If all had gone well, we’d be heading into the last days of Karen Lewis’s first term as mayor and, fingers crossed, the start of her second.
Alas, all did not go well. In 2014, Lewis—former president of the Chicago Teachers Union—got sick with cancer and had to drop her race against Rahm.
Lewis all but begged Toni Preckwinkle to run. But Toni wouldn’t take the challenge.
So, Lewis and the CTU wound up backing Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. He forced Rahm to a runoff, but the mayor won. And so here we are.
I’ve got a bad case of the might-have-beens as I watch Rahm continue to throw cash at the well-to-do (think Lincoln Yards) while trying to eradicate his reputation as Mayor 1 Percent who, you know, throws cash at the well-to-do.
It’s a juggling act that requires tall tales and history rewrites—as with Mayor Rahm’s misleading comments regarding the Lincoln Yards deal and his recent essay in The Atlantic about his ever-shifting philosophy toward public education.
Let’s start with his Lincoln Yards comments.
They came on March 13 after the City Council had approved the zoning change for the massive Lincoln Yards project in which the overburdened Chicago taxpayers are being asked to spend $1.3 billion to underwrite an upscale development in an already gentrifying north side community.
Even though we have hundreds of millions of very pressing obligations regarding pensions and bridge and road repairs, as well as pending police, fire, and teacher contracts to negotiate.
The final vote on Lincoln Yards will come in the lame duck session in April. I’m hoping that whoever wins the runoff—Preckwinkle or Lori Lightfoot—shows up in person to urge aldermen to defer action.
At the very least, it would be interesting to see which mayor the aldermen will abide—the one heading out the door or the one coming in.
Anyway, about Rahm’s comments. “He sounded a bit like former Mayor Richard M. Daley haranguing aldermen from the dais as he challenged naysayers to come up with a better idea than developments like Lincoln Yards to raise money to deal with Chicago’s pressing financial problems,” the Tribune‘s John Byrne wrote.
“‘You use the ability to grow in the city . . . Otherwise, you can just either cut police, fire, garbage services, or you can just tax folks.'” Wow—that’s a whopper, even for Rahm.
Just so you know, Lincoln Yards will not contribute new property taxes to help deal with our “pressing financial problems” for at least 23 years.
In fact, it’s just the opposite—it will divert property taxes from our pressing financial needs.
That’s because it’s in a TIF district. And in a Tax Increment Financing district, new property taxes go to the TIF fund—not the schools, parks, county, and so forth—for the 23-year-life of the TIF district.
That means the property taxes paid for by people who own property in Lincoln Yards will be essentially turned over to the developer, Sterling Bay, to cover the costs of building its project—including fees for publicists, lawyers, and bankers.
To compensate for the property taxes they’re not getting from Lincoln Yards, the schools, parks, county, and city will have to raise property taxes. One more time, people—Lincoln Yards will raise, not lower, your property taxes. That’s how TIF deals work.
I don’t know why Rahm would tell such an obvious falsehood, but he did.
As to his essay in The Atlantic—it’s part of his attempt to justify the teachers’ strike of 2012. He says it was largely about empowering principals.
I almost burst out laughing when I read that one, especially considering the history of Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Rahm’s handpicked schools CEO.
In 2017, Byrd-Bennett went to prison for four-and-one-half years for her role in funneling $23 million to her cronies at SUPES, a consulting firm.
Just so you know, Atlantic readers, SUPES got that $23 million to run training sessions for the very school principals Rahm was supposedly trying to empower.
Many principals warned us that the training sessions were a waste of time and money. But Rahm paid them no mind. That $23 million wound up being the price we paid so Byrd-Bennett would be Rahm’s public face on his school closings.
Part of Rahm’s essay reads like a confession—or as the headline puts it: “I Used to Preach the Gospel of Education Reform. Then I Became the Mayor.”
The so-called educational reformers were Democratic centrists who figured they could win over swing voters and raise campaign donations from the well-to-do—if they bashed teachers, attacked teachers’ unions and took public money from unionized public schools and gave them to nonunion charters.
The argument was that bad teachers kept low-income students from performing as well as rich ones. Get rid of those bad teachers, the reform mantra went, and the performance gap would vanish—as though poverty had nothing to do with it. Then public officials, like Mayor Rahm, would be free to take hundreds of millions from the schools and turn them over to, you know, the Sterling Bays of the world. After all, if it’s only a matter of getting rid of bad teachers, why waste our money on public education?
Apparently, Rahm has come to see the error of his ways. “It’s unconscionable for anyone who underwrites their own kids’ private tutors, music lessons, after-school activities, summer camps, and summer jobs to argue that children from less-advantaged backgrounds should not have the same privileges and support,” he wrote.
Damn, Rahm, you’re starting to sound like me.
OK, Mr. Mayor, if you really see the light, here’s what you can do. Kill the Lincoln Yards TIF. Instead, take that $1.3 billion from Sterling Bay and use it to hire the counselors, nurses, therapists, librarians, and tutors the kids in our public schools need.
You still have about two months in office to find your inner Karen Lewis. v