In the aftermath of last night’s calamitous budget hearing at the South Shore Cultural Center, all anyone seems to be talking about is how Dyett school activists chased Mayor Emanuel from the stage and out of the building.
So allow me to call your attention to a slightly different point: at roughly the time the meeting began, the Sun-Times and the Tribune were breaking news, leaked to them by the administration, that the mayor was going to jack up property taxes by about $500 million to deal with the debt and obligations he’d ignored in his first four years in office.
Think about it, people . . .
The whole point of the freaking budget hearing—his first in four years—was to act as though he truly wanted to hear from the citizens of Chicago before he made any momentous decisions that would affect their lives.
Then it turns out he pretty much knew what he was going to do the whole time.
So the budget hearing was really little more than a pretense—as I may have suggested last week.
Oh, Mr. Mayor, what am I going to do with you?
Here’s a question: How could a guy who studied at the feet of the great Bill Clinton—the master of empathy with the common man—be so tone deaf when it comes to his own public encounters?
Mayor Emanuel reminds me of scowling Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Like Cutler, Emanuel always manages to convey the impression that he just doesn’t give a shit what you think.
Even when he’s trying to show you that he cares very much.
And so it was at last night’s meeting, as the mayor icily and silently watched as speaker after speaker rose to berate him about Dyett school.
For people new to this issue . . .
Dyett’s the high school at 555 E. 51st Street that the mayor closed last year due to falling enrollment, even after the locals with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization begged him to keep it open.
Then, on the eve of his reelection campaign, Mayor Emanuel had the board of education solicit proposals from parties looking to reopen Dyett.
One proposal came from a coalition affiliated with KOCO.
Having been reelected, Mayor Emanuel postponed last month’s hearing on Dyett and sort of let everyone know that he probably wasn’t going to reopen the school after all.
So to KOCO it looks like the whole proposal-soliciting thing was little more than a ruse that enabled the mayor to defuse the issue during the election.
His decision to cancel last month’s hearing ignited a hunger strike—now heading toward its third week—by 12 activists.
The activists have seized the opportunity to use the mayor’s budget hearings to press their case, knowing full well that the whole world’s watching. Or at least the local media.
So the mayor’s budget hearings have been consumed by questions, chants, and denunciations over the closing of a high school that the vast majority of Chicagoans had heretofore never heard of.
More to the point, Dyett has come to symbolize the mayor’s hard-hearted indifference to all the cuts and closings of his first four years in office. Which he obviously wants everyone to forget.
And so we came to last night’s budget hearing.
I still can’t believe what happened, even though I saw it myself from my seat in the back row.
One speaker got up to demand a “resolution” to the crisis “right now.”
The next thing you know Jawanza Malone, KOCO’s executive director, had hopped onto the stage chanting, “Right now!”
Soon the stage filled with at least a dozen activists taking up the chant. And police really had no choice but to hustle the mayor off the stage and out of the room.
I watched with two other old timers and it was like . . .
Did we just see that happen?
No way . . .
Man, this never would have happened under Mayor Daley!
Meanwhile, up on the stage, Park District vice president Avis LaVelle, who was moderating the hearing, valiantly tried to bring order. Almost until the time that workers dismantled the podium, she kept saying she was prepared to listen to anyone’s budget questions.
I mean really, Ms. LaVelle, what’s the point? The mayor—like Elvis—had left the building. So he wasn’t around to listen, as if he was listening even when he was there.