Maze Jackson

While many people in the world think of Chicago as the focal point of Illinois, it is really Springfield, a small town in central Illinois with a population of just under 120,000 people that makes the state go. Springfield, like any other city has a local government, with a mayor and city council, but unlike any other city in Illinois, it also has a monarchy, run by its king and the most powerful man in Illinois, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and his court of legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, and union members. It’s a world that many in the Black community do not understand, but that controls our very existence.

Mike Madigan Background

Mike Madigan is the state representative of the 22nd District, a Southwest Side ward that is centered near Midway Airport. It is composed of Chicago, Burbank, and the Bedford Park communities. Madigan was elected State Representative of the District January 13, 1971, became Speaker of the House in 1983, and has remained in that position since that time, with the exception of two years. Madigan was defeated as Speaker of the House in 1995, when the Republicans Led by Lee Daniels, took control of the Illinois House of Representatives. It is rumored that Madigan, known for his determination, discipline, and relentless pursuit of power began knocking on doors the morning after his defeat, and by the next election in 1997, he retook the House, and has remained the unquestioned leader of Springfield since that time.

Madigan was born a Democrat, the son of a New Deal Democrat father also named Michael, who believed in the benefits government could provide people. He passed that tradition along to his son and namesake, who would eventually ascend to the position of most powerful Democrat in the state. On the path to that title, Madigan, who grew up in the Clearing neighborhood, a predominately Irish Catholic neighborhood, attended St. Adrian’s elementary school, St. Ignatius College Prep, and the University of Notre Dame. He went on to attend law school at Loyola University in Chicago.

Madigan distinguished himself early in his political life by becoming a favorite of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Eventually, Madigan and Daley’s eldest son, Richard M. Daley would start their political careers at the same time, when the two served as delegates to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. Even though Madigan and the younger Daley eventually became bitter rivals, Mayor Richard J. Daley would eventually go on to appoint Madigan to a job in the City Law Department, allowing him to pay for his law school tuition.   After completion Madigan partnered up with fellow Loyola graduate Vincent J. “Bud” Getzendanner, Jr. to form Madigan & Getzendanner, a property tax appeals firm. Since forming the law firm, Madigan has saved businesses millions in property taxes, at the same time making himself a millionaire, while fighting for “Democratic values.”

Madigan Machine

 While Madigan himself is a millionaire, he has used his position as Speaker of the House to amass power through the distribution of wealth, jobs, and contracts to build a political organization “so gangster that Don Corleone would be scared to mess with him,” said a Springfield insider who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. While federal investigations and Shakman decrees have crippled the once powerful Democratic Machine in Illinois, Madigan’s Machine keeps just keeps on rolling. Many complain that Madigan has no real concern for the people, just the power.

They point to his recent financial outpouring of over $200 million for new schools in the Latino community, while CPS was closing over 50 schools in predominately Black neighborhoods.   Madigan even jettisoned his White state senator and replaced him with a Latino state senator to burnish his Latino credentials.


The engine that makes the Madigan Machine go is a compliant legislature, willing to go along with the Speaker’s program regardless of the impacts to their community. To ensure compliance, Madigan works hard to make sure that his members have no opponents in their elections. By doing this, Madigan makes it possible for the legislators to defy their communities to do his bidding with no consequence.

With no opponent, most members of the state legislature can take the rose garden approach campaigning, only going where they are fawned over and complimented, never having to answer the tough questions. That insulation is what provides Black legislators in particular the cover from having to explain why the state’s economic resources so often miss the Black community, while making it to areas like Beverly, Oak Lawn, and Evergreen Park. Madigan’s iron fisted control of the legislature is what drives the machine, so Madigan uses whatever tactics necessary, from fear, intimidation, contracts, or oppositional candidates to maintain that control.


Madigan’s ability to manipulate the laws of the land also play a significant role in his power. Madigan employs a team of lawyers that are subject matter experts in every area of the state and in politics.   Often times those lawyers are former Madigan staffers and loyalists who have gone on to graduate from law school. During their time in law school, they are generally assigned to Madigan’s consigliere, Atty. Mike Kasper, to handle challenges against Madigan’s House members. Once they have completed law school, those lawyers are dispersed in legal departments throughout state , governmental agencies, and corporations.

While in those positions, they make lucrative salaries and make sure the Speaker’s will is carried out on demand. Madigan also uses law firms to reward political loyalists while staying away from the public scrutiny.  Even though lobbyists play a key role in the transfer of money, it is through law firms where Madigan enriches his most loyal subjects and members, by forcing corporations to do business with his preferred law firms. In turn, those law firms raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Madigan by way of campaign contributions. Outside of labor unions, members of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association are among Madigan’s top contributors.


 While lobbyists have garnered a nefarious reputation, they are key to passing the laws that govern our state. Lobbyists serve as trusted policy experts on specific issues for legislators who are bombarded with thousands of bills each session. On small issues, it’s every man for himself mentality, but when a company has a big issue that they need solved in Springfield, the lobbyists are expected to collect the king’s ransom. It’s often said in Springfield, “every bill that passes makes or loses someone millions of dollars.”

