As I watched jubilant teachers, wearing union red, from the Acero charter school network celebrate the new contract they’d won after a four-day strike, I had a flashback to the way things used to be.
The Chicago Teachers Union was in the midst of its 2012 strike, which had shuttered all the public schools in town. Juan Rangel, then the head of the UNO charter network—the predecessor to Acero—stood on a downtown street corner and called on parents upset at CTU to send their kids to his charter schools.
After all, his teachers knew enough not to go on strike.
Man, have things changed—huh, Juan?
Wait, wait, as long as I’m reminiscing about changes since the bad old days, remember how recently elected Mayor Rahm, marching into town like Napoleon, took Karen Lewis out for dinner and told her how it’s gonna be with the schools?
With f-bombs flying, he told her that he was going to make teachers work more for less. And he was closing public schools and replacing them with charters and that she’d better get her members to fall in line, whether they liked it or not.
When Lewis pointed out that more hours in the classroom without resources to put the time to good use was little more than babysitting, Rahm told her—who cares, most of these kids won’t amount to anything anyway.
Well, Karen says he said that. Rahm swears up and down that he didn’t. But then he also swears he never watched the Laquan McDonald tape. So you decide who’s telling the truth in that Karen/Rahm dispute, Chicago.
And it wasn’t just Karen Lewis who got marching orders from Rahm back then. In 2011, Rahm commanded Alderman Nick Sposato to roll over and support a zoning change for an UNO charter school in his northwest-side ward.
When Sposato protested, Rahm got zoning committee chair Alderman Danny Solis to rough up the rookie alderman. “It’s almost an embarrassment that an alderman would say no to children and to good education in this city,” Solis declared.
So much for aldermanic prerogative on things like zoning and development.
And so it went for those first few years of Rahm’s rule. He closed clinics and schools and opened nonunion charters. He took property taxes from the schools and gave them to developers to build in upscale neighborhoods, like the West Loop and the South Loop.
So, yes, I’m very happy to report that things have changed in many ways around here.
Rangel stepped down long ago after he got entangled in a contracting scandal. You don’t hear Mayor Rahm singing his praises anymore, like in the old days. In fact, UNO changed its name to Acero in part to distance itself from the old boss.
Rahm’s appointees at the Board of Education recently voted not to approve three new charters, as they struggle to figure out how to fund the schools they already have.
And of course Rahm’s not running for reelection, in part because he apparently realized his Republican-lite policies are so unpopular that he can’t win, even with all the millions in his campaign war chest.
The front-runner to replace him—Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle—won CTU’s endorsement by agreeing to a four-year freeze on new charters and to spend TIF reserves on the public schools.
You know, Karen Lewis never got to run against Rahm in 2015 because she got sick. But in many ways, it’s like she won.
OK, I better stop before I get too cocky.
After all, Rahm’s damage has already been done. Eight years of closing schools and subsidizing development in gentrifying neighborhoods has forced poor and working-class people out of Chicago.
Rahm and his allies got upset when Chris Kennedy opined that the mayor’s planning policies were intended to drive black people out of town. But that’s what’s happened, whether the mayor was planning it or not.
Also, we still have a mayoral election ahead of us. And I’m sure one of those candidates will pick up Rahm’s prodevelopment agenda, if only to win endorsements from the Tribune and Crain’s.
To that point, I can smell the grease on the wheels as Mayor Rahm prepares to ram the Lincoln Yards TIF deal through City Council before he leaves office.
Remember how Tax Increment Financing works: the mayor raises your property taxes in the name of funding things like schools and then diverts your tax dollars from the schools to a slush fund that he controls. Rahm wants to spend upward of $1 billion on the Lincoln Yards project, located in a rapidly gentrifying north-side neighborhood.
So far, Amara Enyia is the only mayoral candidate who says she unequivocally opposes the Lincoln Yards TIF handout.
In fact, Enyia says she’d show up to a City Council meeting, if or when it meets to approve a Lincoln Yards handout, to demand the aldermen vote no. And she might bring her ally, Chance the Rapper, with her.
The last time Chance showed up to oppose a TIF deal was last year, when the City Council was considering the $95 million police academy. The aldermen politely listened to Chance voice his opposition and then basically gave him and his allies the middle finger, bowing to the mayor’s wishes and voting 47-2 to fund the deal.
Only aldermen Rick Munoz and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa voted no.
That’s the thing about aldermen in this town. They know it’s wrong to take from the schools and give to the rich. But they’re too afraid to say no to the mayor. So they bow to his wishes and hope the rest of us aren’t paying attention.
So, while it’s good to see Acero’s teachers celebrating their new contract, this fight is far from over. v