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Rahm’s Priorities


Rahm Emmaunel, having failed in his all-too-valiant effort to kill health care reform, has been even worse as mayor of Chicago than I would have thought, which is really saying something. This is particularly special:

It all starts with the person who seems committed to win the current spirited competition as the most loathsome person in American political life: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The same Mayor overseeing the closing of fifty-four schools and six community mental health clinics under the justification of a “budgetary crisis” has announced that the city will be handing over more than $100 million to DePaul University for a new basketball arena. This is part of a mammoth redevelopment project on South Lakeshore Drive consisting of a convention center anchored by an arena for a non-descript basketball team that has gone 47-111 over the last five years. It’s also miles away from DePaul’s campus. These aren’t the actions of a mayor. They’re the actions of a mad king.

If you want to understand why Mayor Rahm has approval ratings to rival Rush Limbaugh in Harlem, you can point to priorities like these. The school closures are taking place entirely in communities of color while the city’s elite feed with crazed abandon at an increasingly sapped trough. As Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union chief who led a victorious strike last September fueled by rage at Mayor Rahm, said, “When the mayor claims he is facing unprecedented budget problems, he has a choice to make. He is choosing between putting our communities first or continuing the practice of handing out millions of public dollars to private operators, even in the toughest of times.”

Education reform seemingly premised on the idea that Michelle Rhee is great except that she cares too much about poor people and is a little too honest and ridiculous stadium boondoggles — two awful tastes that, it must be admitted, fit perfectly together. It’s also probably worth noting here that the average attendance at DePaul hoops games is a little over 8,000.

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  • Another Anonymous

    I guess I will have to rely on what people knowledgeable about Chicago think, but the quoted claims are a good example of annoyingly useless journalism:

    overseeing the closing of fifty-four schools and six community mental health clinics under the justification of a “budgetary crisis”

    How many schools were there before? Did it make sense to close and consolidate them? Were the closed clinics being used? Is the “budgetary crisis” imaginary?

    As an occasional member of the reality-based community, I hope it is not reactionary to want facts now and then.

    • liberal

      I don’t think it’s reactionary at all. OTOH, the stadium giveaway is an unspeakable horror, like it always is.

      • Another Anonymous

        Agreed re: stadium!

    • Just Dropping By

      A Google news search shows that at least part of the rationale for school closings was a change in population distribution that led to many of the schools at issue being “underutilized.” I don’t know how true that is, but the NPR story on the subject (http://www.npr.org/2013/05/23/186195961/disappointed-by-school-closing-vote-union-targets-elected-officials) quotes an opponent of the closings as suggesting other uses for the properties besides schools, implying that the depopulation problem is real.

      • Brandon

        Depopulation in Chicago is absolutely a real thing, but not the the extent that you need to close 50 schools (4 were struck from the list yesterday). In previous years when they’ve closed public schools, they’ve opened up privately-run charters elsewhere. And, shockingly!, it’s mostly blacks and hispanics that are facing these closures.

        And this is pretty much the entirety for their plan of improving education.

        • brewmn

          I don’t have time to google all this for our friend upthread, but nearly every claim except the closed schools being underutilized (e.g., they are being moved to better-performing schools, the moves will create no overcrowding, etc.) have been proven false.

          Combined with Rahm’s passion for charter schools and generally anti-union posture, this cynical Chicago-area resident can’t help but think that this is a power play furthering Rahm’s eventual goal of having a Chicago Teacher’s Union that he can drown in a bathrtub.

          • Brandon

            Even the utilization argument is suspect in some cases. Less than 30 kids/classroom is “underutilized” instead of “where every classroom should be”

            • Kurzleg

              Seriously, under 30 is some kind of floor? That a dick.

    • JL
  • Mean Mister Mustard

    Forget it Scott. It’s Chicago.

  • MikeJake

    To be fair, Allstate Arena is not very close to the campus. But then, South Lakeshore Drive isn’t very close to the Lincoln Park campus either.

    • TribalistMeathead

      “To be fair, Allstate Arena is not very close to the campus.”

      You beat me to it. And having a 10-12K arena that isn’t owned by a college or university is a lot more useful than people might think. Personally, I think DC suffers because the nearest one that fits that description is in Baltimore.