With so much at stake, companies are willing to do anything they are told, and they often ask the Speaker who should they hire as a lobbyist. Based on whose “turn” it is, or the issue, they are assigned a lobbyist. The lobbyist assignments for both sides are given out by Mike McClain, a former legislator turned lobbyist, who is now commonly called “Mike Madigan’s Messenger to Corporate America.” Once hired, generally at fees upwards of $10,000 per month, the lobbyists set out to “convince” Madigan ‘s legislators to vote for or against the issue. The Speaker knows how the vote will go in advance and the game is fixed, but win or lose, Madigan’s lobbyists get paid their fees. In turn, they pay their “tax” through the companies they represent.

Unfortunately, the number of Black lobbyists in Springfield is extremely small and their clients tend to be small social service agencies. When they do happened to get large clients they are often responsible for lobbying the entire Black Caucus. Conversely, their White counterparts make double the fees for one tenth of the work. Outside of Springfield, Black lobbyist would have an EEOC claim for hostile work environment.

When the big deals get cut, often times the lobbyists work out the deals with no Black lobbyist in the room, leaving the interests of the Black community unaddressed. Typically, when the final bill is voted on, there has been no Black input. And because Madigan controls the compliant legislature with an iron fist, most Black Caucus members are unwilling to challenge him, even when it means the Black community gets left out.


If lobbyists are considered Madigan’s messengers, then the trade unions could be considered Madigan’s enforcers. Trade unions are made up of and led by predominately White Irish men.   The trade unions supply Madigan with an endless supply of troops and “resources” (dues) to fight and finance anyone who dares challenge Madigan. These same trade unions are often accused, by members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, of limited Black membership and relegating potential young Blacks to never-ending apprenticeship program. Black Caucus members have quietly fought trade unions on this to no avail, while the speaker remains silent on the issue. Because they know they serve as the Speaker’s enforcers, the trade unions are protected from their openly discriminatory practices without fear of retribution.

Over the last 45 years, governors have changed, members have changed, even centuries have changed, but one thing remains constant in Illinois, Speaker Mike Madigan. At age 73, Speaker Madigan will not have to deal with consequences of his 40 plus year reign, but Illinoisans will be paying for it for generations to come. So as the House that Madigan built crumbles under it’s own weight, the only question that remains is will Illinois survive?

The State Budget Crisis: Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into


Maze Jackson

While readers have been bombarded with stories of Chicago’s financial and police crises, the war of words resumed in Springfield last week.   The state of Illinois, which has operated without a budget since June of 2015, is rapidly facing it’s own moment of truth. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to declare an impasse in the states negotiations with AFSCME. If that happens, then Illinois residents will finally begin to feel the true impacts of a government shutdown.

The state does not now have a budget, so Illinois residents have been spared the true impact of a government shutdown. State operations have run because of a series of court judgments and consent decrees, but if Rauner gets his way, and a budget impasse is declared, Illinoisan will begin to feel the real impacts of what decades of indecision and mismanagement have brought to the state. The situation is coming to a head, and in spite of the headlines and articles, Illinois’ crisis did not begin with the election of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. The roots of this crisis can be traced back to another Republican Governor, Jim Edgar with the assistance of Illinois’ most powerful Democrat, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.


In 1994, then-Governor Jim Edgar introduced a bipartisan bill that he claimed would fix Illinois’ $15 billion pension crisis. According to state law, Illinois pensions must be funded, and with a balloon payment looming and Illinois short on the cash, Edgar conspired with Madigan to extend the terms on the debt to 2045, essentially leaving future governors to deal with the mess. The Edgar solution relied on lower earlier pension payments (during his term) gradually increasing them over time. Edgar left office in 1999, a wildly popular and respected governor, and has since gone on to become one of Illinois’ senior statesmen. In reality however, he left the future Illinois a financial mess that residents are paying for to this day.

Disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich did not help the situation when he and Speaker Madigan passed what was infamously dubbed the “pension holiday.” That “holiday” allowed the Illinois General Assembly to skip a $2 billion dollar pension payment and reinvest those dollars into capital projects, many that accrued Blagojevich, favor with the Black community. Popular programs such as free senior rides on CTA, Kidstart, and a variety of road and building projects were funded, but union pensions were not. Not only were the pensions not funded, but also the interest accrued and in some cases compounded. Now the payment has come due.

7% Percent Crippling 93%

According to Bloomberg BNA, of the state of Illinois’ almost five and a half million workers, only approximately 7%, or 383,600 have government-backed pensions.   Many question how 7% of the state’s working population could be dragging down the other 93% of the population. For some the answer is simple. They say, “We live in a different world, just cut the pensions and move on,” but in Illinois politics it’s not that simple.

But unions are the lifeblood of Illinois politics, and while they are often closely associated with Democrats, many downstate public employee unions are filled conservative Republicans who closely identify with local Republicans. They supply money, volunteers, and mail, all essential components to successful campaigns, and they take their retirement benefits seriously. In fact, the state’s largest employee union, AFSCME, has over 37,000 active members and approximately 100,000 retirees. While active members to recognize that the benefits packages of the past will most likely go from defined benefits to defined contribution, any discussion of changing retirees’ plans is met with fierce resistance.

