayoral vote on that date as well?

Back a few days ago, I pointed out how poor the totals were for people deciding to cast their ballots at early vote centers. Evidence that the electorate probably wasn’t getting all worked up over this election cycle – despite the hostile Rahm rhetoric expressed by a few.

Although I feel a need to point out that the final few days of early voting (which ran through Saturday) saw a flood of people.

THE CHICAGO BOARD of Elections indicated nearly 90,000 people casting early ballots for Tuesday’s election, compared to just over 73,000 who voted early in the 2011 mayoral election cycle that first gave us “Mayor Emanuel.”

Although I can’t help but note that the early voting totals for the November 2014 elections for governor were also higher than the previous gubernatorial cycle in 2011. Yet that didn’t translate into higher voter turnout overall.

Overall, the percentage of registered voters who bothered to cast ballots was something along the lines of 42 percent – which stinks. It would seem to be that the people who passionately cared about whether Gov. Pat Quinn or Bruce Rauner would be elected cast their votes early.

Could that be the same factor at work, where the people who are all outraged have already expressed themselves – leaving it to the apathetic masses of our electorate to decide this political post with their lack of activity on Tuesday?

THERE WERE MANY candidates working the streets this weekend – trying to make one last push to persuade people to vote for them. My own favorite involved the South Side Irish Parade’s fundraising event.

Candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia had special “Chuy for Mayor” buttons designed – green and white with shamrocks that would have been totally in character for an Irish-inspired politico trying to gain some support.

For all I know, Emanuel could take about 48 percent of the vote on Tuesday, with Garcia coming in second – even though Willie Wilson’s African-American-oriented campaign is trying to get us all to believe that a surge of black votes will be enough to allow him to be “Number Two” and the other candidate in an April run-off.

Many political observers are desperate for an April run-off because they think it will provide the competitive campaigns and electioneering that this election cycle hasn’t provided thus far.

ANYTHING TO TURN this snooze-fest of an election into something memorable or exciting, is the way they feel.

It’s possible, I suppose, even though I’m skeptical.

It’s just that I’m not inclined to believe the supporters of the various Emanuel challengers are capable of uniting behind each other after Tuesday. “Anybody But Rahm” may turn out to be sitting on their behinds come another Election Day.

And if people do decide not to bother voting, then they deserve whatever political leadership we all wind up with at City Hall come May.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

How ugly will labor brawls get at charter schools in the city?

Back when I first started working in the news business, I was writing for a suburban newspaper where the reporter-types tried organizing themselves into a union – a chapter of the Newspaper Guild, to be exact.

That was more than a quarter century ago in Chicago Heights, yet I still remember the degree to which newspaper management went out of their way to discourage us from even considering unionization.

THE HARASSING LETTERS we used to get from law firms hired by the ownership telling us we ought to be grateful anybody even considered employing slugs such as ourselves. We were only talented when such skills benefitted management’s concerns.

All the private talks from higher-up editors, trying to make it seem like we’re all buddies who don’t really need unionization and how the reason such “friendship” was threatened was because of us blasted reporter-types who would dare to think we might gain something by sticking together as one.

Along with the harassment that came in the days following our union election defeat – including being told by an editor about the “attitude” I had developed that they were sure I would overcome “somewhere else.”

In all honesty, I have to admit that I wasn’t fired. I kept working there for another two months, and they wound up giving me a top-notch reference that benefitted me into getting into the many years of wire service work that I wound up doing in my news career.

NOW WHY DO I feel compelled to share any of this labor angst I encountered many years ago at a publication that isn’t even in existence any longer?

It’s just the natural memories that pop into my mind whenever I learn of someone deciding they’re going to take on the legal fight of trying to organize themselves into a local chapter of a labor union.

The latest is the announcement by teachers at Urban Prep Academy and North Lawndale College Prep, saying they want to organize themselves by joining the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers. They think they can more fairly be compensated for their work by engaging in collective bargaining to reach a contract for all.

Those teachers are going to get pushback more intense than anything I ever endured, largely because they’re working at charter schools – those outfits that are allowed to set many of their own operating guidelines.

PROPONENTS OF CHARTER schools claim that gives them more flexibility to operate in ways that improve educational quality. Although I’ve always felt the reason those schools have potential to achieve better educational results is because they have small enrollments and can reject the masses that might want to attend there – but for which there is no room.

One of the real reasons that those schools get backing is because many of them are non-union. Many of the proponents of charter schools are more interested in trying to undermine the labor unions that represent school teachers.

Which is why I expect that the people operating those schools are going to put up as much of a legal fight as is possible in order to avoid the prospect of labor unions getting set up there.

I’m sure they’re going to feel like the presence of unions will undermine the very principles upon which charter schools were created!

WHICH IS WHY I’m sure the Chicago Teachers Union was able to enjoy the statement they issued Friday; one expressing “solidarity” with teachers at the two inner-city schools that admittedly try to create an academic attitude amongst their students that prepares them for the possibility of attending a university some day.