      • Brandon

        Chicago has plenty of stadiums, concert halls, and convention halls already.

  • I read the entire article–I would say that from the perspective of people in the trenches in Chicago it was not necessary to rehash what is fairly well known (that is in reference to the person upthread who complained that maybe all the school closures were not such a bad thing.) The best educational trends are always smaller schools, more local schools, smaller classes. And Chicago already knows from dealing with Rahm’s attempt to break the teacher’s union that he isn’t for any of those things.

    The whole thing is shocking–but what do you expect? Neither Rahm nor Daley had to account for the billion dollars Daley got for selling off the parking meters to Dubai. The city’s finances are in a mess and Rahm is continuing to loot the treasury for the benefit of the upper class.

  • kg

    There’s also the 100 million he’s spending on a riverwalk.

    Also interesting is how a few schools were spared the axe at the last minute. One was even cited thusly “‘is a model for inclusion’ through a partnership with Columbia College designed for hearing-impaired students.”
    If the school was a model for inclusion why was it slated for the axe to begin with?

    A big concern that has been playing in the local news is that kids will now have to walk through hostile gang territory to get to their (now crowded) new schools.

    • Hogan

      If the school was a model for inclusion why was it slated for the axe to begin with?

      So that they could look reasonable by taking it off the list at the last minute.

    • Brandon

      Yeah, the police are now going to have to hire more people (or pay more overtime) as part of their “Safe Passage” program (I think that’s what it’s called).

      Chicago’s BoE is appointed by the mayor, not elected. That’s a huge part of the problem.

    • brewmn

      One of the spared schools was the only school with a large minority population in the middle of a gentrified Near North Side neighborhood. apparently, yuppies didn’t want a bunch of poor blacks going to school with their special snowflakes.

  • South Sider

    The schools being closed are underutilized, and with very low student populations due to the razing of the housing projects. Many of those schools are the lone structures in a sea of empty lots surrounded by acres of nothing.

    The so called “gift to DePaul” is no such thing; in fact it isn’t even close.

    The proposed stadium was been talked about for decades as an adjunct to the McCormick Place convention center, which lost several trade shows because of relatively low ceiling heights. Heavy equipment manufacturers and hook & ladder makers couldn’t extend their rigs to full height so prospective buyers can see the things in operation. Further, a 10,000 to 12,000 seat arena could be used for concerts and smaller conventions like the NAACP, and religious meetings, which are being lost to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. DePaul has agreed to be a tenant, and pay rent to use it for all men’s basketball home games, and at least 10 women’s b-ball games per year, as well as graduation ceremonies.

    Finally, the arena would be built by, and run by the Metro Pier & Exhibition Authority (McPier), which is a joint entity owned by the city and the state of Illinois, funded by hotel taxes, which runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

    That Bozo from “The Nation” managed to waste pixels on a fact free screed just so he can pat himself on the back for his (self claimed) clever use of Angry Birds as an analogy.

    • Paula

      McCormick Place is freaking huge … Does it seriously need expansion?

      • TribalistMeathead

        He spelled it out for you in his post. It’s not a square footage issue, it’s a height issue.

        • Paula

          Yeah … I read. Yes, height-wise, it is also huge and I guess I should have asked for specific links about how much money they make from those big machine trade shows per year versus what they make from conferences that don’t really need additional vertical space.

          And whether that’s worth cutting money from public schools.

          • South Sider

            No money would be cut from schools, as McPier already has the money on hand due to a restructuring of a bond issue in 2010. Schools are funded by property taxes. The proposed arena would be financed by $100 million from DePaul, $100 million from the McPier bonds, and $100 million from naming rights and advertising revenue.

            The tentative plan is for DePaul to commit $100 million to the project, for taxpayers to contribute another $100 million and for a naming rights sponsor to pick up the rest of the cost, a source with knowledge of the plan told the Chicago Sun-Times.


            As to the person who questioned why the project will cost $300 million…it’s because that is the entire cost for the entire project which entails buying the land and building at least one hotel, restaurants and additional meeting space, in addition to the arena; all of which will generate tax revenue that will go to the schools. None of this was mentioned in that “Nation” article, BTW.