Retirees complain that they did their part by allowing their retirement payments to be taken out of every check, and now it’s the state’s time to pay up. It’s a hard sell for the Governor and the Illinois constituents who will have to make up the difference. As Illinoisans continue to see their taxes rise while services continue to get cut, the public employee union retirees stand to bear the brunt of years of mismanagement.
The state’s bond a rating is crashing, CPS is on the brink of bankruptcy, and the impending literal shutdown of state government is looming. There are reports that Governor Rauner and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton are attempting to forge ahead with a solution, while Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan refuses to participate in reforming a mess that all agree he helped create. One cannot deny Governor Rauner’s role in the situation Illinois is facing today, but the truth is the state’s mess was not created during Rauner’s one year in office, and will take until long after he is gone to correct.

Police Murders Expose Black Intergenerational Differences


Maze Jackson

The image of the microphone being taken from the Rev. Jesse Jackson during the Black Friday Shutdown of Michigan Avenue had the local and national media abuzz. The moment seemed to be a symbolic “taking of the torch” from the civil rights generation by the millennial.   Mainstream media has portrayed the situation as a struggle between the young and old, but upon further examination it seems as though it’s a much more complex situation that must be sorted out as the emerging Black political movement grows with each police murder.

The gains of the Civil Rights Generation and eventually the Black Nationalism movement created a sense “community hood, an era in which we consciously organized around the question of our collective power,” stated Dr. Conrad Worrill, of Northeastern Illinois University. “I was born a Negro, Generation X and Y was born Black,” he continues. “It was the Black Power Movement that shook up America on the question of our Black collective power. We have historical intergenerational discontinuity. This generation does not know what the previous generation did.”

That discontinuity has percolated locally under the surface for years and boiled finally over in front of a national audience during the Black Friday Shutdown of Michigan Avenue. Local community activists who had spent years claiming that civil rights leaders of the past only show up for the cameras, demanded that they get in line “with the rest of the community, not in front of it!” said Mark Carter, Community Activist at ONE Chicago. “We have to be on the same page, not just one person’s personal agenda.”

Carter, who established his role as one of Chicago’s leading Gen X community activists working with the ex-offender community, has been a long time detractor and antagonist for old-time civil rights leaders and preachers alike, often loudly voicing his displeasure with them in public settings. But despite long-term grievances with Jackson, even Carter recognizes that Blacks of different eras and generations must combine forces to combat the epidemic of police murder of innocent Black people in Chicago. Even so, Carter is very clear about the role he feels the civil rights generation must play.

“Those that have led the civil rights generation, it is time to move to an advisory role. It is time that the hip-hop generation takes responsibility for our children who are now out there on the front lines. We must mentor them into leadership side by side with us as their parents,” Carter says referring to the millennial that have taken to the streets in response constant flow police murders captured on tape.

Those millennial are the children of Gen X, the “hip-hop generation,” that by in large traded Black activism and nationalism for education and materialism. At the same time, the Gen Xers reaped the benefits of affirmative action programs that attempted to correct the wrongs highlighted by the civil rights and “Black nationalist movement’s work around organizing our collective Black power,” says Worrill. “The eradication of racial segregation under the law was a victory for our movement, but it had a flaw. We misunderstood integration and desegregation. As a result we stopped supporting our own institutions and rebuilding our interests on the basis of power. We had more political power with less elected officials.”
Which meant that a majority of the members of Gen X dropped their guards toward racism and focused on participating in a multicultural society. While multiculturalism began as a good thing, it eventually led to the dismantling of the advances of the civil rights and Black Nationalism movement. The result, the children of Black Gen Xers are back on the front lines, ironically marching for some of the same reasons their grandparents and great grandparents did before them.

As the city tries desperately to contain the powder keg being created by the continual murder of innocent Black people, Gen X leaders believe that it is important to take the reins and work with the millennial to determine the future of the Black community, while always reaching back to the elders for guidance and council. But make no mistake about it; the next generation of Black leaders believes their time is now.

“It’s too dangerous of a time for our young adults with limited experience and information to try and lead this alone. These are our children and so we understand them and their concerns. But we also know when we were young we thought we had it all figured out,” Carter reiterated.

Emanuel Puts Aldermen in Uncomfortable Position with $5 Million Settlement


Maze Jackson

The fallout from the release of Chicago Police Department’s dashcam video of LaQuan McDonald being murdered in the street by Officer Jason Van Dyke has triggered backlash against some of Chicago’s most high-profile elected officials and leaders. Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy was the first casualty of the fallout, but even his firing has not stopped Chicagoans for calling for the heads of every elected official who was involved in what now looks like a cover up.

Chicagoans continue to call for the resignations of States Attorney Anita Alvarez as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s. There are also calls for the officers who were on the scene to be prosecuted as well. Even the Chicago City aldermen who unanimously agreed to the $5 million dollar settlement are facing the wrath of voters, for their perceived participation in the cover up.   But with Chicagoans facing a $588 million dollars tax increase, some have implied that the aldermen did the best thing they could for the taxpayers, who would have been on the hook for paying a monstrous settlement had the case gone to court.

The fact of the matter is that Chicagoans have paid out over $521 million dollars in police brutality settlements over the past 10 years with almost 500 cases still pending. That is just under the $588 million tax increase that the city council passed earlier this year, ironically to fund police and fire pensions. Council critics and supporters alike agree that had the case gone to a jury trial, the potential jury award could have been upwards of $50-$100 million, a cost that would have been passed on to taxpayers who were already facing the largest tax increase in the city’s history. For many alderman, the situation was a no brainer, pay $5 million now or pay $100 million later. When presented with those options, it was only logical that aldermen approve the $5 million settlement.

