Next week voters in a patchwork quilt of precincts across Chicago will be asked at the bottom of their ballots to vote on a referendum that promotes an ill-conceived activist fantasy. The non-binding measure asks, “Shall each member of the Board of School District 299, known as the Chicago Board of Education, be elected by voters of the City of Chicago, State of Illinois?”
If Illinois’ system of elected judges, or if the electoral travesty that is the Metropolitical Water Reclamation District means anything to you, vote “no” on this measure with full confidence. (Check here for a list of precincts that will vote on the referendum.)
This editorial is a first. As publisher of Center Square Journal and Roscoe View Journal, I established a policy that our publications do not make endorsements, mostly because local politics is so personal to our readers, that it is hard to take an overt stand in neighborhoods that are so like an urban Mayberry.
But the upcoming referendum, pushed by the Chicago Teachers Union, preys on Chicago’s progressivist tendencies in the union’s increasingly personal battle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Since passage of the 1995 School Reform Act, Chicago’s mayor appoints the seven-person Chicago School Board and the Chicago Public Schools’ CEO.
As many readers know, I had a career in national and Chicago politics before I started these publications, and my personal experience with Chicago’s political machinery drives me to oppose this broken referendum.
Tuesday’s referendum does not say exactly how a school board would be elected, but it is likely that the process would closely mirror those of either Cook County Circuit Court judges or the nine-members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). While there are certainly fine judges in Cook County, and excellent members of the Water Reclamation District, many are not, and the process for how they get backing and campaign funding is foul beyond belief.
The Chicago Reader has written extensively on Cook County’s bankrupt judge election process, where prospective and sitting judges must prostrate themselves before a closed-door meeting of Democratic Ward Committeemen. Then, with no real alternative for campaign support or fundraising, I’ve watched most judge candidates glue themselves to those same Ward Committeemen to get their signs up and flyers out to voters. Ward Committeemen, more interested in supporting candidates and campaigns that could one day help their own political fortunes (judges don’t hand out jobs, contracts or favors), then brusquely treat judge candidates as cannon fodder, usually helping the ones who kiss their feet the most.
With such a process, it’s hard to imagine the Cook County system producing any qualified judges, let alone the many that manage to keep our criminal justice system in tact. And yet, when I asked one judge candidate why he wanted the job, his response was, “There’s one hundred sixty-seven thousand reasons!” A reference to the judge salary at the time.
Candidates for MWRD, which manages a $1 billion annual budget, have it even worse. While most Cook County judges are elected in sub-circuits, reducing their campaign area to around three wards, MWRD candidates run county-wide, forcing them to bow and scrape before all 80 city and suburban Democratic Committeemen for support. Then, desperate to to raise the $80-100,000 or so needed to run a county-wide campaign, they turn to the one group that really cares about the MWRD, contractors. Although one MWRD Commissioner, Debra Shore, pioneered raising funds from environmentalists in 2006, there simply are not enough environmentalists to finance every MWRD campaign in Cook County.
Campaigns for MWRD have become so cynical, that candidate viability often turns on ballot position or how Irish your name sounds. One political consultant colleague of mine once ran an analysis that showed a significant percentage bump for top and bottom ballot positions.
How is it, that under these electoral conditions we actually think our government can be well managed?
This very real dystopian existence, would be extended to the Chicago School Board if it were to become an elected body. It is not realistic that when we have totally broken systems for electing judges and another huge government body, that an elected school board would fare much better.
I do understand the Chicago Teachers Union’s frustration with the School Board and Mayor Emanuel. But here their solution would only make matters worse. Please vote “no” to create an elected school board.