“The teachers at these privately-held, publicly-funded charter schools are just as fed up as teachers in our non-charter public schools, and they’re saying they’ve had enough of the top-down bureaucracy,” union President Karen Lewis said. “We strongly support the… teachers in their efforts to unionize to ensure that both they and their students have the resources and environment they need to succeed.”

While those charter school teachers said Friday they hope management immediately recognizes their desires and doesn’t require a secret-ballot election, I’d be surprised if it happened that easily.

More likely, those teachers will be in for a legal brawl that will burn into their brains memories they will vividly recall a quarter-of-a-century from now, along with stories that likely will have them telling me how I “had it easy” when I endured a fight all those years ago.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Who’s to say how pension funding problem will wind up being resolved?

At least we now have a date.

March 11, to be exact. That’s the date the Supreme Court of Illinois will hold hearings to allow attorneys to argue over a lawsuit now pending before them as to how state government can resolve its long-standing problem of underfunded pension programs for state workers and public educators.

THE STATE’S HIGH court scheduled that date on Thursday, and attorneys will gather for all the sides to have a chance to make oral arguments. Then, it is up to the court to make its ruling, sometime during the spring months.

Many people seem convinced the state Supreme Court will issue a ruling that upholds the Springfield-area judge who struck down the piece of legislation that now-former Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law to try to settle this issue.

That solution called for cutting into the level of retirement benefits that state workers could expect to receive, and that resulted in a lawsuit by organized labor interests to try to strike it down.

For they argue the retirees should not have to suffer in any way in terms of losing benefits they had expected to receive. Which is an argument I can kind of comprehend; we get them to retire by promising them something resembling a living wage in their elder years.

TRYING TO TAKE it back after they’re no longer capable of resuming work is kind of cold.

Although a part of me also wonders how much additional harm gets done by revoking the effort that did get legislative and gubernatorial approval to resolve the pension funding problem.

The problem is that the shortfall in payments in past years eventually has to be made up for. The shortfall is getting so large that it threatens to devastate the level of funds available to cover the cost of other services that state government has an obligation to provide.

We went through several years of the Quinn administration with the Legislature continuing to avoid finding a solution. When a solution was found, it was long overdue.

IF IT TURNS out that the “solution” is revoked and that we still have a lingering problem, it means an even worse financial situation than Quinn ever tried to encounter.

Yet current Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t seem to care much about that. Of course, he’ll just spew some rhetoric about how it is the Quinn administration’s fault. Even though the former governor made a sincere effort to try to resolve the problem, and often came across as being the only state official who comprehended the severity of the situation.

I don’t have a clue what it is exactly that Rauner has in mind for a solution – although I suspect his plan of attack gets thwarted if the Supreme Court finds a way of legitimizing the Quinn-era efforts to resolve the problem.

Although I noted that during his state budget address this week, he made a point of saying that current retirees will receive what they were counting on in terms of benefits. “You get everything you were promised,” Rauner said to retirees. “That’s fair, and it’s right.”

HE DID REFER to shifting current employees’ retirement benefits to a different plan, except for police officers and firefighters whose benefits are covered by the pension programs funded by state government.

Which makes me wonder how those Public Works crews who are digging us out of all the heavy winter snowfall we got hit with feel, hearing the governor say that cops are doing more important work than they do?

Of course, the Legislature could go about trying to protect some of those workers, since they are not ideologically inclined to want to make Rauner look good – particularly at a time when much of his own rhetoric is intended to make da Dems look bad.

Which ought to make for a feisty hearing come March when the Supreme Court has to figure out just how complicated the path to a solution has to be in order to be legitimate!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Regarding mayor, does anyone care?

I have sensed for quite a while that this year’s mayoral election cycle isn’t exactly getting the people of Chicago all worked up into a political frenzy.

Based on figures from the Chicago Board of Elections, it would seem my observation isn’t that far off – even though I have heard from some diehard backers of the mayoral challengers who insist that contempt felt for Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to turn out the masses to vote against him!

BUT THE FIGURES reported by the city elections board indicate the number of people who have bothered thus far to show up at polling places across the city for early voting is barely over half the total number who voted early in the 2011 municipal elections for mayor.

Admittedly, there are still a few days left for people to cast ballots in advance of Tuesday’s Election Day. But not that many.

My guess is that 2015 will go into the local history books as a record low for voter turnout. The reality of electoral politics is that when few people bother to vote, the establishment candidate (meaning Emanuel) winds up winning.

He’s got the campaign cash to ensure that voter turnout efforts find the kind of people who don’t have hang-ups about his first four years as mayor AND get them to actually show up to vote.

IT SHOULD ALSO be noted that the 2014 election cycle for governor had record-high numbers of people who used early voting centers, but then produced merely an average voter turnout overall because the number of people who bothered to show up at polling places was pathetic.

Those who cared enough to vote have already bothered to do so. This isn’t exactly a repeat of 1983 when record numbers of newly-registered black voters turned out to put Harold Washington in Hizzoner’s office.