But the because of the horrific nature of the video, most Black Chicagoans have ignored the direct financial implications of a jury verdict against the city would have been, which has been the source of backlash against the aldermen.

“Initially, the family’s attorney wanted $16 million, but after some negotiation and research of similar incidents, all parties agreed on the sum of $5 million dollars. While that is not the largest settlement we have made, it was nowhere near the bottom,” Brookins maintains.

When questioned if they had seen the video prior to its release 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin is clear. “There was an active criminal investigation, both at the state and federal levels. After seeing a draft of the lawsuit, we asked the Corporation Counsel were the allegations true, he said yes. We authorized the settlement with the estate of the family. No one in the legislative branch had any idea how long the investigation would take, but we wanted to make sure the family was treated fairly,” said 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin.

Other Black aldermen maintain that they did not see the tape until moments before it was released to the public. Outraged activists and community leaders balk at the aldermen who maintain that they had not seen the tape, but in a city that approves approximately $52 million dollars annually and $4.3 million monthly in police brutality settlements, it is easy to understand why a $5 million dollar settlement would not raise many eyebrows. According to current Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus Chairman, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer, “While I am new to the Finance Committee, I do know that we approve a variety of settlements of all types every month. This was one of them”

Consider the statements of Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, whose committee has been responsible for recommending over $521 million in settlements to the entire City Council, when asked about the LaQuan McDonald shooting, Burke said “There is no institutional problem in the Chicago Police Department. I personally think it’s the best-trained, most effective, most honest big-city police department in the nation.”

Burke’s opinion is in stark contrast to members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus who have demanded a federal investigation into CPD and it’s practices after seeing the video. “We have know that there are racist cops on the police force who have been shooting Black men. Now, with the advent of technology, we are finally able to prove it,” said Sawyer.

“But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is focusing on getting these racist officers, disciplined, out of service, and eventually indicted,” Sawyer continues. “Then we must begin to fix the relationship between the Black community and the police department.”

When questioned on the possibility of a cover up, Chicago aldermen maintaine that the city’s Coporation Council Steve Patton did not attempt to hide or cover up the facts surrounding the shooting of LaQuan McDonald, when discussing it with them. In fact, they say the settlement was an acknowledgement of the fact that Officer Van Dyke’s version of the story was false.

But some aldermen who choose to remain anonymous have grumbled that as Corporation Counsel, Patton’s job is to protect the corporation (City) not the individual (Emanuel) as it is the issue in the allegations of a City Hall cover up. Still, most aldermen feel they did the right thing by settling the McDonald case out of court.

“The city of Chicago only has one way to acknowledge when we have wronged someone, and that is to pay them,” says 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, who was Chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus at the time of the settlement. “But we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers we represent who would have been forced to pay the jury settlement. It would not have been us as aldermen paying, but the taxpayers.”

When questioned about whether he would support a call for Emanuel’s resignation, Sawyer is clear. “We don’t have a process to recall the Mayor, so I don’t want him nor Alvarez to step down. I think it is time for our community to mobilize and be ready to take Alvarez’ office next year, and get ready to vote in 2019.”






Maze Jackson

During the darkest hours of Mayor Emanuel’s runoff campaign, he worked hard to downplay the looming property tax that many insiders knew was inevitable. Last Wednesday, that inevitability became reality when the Chicago City Council passed Mayor Emanuel’s $588 million tax increase. In addition, the City Council passed a much maligned garbage pick up fee that will cost Chicagoans approximately $9.50 extra monthly. Many assumed the inevitability of that massive tax increase and the impending voter backlash is what led Emanuel to declare during his campaign, that this would be his last term.

But in what was an unexpected turnabout, immediately after the passage of the historic tax increase, Emanuel announced that he was planning on running for a 3rd term. Perhaps he was emboldened by passage of the tax increase, maybe he has given up his national aspirations after becoming damaged goods in Chicago’s first ever-mayoral runoff, or it could be the lack of a credible challenger on the horizon. Regardless of the circumstances, Emanuel got his tax increase, and Chicago has its Mayor for the foreseeable future.

But according to Danielle Stanley, Research Assistant at the Center for Budget and Tax Accountability, Chicagoans are not in the clear. As previously reported in the Chicago Defender, a significant part of the solution relies on a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to solve it’s own budget issues.

“In the spring of 2015, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 777 (Cullerton/Currie), which changes the 2010 law and reduces the City’s required contributions to the police and fire pension funds. If SB77 is not signed into law and the city will need other funding/revenue options,” Stanley said.

While Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner are known friends and associates, the budgetary crises at state and local levels have strained the relationship between the two men, with Emanuel calling for Rauner to “Stop name calling and do your job!” To which Rauner rebutted with an offer to send Emanuel some dead frozen fish in a not so veiled reference to Emanuel’s past election antics. Regardless, Emanuel will need Springfield to fix his budget.

