- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
- Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward): not a fan of the Chicago Teachers Union
On election night Alderman Emma Mitts let her 37th Ward constituents know that she was ready for war.
Mitts told her supporters to celebrate as if she’d won despite being pulled into a runoff with Chicago Teachers Union delegate Tara Stamps—then added that union members could “get the hell out of the 37th Ward,” according to reporting from Austin Talks.
In addition to those not-so-subtle sentiments, Mitts also said she wouldn’t be opposed to bringing more charter schools into the ward, though two controversial charters have opened there in the past several years.
One of the charters in the ward, Horizon Science Academy Belmont, is part of Concept Schools, a Des Plaines-based charter network raided by the FBI last June. That investigation is still ongoing, according to an FBI spokeswoman. The network has given close to $1 million in public funds to contractors connected to the school over the past three years, the Sun-Times reported.
Just a few months after that school opened, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a new $20 million charter in Mitts’s ward, this one part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Mitts—and Mayor Rahm Emanuel—received pushback on that school because it’s across the street from a regular public high school, Prosser Career Academy.
Prosser, which has an above-average graduation rate, was cut out of the 37th Ward during the city-wide remap a year earlier. Mitts maintained that the new charter was necessary due to overcrowding at Prosser, while opponents said the Noble school would undercut Prosser and potentially provoke gang conflicts.
Mitts didn’t respond to requests for comment, and her campaign manager, Rufus Pulphus, said he doesn’t remember the alderman making the election night comments.
Mitts has been 37th Ward alderman since 2000, when she was appointed by then-mayor Richard Daley. In 2006 she made news by welcoming the city’s first Walmart to her ward and siding with the retail giant when other aldermen and labor unions tried to force it to pay higher wages. Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected in 2011, Mitts has backed him on 97 percent of all divided roll-call votes, according to a report from UIC political scientists.
Her challenger, Tara Stamps, has denounced Mitts for both serving as a rubber stamp and pushing to bring in more charters.
“I think that shows just how out of touch she is with the neighbors of the 37th Ward,” Stamps said of Mitts’s support for charter schools. “They recognize they were sold a bad deal and they didn’t realize that until it was too late.”
Stamps, a longtime teacher, hails from an activist family. Her mother, the late Marion Stamps, advocated for residents of the Cabrini-Green public housing development and helped lead the voter registration drive that contributed to the 1983 election of Harold Washington.
Despite receiving more than $56,000 in campaign funds from the teachers’ union, Stamps, 46, said she’s not beholden to its agenda. But she said she won’t waver from her belief that public workers shouldn’t lose benefits to make up for the city’s $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
“The pension issue is more an issue of debt, and the city seems to be OK with accruing more debt and wanting to saddle this debt on the backs of working-class people,” Stamps said.
Stamps has also pushed for a public debate with Mitts. The Westside NAACP has scheduled two 37th Ward forums—the first, on March 11, will feature candidates from the 24th, 29th, and 37th wards, and the second, on April 2, will feature only the 37th Ward candidates.
But Pulphus said no one has formally reached out to the alderman regarding either forum, though Mitts is open to the idea of a debate.
“When the opportunity comes to us, we’ll make that decision,” he said.