Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thousands turn out in the cold for Chicago mayoral forum

M. Klonsky photo
Rahm a no-show. Chico leaves early.

UIC's Forum was packed last night. Nearly 3,000 turned out, mainly from the city's community and social-service orgs, in the bitter cold, under the banner of New Chicago-201l. This poor frost-bitten soul was one of them. Big money candidate Rahm Emanuel wasn't, and his absence united the crowd with a round of boos.
The 2,800-strong crowd booed. They probably would have booed Emanuel if he had attended. The neighborhood groups were demanding a mayor who paid as much attention to Roseland and Little Village as the Loop. It wasn’t Rahm’s kind of room. (Ward Room).

That left "Slow" Eddie Burke's guy, Gery ("I have to leave early") Chico as the lone machine candidate and rightfully number-one target of the progressives in the audience and up on the stage--Carol Mosely Braun, Danny Davis, Miguel del Valle, and Patricia Watkins. Most interesting to me was that education reform became the hot-button issue that seemed to resonate with the crowd and cut through most of the usual campaign phrase-mongering. In particular it was the current administration's mass, arbitrary closing of neighborhood schools that drew their ire.

M. Klonsky photo
Former Senator Carol Mosely Braun started it off, hitting at Chico's record as Daley's hand-picked school board president during the Paul Vallas era. Chico came to the board after serving as the mayor's chief of staff.

Braun declared that no schools should be closed without involving parents and the community, then said, 
“Mr. Chico, you need to be responsible for some of the things happening in the Chicago schools.”

Chico returned fire at Braun, boasting, "We took over the schools in 1995, when they were in terrible shape. By the time I left in 2001, we were on the upswing. I built 65 new schools. We didn’t close schools. We built them.” 
But it was Miguel del Valle who got the biggest cheers of the night. He condemned the city’s “parallel system of public education. On one track, the magnet schools, on the other track, the neighborhood schools. We need to turn low-performance neighborhood schools into high-performance schools.”

When the subject turned to immigration, del Valle turned his fire on Emanuel's vacant chair.
“The man who was supposed to sit in this chair is the individual who is most responsible for blocking immigration reform as a congressman and White House chief of staff,” he shouted, to a standing ovation. “How can we expect him to protect the rights of immigrants in Chicago?”
Chico announced he had to leave early due to a previous engagement and exited the stage to another chorus of boos. 

Back out in the tundra, I felt a sparkle of hope that maybe Emanuel won't be able to just waltz onto the fifth floor of City Hall with his sense of entitlement intact. I also left feeling a longing for days when Harold Washington brought black and Latino communities together with progressive whites to end the reign of the old Daley machine. At times, I could feel that spirit of unity in the room last night but in current times it doesn't translate into a unified opposition anti-machine candidate.

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