Assuming the two can get their act together approximately 62% of the tax increase will go to shore up police and fire pensions and 31 percent will go to debt service.   According to Stanley, “The city is responsible for paying the employer contribution for the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the Laborers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (LABF), the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEA), and the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago. Three of the four city pension funds have a current funded ratio below 50 percent.”

She continues, “In 2010, Governor Quinn signed into law PA 96-1495 which created tier 2 of pension benefits for public employees hired after January 1, 2011. The legislation also created a new funding plan for police and fire funds, which required the City to begin putting more money in those funds starting in FY2015. The total amount in the City should have budgeted to contribute to all four pension funds for FY2015 was $1.1 billion. However, the City only budgeted for $557 million.“

So the question remains, how will Chicagoans respond to such a large tax increase, when the funding goes to pay old bills with limited new services?   Stanley says the taxes and fees collected would, “bring an additional $125.3 million in revenue for the Corporate Fund Tax (city’s general operating fund).” According to an Emanuel press release, that will provide:

  • 27,000 youth afterschool opportunities
  • 25,000 summer job opportunities
  • 5,500 pre-school slots
  • Open 15 new early learning centers at Chicago Public Library Branches
  • Transform 5 CPS-School-Based Clinics into Health Clinics serving 3,000 patients annually per site
  • Repaving roads
  • Expand free breast health services and mammogram screenings to more uninsured women
  • Expand primary health care services to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS
  • Improvements to sewer and water
  • Moving police officers from the desk to walk the beat
  • Expand city services by adding 5 more baiting crews and 10 other tree trimming crews to eliminate the backlog
  • Affordable housing for senior-citizens and transit for accessibility

And while the Mayor’s office touts the benefits of the budget, Stanley warns of the negative impacts to the Black community. “A property tax hike will have a negative impact by raising the tax bills for homeowners and, most likely, landlords will shift the cost to renters.”

“Senior citizens who are living on a fixed income most likely cannot handle the pressure of additional bills. Working black families who have not received a raise in years are expected to handle the financial burden of annual increase taxes, garbage fees, and taxi or ride sharing fees on top of their household expenses,” she continues.

But she also shared the impacts that Mayor Emanuel hopes will benefit the Black community directly, including afterschool opportunities for our youth and wrap around services for youth. “Mayor Emanuel is restoring 5,500 pre-school slots that Governor Rauner slashed from the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) last summer.”

She also says in the current budget, “Emanuel will also move more police officers to the beat from the desks which means safer streets essentially. Communities plagued with gun violence should receive a stronger police presence in impacted neighborhoods. New officers to the beat, (but those) officers should receive sensitivity and cultural training beforehand.”

Regardless, Emanuel and the City Council have done the heavy lifting that they hope will get Chicago on the proper fiscal course. “Four years ago we began charting a new course for Chicago’s future, and with today’s vote, we took a big step toward finally finishing the job,” said Mayor Emanuel.  “I want to thank the members of the Council who voted to take decisive and determined action to right our financial ship and put progress ahead of politics.  We have a lot more work to do and I look forward to continuing working together to create jobs and make sure the economic opportunities reach every neighborhood of Chicago.”

Chicagoans will have 3 ½ years to decide if they are headed in the right direction or if they should change course. Emanuel is betting $588 million dollars, his job, and the careers of his city council allies on it.

Dunkin Breaks with Madigan, Says Not “Enough…for Black People”


Maze Jackson


Fifth District State Representative Kenneth “Ken” Dunkin seems to have no problem keeping his family commitments and travel schedule even if it comes into conflict with Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan’s political power plays. Some might even infer that those “family commitments and travel schedule” include a broader family, the residents of his district, and in some cases the even larger Black community of Illinois.

Born and raised in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Housing Projects, Dunkin has always been one to go against the grain. “Even as a kid, we called him ‘GQ’, because Ken was always trying to achieve a higher standard. Whether it was how he dressed or the way he carried himself, he always knew we could do better,” recounts childhood friend and fellow Phi Beta Sigma brother Cyril Nichols. Dunkin went on to graduate from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and received his Masters from the University of Chicago. Dunkin ran the Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club, before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2002.

While in Springfield, Dunkin established a reputation as a legislator who was willing to buck Madigan to cut a better deal for the constituents of his district. Dunkin even aligned himself with former Governor Rod Blagojevich when it made the most sense for his constituents. Because of his alliance with Blagojevich, Dunkin faced numerous Madigan backed challengers early in his career, soundly defeating all challengers. During the last remap, Madigan went as far as to map Dunkin out of his home base, but being the consummate campaigner, Dunkin adapted and re-elected with little fuss.

In 2009, when Madigan wanted to put his full power on display against his then political mortal enemy Governor Rod Blagojevich, “family commitments and travel schedule” kept Dunkin from being present to vote on the impeachment. Dunkin’s refusal to take part in the process was symbolic of Dunkin’s unwillingness to kick Blagojevich, who was wildly popular in the Black community in spite of his legal issues, while he was down.

Since the House voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, Dunkin’s absence was easily missed, but when Senate Bill 1229 failed, and Madigan said “if Mr. Dunkin were here we would have had 71 votes” because of those same “family commitments and travel schedule,” it sent a ripple through Springfield. When Dunkin was quoted to ABC 7 reporter Charles Thomas as saying “There was not enough in the bill for Black people!” that ripple became a shock wave.