            Conventions & tourism generated over $12 billion for the city in FY 2011.


            So, yeah. It kind of is a big deal. And a necessary one at that.

            • brewmn

              As someone who lived in Chicago for over 25 years (I moved to Evanston in 2010), I find it amusing that you take the claims that both the stadium project and the school closings are absolute economic necessities at face value.

              And I think you’re interpretation of the financing of the new stadium, is a little, um, selective:


            • brewmn

              “…all of which will generate tax revenue that will go to the schools…”

              No, that revenue is incremented, and will go into the mayor’s TIF-financed slush fund.

            • liberal

              Conventions & tourism generated over $12 billion for the city in FY 2011.

              LOL. So? Even if true, that does absolutely nothing to show why this particular project is necessary.

        • Paula

          And it seems that the definition of “underutilized” is up for debate.

    • L2P

      “which lost several trade shows because of relatively low ceiling heights…”

      Good lord! Chicago lost several trade shows? Several? What will Chicago do to survive the loss of trade shows by “several” heavy manufacturers and “hook and ladder makers”? Thank heavens Rahm has stepped up to make sure Chicago doesn’t lose those important “concerts and other conventions” to (*shudder*) Rosemont, of all places.

      I’m sure that’s well worth the $100 Million Chicago is not using for schools, parks, cops, or roads.

      • liberal

        What will Chicago do to survive the loss of trade shows by “several” heavy manufacturers and “hook and ladder makers”?

        I’m sure it’s a rather large fraction of the $12B in tourism etc cited above; say probably north of $4B. /snark

    • EH

      Let’s put some numbers down. How much business, or heck, “utilization,” are high-ceiling-requiring convention organizers responsible for?

      • liberal

        Nah, only people criticizing handouts to the well-connected are required to cite numbers.

  • Bitter Scribe

    To be fair, this sentence makes me think this guy knows little about Chicago:

    The school closures are taking place entirely in communities of color…

    The Chicago public schools, IIRC, are about 90% nonwhite. It would be difficult to pick a school that wasn’t in a “community of color.”

    That said, Emanuel’s handling of the school closures was typically arrogant and tone-deaf. In particular, he thinks schools are “underutilized” if they have less than 30 kids in a classroom. I wouldn’t have stood for that as a parent.

    • Another Anonymous

      “In particular, he thinks schools are “underutilized” if they have less than 30 kids in a classroom.”

      Much more informative than the article. Thanks!

  • penpen

    The reign of Mayor Emanuel sounds a lot less fun than the reign of @MayorEmanuel

  • Sly

    These aren’t the actions of a mayor. They’re the actions of a mad king.

    Is there a sister-fucking swordsman in the Chicago metropolitan area?

    • daveNYC

      You really want the answer of that to be yes?

    • Keaaukane

      That is clearly a reference to something, but I don’t know what. What mad king sister fucking swordsman are you referring to?

  • The schools are underutilized b/c they changed the criteria for what counted as utilized – upward. Then magically, they had an excuse to do what they wanted, and reporters keep repeated CPS claims as if they should be trusted.

  • cs

    Is an “increasingly sapped trough” getting more full or more empty?

    • guthrie

      Surely the sappers are undermining it? SO it’s tilted over and spilling out on the ground.

      It could certainly be more felicitously phrased, “an increasingly empty trough” would make more obvious sense.

  • wengler

    It would hard to be worse than Daley Jr. but Rahm is certainly trying.

  • JL

    I still think it’s telling that at the NATO summit protests, the one time the cops were actually actively nice to us instead of beating us up or otherwise treating us as The Enemy was when we marched on Rahm Emanuel’s house. They let people climb trees in his front yard! Let me just say that this was in very stark contrast to how they treated us the whole rest of the time. It made me wonder what they really think of Rahm.

    After those four days in Chicago, what I thought of Rahm was mostly profanity.

  • theresa phan

    $1 billion dollar deficit and 140,000 fewer students than a decade ago. I think that pretty much sumes up why many Chicago residents (like myself) support the school closures.

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