Under this proposal, the people will elect the ruler, I mean mayor, and then they'll appoint almost everyone else.
Under this proposal, the people will elect the ruler, I mean mayor, and then they'll appoint almost everyone else. Credit: Pro Church Media / Unsplash

It’s not often that an editorial in the way-too-conservative-for-me Tribune makes me laugh. But the other day they ran one about an elected school board that had me howling.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Didn’t really make me laugh. More like made me expel an ironic snort of disbelief. As in—they don’t really believe the stuff they write, do they?

They wrote—and I quote: “When the liberal-leaning Sun-Times and the conservative-leaning Tribune editorial boards agree on something, it’s worth noting. So we’re noting.”

That’s the part that had me snorting.

As the city’s foremost authority on editorials—probably because I’m the only person who reads them—I can assure you that there’s not much difference between the Tribune and the SunTimes. On local issues.

So, really, there’s nothing significant about them agreeing on anything local—especially opposition to an elected school board.

Now, I know you’re thinking that based on what little you know about editorials, one paper is more conservative than the other.

That’s correct. Or more to the point—when it comes to national and state politics, the Sun-Times editorial board is not deranged. Like the Tribune’s.

For instance, the Sun-Times is not going to do something as cowardly as endorse Gary Johnson for president because they’re too chickenshit to endorse Hillary Clinton, even though they had to know Donald Trump was a threat to democracy.

Like the Tribune did.

And the Sun-Times is not going to double down with an “endorsement” of Joe Biden that they bury at the bottom of the page, apparently in the hopes that MAGA would not see it and get mad at them.

Like the Tribune.

So, yes, there’s a difference in Sun-Times and Tribune editorials, which makes a compelling argument for why we need two downtown dailies.

But despite their differences on national and state politics, the Tribune and Sun-Times are pretty much the same when it comes to Chicago.

Both papers have been more or less sighing with relief since Richard M. Daley was first elected mayor back in 1989, thus ushering in the current era of a Loop-centric, business-friendly mayor who calls the shots. All the shots. All the time.

That partly explains their opposition to an elected school board that would—for better or worse—be a little experiment with something scary called democracy.

Accordingly, the part of the Sun-Times editorial that the Tribune liked the best was the part where they counted 415 million reasons why we should keep the mayor in charge of the schools.

That would be the $415 million that, as the Sun-Times put it, “the City of Chicago kicked into the Chicago Public Schools’ budget for fiscal year 2021. Good luck collecting that kind of cash in the future, no matter how pressing the need, if Chicago’s chief executive—the mayor—no longer has authority over the public schools.”

At the risk of being the guy who tells you how your government really works, let me point out that a good chunk of that $415 million is cash the city took from the schools in the first place.

It comes from the tax increment financing program in which the city raises your property taxes (without telling you it’s raising your property taxes) to compensate for money you think is going to the schools but in fact is getting diverted to the mayor’s TIF bank accounts.

Last year, the city diverted at least $465 million from the schools to the TIF bank accounts, according to Cook County clerk Karen Yarbrough. Then the city kicked back about $97 million to the Chicago Public Schools.

Now, I’m no great mathematician, but you could argue that the public schools would be better off without the TIFs. Since last I looked, 465 million is more than 97 million.

Every year that same scam occurs—with taxpayers clueless as to how their tax dollars are spent and the schools on the losing end of the exchange. Even though educating our children is supposed to be our most sacred responsibility.

An elected school board threatens to upend that imbalance, as there is a remote possibility that at least one reformer gets elected to blow the whistle on this sleight of hand.

Got to give the Sun-Times and Tribune credit, though. In a brilliant jiujitsu-like maneuver, they took an argument for an elected school board and turned it into one that’s against.

You’d think that earnest reformers who believe in transparency would be against this sort of financial chicanery. But hang around Chicago long enough and even the reformers will turn into schemers.

The reality is that the leaders of Chicago—civic, corporate, and editorial—are afraid of change. Think about it—we have not instituted a significant new idea in Chicago since, like, forever.

Our economic development plan is one created almost 50 years ago by the original Mayor Daley, where we gentrify the city, starting in the Loop and spreading out south and west, by making one neighborhood after another too expensive for poor people to afford.

Criminal justice consists largely of locking up Black people.

Education is making sure that kids are largely kept apart from those who look different than they do.

And the mayor’s chief fiduciary obligation is to guard against progressive taxes that might upset the well-to-do. Thus we pay our bills with money from property taxes, sales taxes, and other regressive fines and fees.

I must admit—the older and more anxious I get, the more reassuring our boss-system of government seems to be. So, what the hell—let’s go all the way.

Forget the elected school board. In fact, let’s do away with all elections except for one—the mayor.

OK, I’ll compromise. Let’s turn the City Council into a hybrid. The voters elect 20 aldermen. And the mayor appoints the other 30.

Anything to preserve the status quo.  v