Dunkin sent a shockwave through Springfield, because for the first time, he dared interject the interests of the Black community into the political death match between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats led by Speaker Madigan. Because the Governor has veto power, the Senate has a bulletproof super majority, and the House has a super majority, the state budget impasse has reached gridlock. Dunkin’s break from Madigan over Black issues could become the game changer for either side, up to this point, only Rauner has been even willing to discuss the needs of the Black community specifically.


Springfield Power Dynamics

In the Illinois Senate, President John Cullerton listens closely to the advise and counsel of Assistant Majority Leader and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Senator Kimberly A. Lightford. Additionally, the Senate Black Caucus has taken the lead in identifying areas of compromise, but are leery to trust Rauner, who they say has yet to back up his campaign promises. “We haven’t seen the business he was supposed to bring.” Lightford said, but she did indicate that there was room for compromise. “I can see some term limits if you think some people have been there too long and have a monopoly (on state government)” she continued in a veiled reference to the 40 year Speaker of the House.

In the Illinois House the situation is a bit different. While the Illinois Speaker of the House is widely regarded at the most powerful man in Illinois, his position of strength relies on his ability to control his members. In this situation, Madigan must be able to corral all 71 of his members to be able to override Rauner’s ability to veto, and any defection leaves Speaker Madigan in the weakest negotiating position of the three major players. Always the master strategist, in the past Madigan has typically been able to convince at least one Republican to vote with Democrats, but since Rauner entered the scene, he has commanded the loyalty of the House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

While Cullerton has the strongest Democratic position, he and his Senate colleagues have taken a backseat to the “Madigan v. Rauner Show.” Equally in the background, is the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, who until this point has also been overshadowed, even though they control the second largest Caucus in Springfield. Rauner has openly courted their support, and has been rumored to have offered the Black Caucus a menu of social service and economic concessions tailored to the Black community. The Black Caucus so far has rejected Rauner’s overtures because his of his stance on basic “Democratic core values.”

Meanwhile, Madigan has yet to even mention the issues that concern the Black community, with many suggesting that he is at the root of Black’s being excluded from equal participation in state contract’s and political decision-making process. As a matter of fact, during Madigan’s 40-year tenure as Speaker, he has never had a Black person on his Senior Leadership Team. He has been able to count on the unquestioned support of the Black Caucus members, without ever having to face his own record in the Black community… until Ken Dunkin missed that vote and audaciously mentioned, “Black People!”


Senate Bill 1229

When Black State Representative Ken Dunkin missed the vote on Senate Bill 1229, he took on two of the most powerful forces in Springfield, Speaker Madigan and organized labor. The bill, which would have strengthened state employee labor union AFSCME’s negotiating power and proved Mike Madigan as the biggest boss in Springfield failed by 3 votes, and Madigan blamed it singularly on Dunkin’s absence, he inadvertently gave the Black community their strongest negotiating tool in almost two generations.

Traditionally, state workers negotiate their contract with the Governor and the Executive Branch not the Legislative Branch, but because of the extreme anti-union position Bruce Rauner has taken against unions, AFSCME sought the assistance of the General Assembly to gain additional leverage. Because AFSCME needed to involve the Legislative Branch in the negotiations because things are not going so well, Dunkin saw it as the perfect opportunity for Black legislators to leverage concessions from the trade union that represents state workers including downstate prison guards.

Dunkin admits he voted for the bill initially, but after Rauner vetoed the bill and he had more opportunity to ask questions, AFSCME representatives told him that they “don’t typically share that information.” Dunkin admits he was incredulous at the fact that the union would not provide the information he requested, but still demanded his vote and unquestioned support. Dunkin knowing that he had previous commitments said “he informed House leadership that he would be unavailable” the following week. House leadership scheduled the voted anyway, and added SB 570 to restore childcare subsidy levels, on the same day with hopes of guaranteeing Black lawmakers would be present for the vote.

When Dunkin followed through with family plans and travel schedule as he had previously communicated, the Speaker called SB 1229 in his absence. When the bill failed by 3 votes, Dunkin alone was vilified by the leader of the Democratic Caucus for the bill’s failure. Then knowing that he did not have the votes to pass the childcare bill, SB 570, the Speaker called it and it failed by one vote. Insiders speculated that Madigan called the bill knowing it would fail, so that it could be used against Dunkin in future campaigns. It is common practice of in Springfield to leverage Black social service needs to secure votes on issues important to him. While SB 570 failed, it Rep. Jehan Gordon made a motion to reconsider, which allowed SB 570 to be called again, a fact that has been lost in all the rhetoric.

While the Speaker and AFSCME continued to attack Dunkin, for being “disloyal,” they fail to mention that 40% of AFSCME’s downstate membership voted for Governor Rauner in the past election. They also fail to mention that they spent the better part of two years attacking Democratic governor Pat Quinn. They also fail to mention that threatened to “punish” Dunkin for not supporting their bill.

In the Black community, the narrative has been all about the failure of SB 570, but the real battle was SB 1229, because it would have given Madigan and AFSCME the upper hand in their negotiations with Rauner. When Dunkin made the declaration, “I don’t work for Mike Madigan,” he dramatically shifted the power of the super majority out of the hands of the all-powerful Madigan into the hands of a Black man. It’s a position that Blacks have not been in very often, and are very uncomfortable with.