Although it’s interesting to read that mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson is claiming to have polls of his own that differ from all the others because he says they’re ignoring large numbers of black voters who are all peeved by Emanuel’s actions.

But even his own poll shows him finishing in third place – which would still make him a “loser” since only the top two vote-getters advance to a run-off election in the event Emanuel only gets 49.99999 percent (or less) of the vote.

WHAT WE HAVE is an election cycle in which apathy rules. The few wards where there are significant numbers of early voters (according to the elections board) are the ones in which there are competitive aldermanic races.

In the one ward I’m paying particular attention to (the 10th, down on the city’s Southeast Side – I was born there and have relatives who still live there), it’s probably more significant that candidate Susan Sadlowski Garza is backing Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor, rather than that he’s supporting the former Chicago Teachers Union official for alderman.

Even she may wind up splitting the support of opponents to incumbent Alderman John Pope with the five other challengers – thereby making it possible for Pope to gain a fifth term in the City Council through the same apathy that could keep Emanuel as mayor.

People are resorting to whatever tactics they can conceive of to try to stir up interest amongst the apathetic.

WHICH PROBABLY BEST explains the rant that Garcia engaged in earlier this week – saying the teachers union will go on strike again IF Emanuel is re-elected as mayor. Or the fact that Wilson put out a statement Wednesday saying he wants some direct face time with President Barack Obama, who will be in Chicago on Thursday to back Emanuel AND tout the new Pullman National Park.

Does this mean we need Chuy in order to ensure the teachers don’t walk off the job next fall and cause mass aggravation for parents of children whose daily routines would be disrupted by such a strike?

Or is it really just about reminding us of the fact that Emanuel’s tough talk provoked the teachers union into a week-long strike back in 2012 – and that some of the union officials have long memories and are just as capable of carrying a grudge as is the mayor?

Six more days until Election Day, and 41 more until the run-off – and then our collective migrane headache comes to an end. At least until the ongoing Hillary Clinton “will she or won’t she” kicks into high gear for 2016.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

EXTRA: How many municipal enemies did Gov. Rauner make w/ budget talk?

As one who has written about municipal government in many places across Illinois throughout the years, I can’t help but think that many mayors, aldermen, councilmen, trustees and other local government officials made their dentists very happy while watching Gov. Bruce Rauner present his state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.

Because I can envision many municipal officials grinding and gnashing their teeth while seething with anger from listening to the governor place part of the blame for the state’s financial problems on them.

BECAUSE I KNOW I have heard them say on many occasions how the reason they’re having financial problems is because of the state – which either cuts the amount of money made available to them and/or makes payment on state aid so delayed!

Rauner on Wednesday told the General Assembly that one of the ways he plans to balance out the state’s budget for the 2016 fiscal year (beginning July 1) is to reduce the amount of money the state transfers to local governments.

Rauner would have people think that such transfers have increased by 42 percent during the past decade, and that local governments are using that money to build up stacks of cash – he said local governments have $15 billion in cash reserves currently.

Yet in recent years, I have heard many municipal officials talk about how to balance out their own local appropriations ordinances – and one of the solutions they come up with is invariably to ask for more funds for state government.

EITHER BY SEEKING new grant programs they can apply to, or by counting on more from the existing grants they already get each year. Which means there are going to be many municipal officials who wind up in deep trouble financially if the state can’t kick in what they’re hoping for.

Based on the budget address Rauner presented Wednesday (an actual state budget won’t be voted on by the Legislature until late May), there is one set of local people who might be pleased – the school boards.

For the governor presented an image where public education programs will be the one aspect of state funding that won’t get slashed to bits. Although there will be other local programs and agencies that will be cut, and in some cases decimated.

All in all, this is a plan that is bound to irritate the people who work in City and Village halls all across the state. Although it’s very likely that the Democratic Party leadership of the General Assembly will find ways to blunt the harsh talk that Rauner offered up on Wednesday.

NOW PART OF the reason the state is facing particularly tough finances is because the General Assembly never went along with the desire of former Gov. Pat Quinn to extend an increase in the state income tax.

I got my own amusement on Wednesday from the anonymous state legislator (I didn’t see who it was, but it came from the portion of the legislative chambers where Democrats sit) who burst out into raucous applause when Rauner said, “Some in the General Assembly are eager to discuss new revenue…,” before he could finish saying, “but before revenue can be discussed, reform is essential.”

A line that caused massive applause from Republican legislators!

Rauner’s “turnaround budget” (as he described it) included a plea for all the anti-organized labor measures that the new governor has been calling for, along with a lot of other measures likely to be opposed by the Legislature’s Democratic majority.

ALTHOUGH IT SHOULD be noted that the financial shortfall that exists in this fiscal year’s budget (because of the disappearance of the income tax increase) was not directly addressed – other than Rauner saying that his aides and legislative aides have been talking about the issue, and that a solution is forthcoming.

In short, the “real” news that could have come from Wednesday’s budget address is on hold. The state still has a financial hole that can’t be ignored. The partisan rhetoric continues to be spewed!

In the end, we all lose.