Our panel on this, our fourth anniversary broadcast, spent some time kicking around the upcoming big elections – U.S. Senator and Governor. But there’s a sense that the 2014 mid-terms, so critical for the country, are little more than a warm-up act for the big contest – Municipal 2015.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” asks Communty Media Workshop’s Emeritus Spirit Thom Clark,” if there was actually a civic discourse about important urban issues we need to deal with as opposed to the screaming match?”
Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader columnist, believes that the mayoral election will be a chance to revisit four years of Mayor Emanuel’s schools policies. He recalls some of the public hearings prior to last year’s schools closings. “We just had this sense of the urgency in the room,” he says. “That we’re losing this chance, this opportunity to do good things, innovative things with our public schools, and this last four years have been utterly chaotic. So I think that’s the pre-eminent issue of the day in the City of Chicago.”
In recent weeks there have been numerous stories advanced by CPS touting improvements in scores and graduation rates. In fact, CPS has claimed that its graduation rate is now the highest ever.
But, says Catalyst-Chicago’s Sarah Karp, just reporting the raw numbers is a kind of false way to tell the story.
“Over the past five years CPS has opened a huge number of alternative schools, many of them not-for-profit,” she explains. “And the kids that get their diplomas from these alternative schools don’t show up in the graduation rates at all, because they’re assigned back wherever they went for their freshman year. So if you started out at Manley High School but you graduated from Camelot Safe Academy you’re showing up in Manley High School’s five-year cohort graduation rate.”
That can artificially inflate the graduation rate for some schools, she says, adding that some of the alternative schools are able to fast-track students through the high school program in as little as 2-1/2 years. “A lot of it’s computer based, coming in and hurrying up,” and that can be a source for the rising graduation rates.
Clark agrees that education policy will play a huge role in the next City election, especially if Karen Lewis decides to challenge the mayor.
“I think educational professionals feel dissed,” he says. “And disrespected, and under-valued and under-cut. And what they mostly hear are all the bad things that they’re not getting done, or they’re being paid too much. And when you bring in the gubernatorial thing…it’s even worse. It seems like one of the candidates would just as soon fire any unionized worker, whether they’re teachers or laborers or whatever, because unions are just bad, bad. So I think we’re at a crossroads.
“When Emanuel came into office,” says Joravsky, “he had this public relations strategy to make the schools look as bad as he possibly could, so that in four years he can announce how much he’s improved them. And so much of this propaganda that we get is so transparent and blatant. So I definitely think we’re at a point where there’s no correlation between what we’re told officially about our schools and what’s really going on with the schools, and people see that.”
So could Karen Lewis seriously threaten Rahm Emanuel? Thom Clark: “I suspect that if she decides to run, that she will surprise people, and I think that even if she can only raise a million or two, she’ll be able to offset Rahm’s ten million. Because he’s gonna have to spend some of that to keep Joe Moore and other people in office.”
Karp, though, thinks there could be a down-side for Lewis in the race. “What happens to the contract negotiations next year if she loses?” she asks. “If she loses big, I know there’s a lot of teachers who are very concerned. Right now they certainly have the upper hand. Do they lose that if she loses big?”
But what about the aforementioned statewide races this November? A recent Sun-Times poll found Dick Durbin only 7 points ahead of Jim Oberweis, something that surprised lots of veteran observers. “An incumbent Senator should do better than that, particularly against a milkman who’s to the right of most Tea Partiers,” says Clark. “I don’t believe the poll. I see the poll results as more of an anti-incumbent kind of result, and I also question that polling service.”
The big TV money is rolling now, and Pat Quinn is responding quickly to Bruce Rauner’s negative ads with attack ads of his own. Karp thinks they may have some effect.
“Those Quinn ads are just hitting him,” she says. “And they’re feeding on a lot of the angst of normal human beings. I mean it’s all -‘he’s making money and you’re not. And only an evil man would do that!’
Thom Clark thinks there may be a force at work that could strongly affect both the 2014 and 2015 elections. He recalls how community activists registered over 100,000 new voters prior to Harold Washington’s election. “Now, the Grassroots Alliance is 25,000 toward their goal of 50,000 new registered voters. That’s what will help Karen Lewis, if they succeed in doing that. And people don’t know that’s going on behind the scenes. The Democratic party in this city is stale. They have not been doing their basic precinct work.”