While most Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members have remained silent, it is clear from their response that they are not happy with Dunkin. They have refused to speak out publicly against the former Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, but behind the scenes many are calling for the Speaker to “punish” Dunkin, but that would leave the Speaker in a precarious position.

While the House Democrats have a super-majority, there is no room for error. If they lose one vote, the Governor’s vetoes stick, making the super-majority worthless unless the can increase it. As we saw this week after Dunkin’s no-show, the power dynamic shifts pretty fast in Springfield if anyone, particularly anyone Black leaves the proverbial “plantation,” a notion thought unthinkable until Dunkin rebelled against Madigan publicly last week.

That leaves the Speaker with a lot to think about, and based on his record in the Black community, that is not something he’s had to do for 40 years.




Son of Chicago’s Last Black Mayor Takes Helm of Chicago Black Caucus


Maze Jackson

Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus Chairman and Sixth Ward Alderman Roderick “Rod” Sawyer was born to do this job, literally. As the youngest son of Chicago’s second and last Black Mayor, Eugene Sawyer, Alderman Rod Sawyer learned Chicago politics through the lens of the Harold Washington political era. This third son of Alderman turned Mayor Sawyer, Rod knew at an early age that he would eventually become a politician.

“I caught the bug,” Sawyer recalls. “I was intrigued by politics at an early age. I liked how he got treated for helping everyone. People looked out for him, made sure we were ok. It was a constant feeling of community.” Sawyer attended the prestigious all Black, non-religious private school Howalton Day School growing up. He went on to St. Ignatius for high school, DePaul for undergrad, and completed his law degree at Chicago Kent College of Law. All the while Sawyer stayed involved in politics with is father, one of Harold Washington’s top allies.
“When Harold ran,” Sawyer reminisces, “Dad was the first elected official to be with him.”  And it had paid off. Ald. Eugene Sawyer was Washington’s President Pro-Tem and Chairman of the Committee on Rules.  But it was during the young Sawyer’s first year of law school that Black politics in Chicago changed forever.

“We were sitting in a bar when the news that Harold was on his way to the hospital came on. I ran to a pay phone, called Dad and he told me to come to City Hall. When I got there he and the people in the room were crying.   Harold had passed,” Sawyer recounts.

“My dad just wanted to fill out the rest of Harold’s term, to finish the work they began.” While things did not end well for the elder Sawyer, Rod Sawyer recounts the 15 months Mayor Eugene Sawyer were great times for Black people. “He was the original person to ask ‘What’s in it for the Black people?’ and he meant it.” Sawyer contends that the Black community got more out of his father’s 15-months tenure than they ever have since. Sawyer also proudly points to the fact that during his father’s term, Wrigley Field got lights, the City Council passed the Human Rights ordinance, and signed an unprecedented 4 year agreement with police and fire. But Eugene Sawyer always had Black on his mind.

“Blacks were at the top of my dad’s list. We led the city in business, contracts, employment, bond trading and debt service,” Sawyer says wistfully. It is that level of Black participation in city business that led Sawyer to pursue the position of alderman and eventually Chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, a job that the previous two Chairmen have happily relinquished at the end of their terms.

In 2011, Sawyer fulfilled his lifelong calling to become an alderman. While he was a practicing attorney, Sawyer stayed in the community he grew up in and always remained active, working with local business owners and community groups, but when the opportunity to run presented itself, Sawyer seized it and ran for Alderman. He ran a simple campaign, promising to “clean up, fix the streets, keep the lights on, and expand the business corridors. I had grown up in this business, so I knew the job.”

But getting to know Mayor Emanuel was a completely different story. “We did not really talk during my first four years. I just got his number this year,” Sawyer laughs. “But I knew how to get my stuff done. I knew department heads, commissioners, and deputies in place that had been there for years, who were willing to help.”   Compounding the tensions between Sawyer and Emanuel was Sawyer’s membership in the “Progressive Caucus,” which has made it their business to challenge Emanuel at every turn. To say the relationship between the Progressive Caucus members and the Mayor was frosty was an understatement.

But after the 2014 Municipal Election, Sawyer won outright and Emanuel was forced into a runoff with CTU backed Chuy Garcia. Looking for friends and support in the Black community, the relationship between Emanuel and Sawyer thawed because Sawyer leads one of the highest voting wards in the city.   When Emanuel came to Sawyer for support, Sawyer obliged and the lines of communication between the two were opened up. “We talked more in the first month after he was re-elected than we did in the whole four years of my last term,” Sawyer explains. When Sawyer was elected Chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, the Mayor playfully gave him one of his famous one word “expletives” as a welcome.

The title Chairman of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, while prestigious comes with the unique challenge of getting 18 different Black aldermen that represent completely different communities, with different issues to vote together. It is a very difficult task, Sawyer admits, “so we are trying to do it in small bites. I am trying to find basic issues that everyone can agree on, like increasing Black contracting opportunities. We all agree that needs to happen, but how do we get there? Small bites.”

“I want the Black Caucus to be relevant again. We have eighteen members, eight shy of a majority.” Some of Sawyer’s top priorities as Chairman include addressing meritorious promotions for police detectives, increased contracting opportunities, and Sawyer would like to get the word “minority” out of all city procurement. “We are not a minority in this City, so we need a paradigm shift on how we approach business in this city. Black and Brown need to operate from a position of strength.”

