Alderman Will Burns convinced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to back a strangely logical plan to ease overcrowding at Kenwood Academy.
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
  • Alderman Will Burns convinced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to back a strangely logical plan to ease overcrowding at Kenwood Academy.

I used to hear west-side politicians tell stories about how the winos on skid row would take booze from precinct captains in exchange for a promise to vote the Democratic line. Then, once safely in the polling booth, they voted for whomever they wanted.

The recent announcement that Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to move the Kenwood Academic Center into Canter—a middle school he just closed—got me thinking of that tale.

Like those old west-side ward heelers, the mayor is doling out the goodies—in this case to Kenwood and Hyde Park—in a desperate attempt to pick up some votes.

My advice to south- and west-side voters: take what he gives you and then cast your ballot for whomever you want.

In this case, I’ll admit that I actually like what the mayor’s doing.

I know—I don’t say that often. But the academic center is currently located in the Kenwood Academy high school, which is overcrowded. By moving the center into Canter, the mayor is re-using a shuttered school and freeing up seats at an overcrowded one.

It makes so much sense that I’ve come to the conclusion there’s no possible way that this mayor could have thought of it.

Just kidding, Mr. Mayor.

Actually, the idea didn’t originate with Emanuel but with Fourth Ward alderman Will Burns. He convinced the mayor to sign on even though it violates the mayor’s pledge not to put schools into closed school buildings, presumably until he figures out how to adequately fund the schools that already exist.

Oh yeah—that little issue.

But with the Fourth Ward schools, “it’s a win-win situation,” says Alderman Burns. “People want to send their children to the academic center and it creates about 250 more seats at a south-side high school that’s overcrowded.”

Nevertheless, the mayor’s decision has provoked a bit of a disagreement between Alderman Burns and myself, as happens from time to time.

Alderman Burns—far younger and more idealistic than me—contends the mayor’s decision to move the academic center into Canter was “data driven.”

That is—politics had nothing to do with it. As if the mayor were a sociologist poring over demographic patterns in Hyde Park and Kenwood in the larger context of what best for the entire city and its education policies.

On the other hand, jaded old me has come to the conclusion that Mayor Rahm’s every waking decision—including where and with whom to have lunch—has been politically calibrated.

In this case, I submit to you that Alderman Burns successfully applied the ol’ squeeze play, as Ralph Kramden once put it. That is, he forced the mayor to give a little something to the south side in the hopes that south siders will give a little something back. Like their votes.

In any event, who cares why the mayor does what he does so long as what he does is right? Isn’t that so, Alderman Burns?

At the very least, let’s give the mayor credit for resisting the temptation to stick the academic center alongside Obama College Prep high school, near his beloved Gold Coast.

All this educational maneuvering makes me wonder if the mayor’s election-eve conversion back to the Democratic Party will work. As a matter of fact, I was talking about this just the other day with a glorious crew of local experts that included mayoral candidate Robert Shaw, former west-side alderman Wallace Davis, and Steve Wiedersberg, a longtime south-side precinct captain.

“I don’t think it will work,” said Shaw. “Anybody can see through it.”

“I can see through it and I’m losing my sight,” said Davis.

“Ray Charles can see through it,” added Wiedersberg.

“Homer, too,” I said.

You know, the Greek poet—and not Mr. Simpson. Well, you get the idea.

By the way, Kenwood Academy is one of the great high schools of Chicago. Its many illustrious students through the years include Mandy Patinkin, singer Chaka Khan, opera critic Andrew Patner, and Nazr Mohammed, backup center for the Bulls.

My goodness, I just remembered—Karen Lewis also graduated from Kenwood.

Yes, that Karen Lewis—class of ’71, I believe.

Hey, maybe Mayor Rahm will invite Lewis to the celebration when the new Kenwood Academic Center opens at the old Canter school in the fall of 2015. Or maybe Mayor Lewis will invite citizen Rahm to the opening.

Remember, aldermen—get it while you can.