About 24 hours after David Axelrod, spin master supreme, publicly predicted in the Sun-Times that his old pal Mayor Rahm Emanuel was too loyal to ever—and I mean, ever—sack his other good buddy, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, down came the boom.
The removal came December 8 in a command City Hall performance during which Emanuel thanked Claypool, who was resigning, for “his exemplary service” and promised that Claypool “will always be my friend.” And then Emanuel went on to anoint Janice Jackson to be Claypool’s successor—as a major innovator in public education. Man, there’s so much spin going on, I’m starting to get vertigo!
Axelrod’s friendship with Rahm and Claypool dates back to the early 1980s, when they were relative youngsters working as aides on Paul Simon’s first senatorial campaign. Axelrod’s public relations genius—and let’s face it, the guy is really good at this stuff—is taking a sad song and making it better. As with the case of Claypool, who got caught lying to the Chicago Public Schools inspector general and falsifying records. This is no fireable offense, Axelrod told the Sun-Times, adding that Rahm feels a “sense of loyalty” to Claypool—”not just out of friendship but performance.”
Well, I don’t know about Rahm and loyalty. In 2015, Rahm fired Garry McCarthy, his old police superintendent, because someone had to take the fall for keeping the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps. And earlier this year he dumped another friend, Department of Water Management commissioner Barrett Murphy, after it became clear that Murphy looked the other way while departmental underlings exchanged racist and homophobic e-mails. For the last several years, Rahm’s been throwing Mayor Daley under the bus every time he brags about how he’s doing away with “the fiscal smoke and mirrors” of the Daley years, as he put it in this year’s budget address. True, Rahm never mentions Daley by name—but I don’t think that’s out of loyalty so much as fear.
Of course, there was no need for Rahm to fear Claypool, who’s been a loyal factotum for years. One of my favorite revelations from the trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich was the taped 2008 conversation in which Emanuel, who was leaving Congress to work as President Obama’s chief of staff, asked Blago to fill the vacancy with Claypool. Rahm wanted to return to his old seat after a year or two, at which point Claypool would apparently step down. “Forrest Claypool, bizarrely, would like to be considered,” Emanuel told Blago in a conversation that federal investigators were secretly taping. Rahm concluded the conversation by assuring Blago he would “not forget this” favor. (Blago didn’t actually have the authority to fill a congressional vacancy, so the deal never happened.) Now Emanuel wouldn’t be caught dead mentioning the ex-governor’s name. Guess we can add Blago’s name to Rahm’s disloyalty list.
While we’re on the subject of disloyalty, consider how Claypool treated former Cook County Board president John Stroger about ten years ago. Pundits back then were crediting Mayor Daley for winning over black voters who’d once been hostile to him. Part of Daley’s success on that front is that, thanks to Stroger, he managed to keep south- and west-side Democrats content by doling out patronage jobs through the county.
In 2006, Claypool, then a Cook County commissioner, launched a “reform” challenge against Stroger, promising to clean up the county’s waste and patronage. Claypool lost that election but he did a great job of making the Stroger name a pejorative among white north-side voters, even as these same voters kept backing Daley. Apparently, patronage is bad when a black guy’s in charge, but savvy politics for a Daley. Anything to keep black politicians in their place.
Well, the Rahm-Daley forces don’t have to worry about black political power that much anymore: the city’s black population is down nearly 240,000 since 2000.
In the last week Claypool and the school board have announced the closing of four high schools in low-income, south-side Englewood. Those closings are generating strong criticism from state senator Jacqueline Collins as well as state rep Sonya Harper and other south-side officials, who see them as part of a larger effort to gentrify black residents out of the neighborhood.
The mayor didn’t mention the closings at Claypool’s send-off. But the reality is that it’s hard enough having a white guy at the helm of the system when you’re shuttering schools in black neighborhoods. It’s even harder when the white guy’s credibility is under siege after he was caught lying to the inspector general.
So in order for Rahm to close those schools, Claypool (friend to the mayor or not) had to go. And now the lovely task of being the public face on the mayor’s school closing policies falls to Janice Jackson, just as it fell to former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett (who’s now serving out a prison sentence for the kickback scheme she helped engineer). When Byrd-Bennett announced the closing of 50 schools back in 2013, Mayor Rahm was on a ski vacation in Utah, as though he had nothing to do with what was going down.
It will also be Jackson and the school board’s role to enthusiastically shake their pom-poms as the mayor gears up to divert millions in property tax dollars from CPS to the Cortland/Chicago River Tax Increment Financing District on the near north side. Rahm’s creating that TIF just in time to help lure Amazon’s second headquarters to town with the promise of untold billions of dollars in incentives. The TIF, not to mention the Amazon deal, will undoubtedly result in a rise in property taxes, accelerating the exodus of more poor and working-class black people from Chicago, leading to more school closings.
I’m sure Rahm and his aides will say it’s all being done for the benefit of the kids. Hell, they know that line so well they can probably recite it without any spin from Axelrod. v