Something truly unusual happened in Springfield last week. How can you tell? For the first time in memory, Forrest Claypool appeared in public…smiling. More than smiling, he had a huge grin on his face, matched by the Mayoral smile and Janice Jackson’s happy face. The occasion was the opening of the fiscal flood gates, with as much as $600 million flowing into CPS, assuring that the schools will open on time in September.
But nothing’s ever that simple in Illinois.
A promised state payment of $205 million toward CPS teacher pensions, we discover in the small print, won’t arrive until 2017, and then only if by January the Legislature is able to pass “pension reform”, however that’s defined.
But at the Mayor’s press conference, that issue was brushed aside for the celebration.
“The schools are going to open,” Tribune City Hall reporter John Byrne explains. “All those smiles were – schools are going to open.”
“They wanted to get out of Springfield and say schools are going to open and that the road construction projects would not stop,” adds WLS-AM morning anchor John Dempsey. “And they are putting everything off until after the election.”
“And by the way, we’re not going to have to have 50 kids in a classroom,” Byrne says. “Which was the other big thing. And Emanuel weirdly at the end of that news conference was taking questions and then just looked directly at the cameras and spoke to the parents of Chicago and made this sort of valedictory speech about his accomplishments. And then his people pushed all of us really hard in the next 48 hours to frame this thing as a victory for the Mayor. I mean the Emanuel press operation is never subtle, but even for them this was a really hard sell…”
On Wednesday, there was a hearing at City Council chambers, but the public was not in a charitable mood. With little notice, the public was asked for its input about the Mayor’s attempt to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a different, supposedly more independent board.
“But people were not happy with the way these hearings were set up,” Byrne explains. “Including the head of the task force, Lori Lightfoot, who said you can’t be doing weekday…a couple of weekday hearings …At City Hall and the people who are really impacted by police misconduct to be able to get down there to voice their opinions and have any input into this.”
And there’s always the issue of just how much this public input really counts when it comes to writing the ordinance. “It remains to be seen how much any of this testimony plays into the final product that comes out of Emanuel’s office,” says Byrne.
Chicago’s new police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has his hands full. Facing a bloody July 4th weekend, he flooded the most violence-prone neighborhoods with thousands of extra police officers, and arrested 88 people on the Department’s list of known violence-prone individuals. On Sunday evening it seemed to be working, and he held a press event to announce the good numbers.
“Because at that point on Sunday there had only been about 20 or 21 shootings over the long 4th of July weekend, and he was maybe doing a touchdown dance in the end zone prematurely because the weekend wasn’t over yet,”Dempsey tells us.
“It got ugly,” Byrne adds. “It got ugly after that.”
“In a 15-hour span Monday into Tuesday half of the weekend’s 66 shootings took place in that 15-hour span and that made Eddie Johnson really look bad by prematurely bragging about how great the police did,” Dempsey asserts.
“And then we ended up higher than we did the prior 4th of July weekend,” Byrne points out.
“Right,” says Dempsey. More shootings than last July 4th, and Rahm spun it by saying, “Oh, but there were fewer fatalities, fewer homicides than on any 4th of July weekend in the past 8 years.”
And what about those 88 people arrested before the weekend began? Byrne says it helps with the statistics. “They were saying, We’re going to get these guys off the street this weekend. Go get them off the street. Find a reason to get them off the street. And if they have drugs you take them off the street, and then they don’t get shot and they don’t mess with your stats on the 4th of July weekend and you worry about it next weekend.”
Another curious statement at this press event involved police staffing levels. Johnson hinted that the Department might need more officers, something that Emanuel and former Chief Garry McCarthy have always denied. So what’s the politics of this ?
“When you hire Johnson to be your police superintendent though, Emanuel did this in large part because he needed somebody in there who the rank and file guys trust, Byrne explains. “And a statement like this from Johnson, it wasn’t like he was out there saying, “We need to hire more cops,” but he’s at least out there a little bit acknowledging what the FOP says, acknowledging the truth as seen by rank and file cops. And maybe from Emanuel’s perspective it’s worth it to have a little bit of friction with Johnson on this because he needs Johnson to rally these guys to be aggressive.”
“And I think Emanuel and Johnson have to walk a fine line between saying to the community, “I’m with you. I don’t want to have brutal cops,” and saying to the police officers, “I have your back. You are the last line of defense…” adds Dempsey.
“Johnson can maybe go a little farther over that line than him,” says Byrne. “And Emanuel may be saying, I don’t know whether Emanuel said, “Yeah, go ahead and suggest that we may need more cops,” but now that Johnson’s done that, you know, Johnson, at least to the rank and file cops… Eddie finally said what we’ve all been saying for the last 5 years. He’s better than McCarthy.”
Finally, there’s agreement that much of the budget maneuvering was about getting something done before the November elections, but John Dempsey says it might not help Bruce Rauner.
“I don’t think there’s any way that the Republicans can seize control of the Illinois House. I think their best hope would be to reduce Madigan’s…the veto proof majority. So, let’s say that Rauner fails and that not enough Republicans win for him to cut into Madigan’s veto proof majority. What does he do in January? Now we’re in January of 2017. Rauner has to be re-elected in 2018. Does Rauner back off from his agenda?”
You can read a full transcript in Word format HERE: CN Transcript July 7 2016