May 29, 2024

Rich Miller: A major loss for Chicago Teachers Union

Just eight of 78 Illinois House Democrats openly sided last week with the once-indomitable Chicago Teachers Union.

The CTU hotly opposed a bill to halt all public school closures and prevent disproportionate budget cuts and changes to admissions criteria at Chicago’s selective enrollment schools until a fully elected Chicago school board is seated in 2027. The final roll call was a lopsided 92-8.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, whose popularity has plummeted along with his Statehouse influence, ought to take this as a warning not to follow the CTU’s example. And so should some other Chicago-based organizations.

The floor vote capped increasingly frenetic and bitter attempts to derail the legislation, including the CTU’s legislative director calling the bill (HB303) “racist” last week, even though it had been amended to change the budget cut language and expand the closure moratorium to all schools – a provision that the teachers union had demanded just last month.

Several House Democratic members said privately they’d received angry and even threatening calls from CTU leaders demanding they abandon their promised support for the bill.

Others said they were upset that the union’s flip-flop was eerily similar to what happened in the Senate last year, when the Democrats bowed to the CTU’s demands and dumped their plan to pass a phased-in elected school board, only to watch the CTU rail against their fully elected school board bill which the union had demanded days before.

I asked Gov. JB Pritzker after the vote for his thoughts on the CTU’s labeling the bill as racist.

“That kind of criticism is uncalled for,” he said, “We don’t need that.”

Asked if he thought the tactic had hurt the CTU’s roll call, Pritzker said, “I do. I think that when you take it to that extreme, I think there are people that – you heard some of that discussion on the floor by members – that… some were between offended and outraged by what was said.”

This was not only a major loss for the CTU, it was also a strike against the increasingly divisive, angry and in-your-face approach that has been prevalent at Chicago’s city hall which lefty activists are now trying to bring to Springfield.

Last month, for instance, an organizer for Chicago’s Raise the Floor Alliance laid out a “plan of escalation” in an email that targeted state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, for her refusal to hold a hearing on a major part of the group’s legislative agenda, “Work Without Fear.”

The plan of escalation started with Gong-Gershowitz being approached by a handful of people the following morning, and then escalated to bringing in more than 100 people to directly confront Gong-Gershowitz after a committee hearing that afternoon.

The organizer also laid out a plan for activists to approach a different legislator “in a significantly friendlier way” to thank her for her support, which seemed to more than just indicate that the action against Gong-Gershowitz was not going to be friendly. The organizer claimed in the email that the bill’s sponsors were on board with the plan, but one aghast sponsor firmly stepped in to stop the group from carrying it out.

State Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, sponsored the selective enrollment bill. She said she didn’t think the strategies used by activists at the city council could work at the Statehouse, but agreed those actions are increasing in Springfield.

“This is a really close-knit body,” Croke said. Unlike the Chicago City Council, she said, “We basically live together for six months and people really take these relationships seriously.”

Croke also told me that some of her colleagues approached her on behalf of opponents to ask for changes. And when those changes were made, those same members were approached again by the opponents and pushed for even more changes. Croke said some of her colleagues didn’t appreciate the methods.

The chair of the House’s Progressive Caucus, state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said during the debate that Croke had changed her bill after he requested that the closure moratorium for selective enrollment schools be expanded to all schools until the board was fully elected, “because that’s what I’ve been fighting for for all these years, that the people who are gonna decide about closing our schools are the people who should be accountable to us, they should be people we voted for.”

Guzzardi continued with a message to Mayor Johnson: “And I feel that way whether the mayor is a person I never met before or is a dear friend of mine who I worked my ass off to get elected, who’s the man sitting in the Fifth Floor right now.”

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.