But Sawyer’s position with the Progressive Caucus brings his leadership into question with some members of the Black Caucus who are closely aligned with the Mayor. One Black alderman who asked not to be identified suggested that Sawyer would have a challenge getting “eighteen votes against the Mayor. What can Rod bring to the table for my ward?”

Sawyer on the other hand is optimistic about the challenges he faces as he leads the Black Caucus. “I am excited that members want to get engaged, plus we have a new influx of who want to be about something.” But Sawyer also says the Black Caucus cannot do it alone, the community has a responsibility as well.

“We should have 20,000 votes from every Black every ward. We are doing ourselves a disservice to ourselves. Crime, poor education, and unemployment are by products of people getting out to vote. When we voted we had Black businesses, commissioners, contract and jobs. Heck we even had a Black mayor!”

And Sawyer knows that first hand, after all he did live with Chicago’s last Black Mayor.




















Black Students Return to School But Will the Funding


Maze Jackson

According to the Mayor and CPS officials, Chicago Public School students have made tremendous progress in spite of school closings and budget cuts. But as those students prepare to return to school on September 9th, they will feel the impact of the $500 million teacher pension crisis in the classroom. While most would agree schools are built for the children inside them, increasingly those children are losing to factors outside of the school. Combine that $500 million deficit with the gridlock in Springfield, and the trip back to school will be a difficult journey for Black Chicago Public School students and their parents.

To understand the impacts of a $500 million shortfall, it is important to understand how we got here. Currently, Chicago is the only school district in the state of Illinois that must fund its own teachers’ pensions.

“This budget reflects the reality of where we are today: facing a squeeze from both ends, in which CPS is receiving less state funding to pay our bills even as our pension obligations swell to nearly $700 million this year,” new CPS Chief Forrest Claypool stated. Claypool has asked the Illinois General Assembly to resolve that by having the state of Illinois cover Chicago teacher pension costs as well.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our leaders in Springfield to rank education funding reform and finally end the inequity that requires Chicago alone to take scarce dollars from the classroom to pay for teacher pensions,” Claypool said in a press release. Democrats have indicated that they are willing to aid CPS, but Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has made clear he will not support without passing his “Turnaround Agenda.”

“For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs,” Rauner told a skeptical city council in a July address to the City’s governing body. With little to no progress in Springfield, and little expectation of any movement in the Rauner-Madigan face-off for the near future, it seems that CPS students will return to school with far fewer resources than last year, $68 million fewer to be exact. But what does that mean exactly for students?

It means 1500 layoffs district wide. Those layoffs will include 479 school teachers, 866 in-school support staff, and 146 citywide employees. According to CPS, those cuts will impact less than 2 percent of teachers citywide, including 204 high school teachers and 275 elementary school teachers. While that number may seem nominal, it means direct impact to the lives of students, particularly on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Not only does it mean increased classroom size, it also means less support for those teachers who will be operating with increased classrooms, which are predicted to grow to almost 40 students.

The impact of increased classroom size is compounded, when special needs are factored in. According to a Catalyst Chicago Report, “Specialty schools for high-needs students lost on average 16.8 percent of their staffing since the start of last school year — significantly higher than the average 1.6-percent staffing reduction that other district-run schools saw.”

Upon further analysis, Catalyst Chicago concludes, “Schools with high concentrations of African-American students and students in poverty make up many of the schools hardest hit by staffing loses, again reflecting enrollment trends. Among those same 75 schools, more than half were schools where 95 percent or more of the student population were black or low-income.” Essentially, as the city continues to grow, cuts to the budget are coming disproportionately out of Black schools that arguably need the most resources.

In addition to the fact that services cuts are disproportionately affecting Black and special needs students, the school day will shift anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.  In the case of elementary schools, students may begin as early as 7:45am, and in the case of some high schools, start times will begin as late as 9:00am. According to CPS, the change in start times will save about $13.5 million annually. While the savings will be significant for CPS, they may be more expensive for the parents who will have to make childcare arrangements to accommodate the changes.

Elementary schools students will also take a blow as the 2015-2016 CPS budget removes funding for all elementary school sports programs. Unlike the cuts to special services, the removal of elementary school sports is not disproportionate to schools that are predominately Black, because they were removed from all elementary school programs. Like all cuts CPS maintains that they are fair and equitable across the board, which appears to be the case with elementary school sports. It is important to note that CPS did not ban elementary sports totally, but required the schools to do their own fundraising to support their teams.

Critics point to the fact that the more affluent CPS schools on the North and Southwest Sides have greater fundraising ability to support their athletic programs, while predominately Black schools struggle to find the more resources like basic supplies and school books. Additionally, with cuts to music and arts programs as well, many are Blacks are concerned that Black children will be left without the necessary programs to keep students engaged and well-rounded.

The 2015-2016 school year for CPS is shaping up to be one of the most challenging years ever. With a $1.1 billion structural deficit and no relief from Springfield anticipated in the near future, the back to school season is going to be a costly issue for parents and students alike. For parents it will be everything from adjusting work schedules, paying for after-school activities, and the massive property tax hike which appears inevitable. For kids it will be adjusting to larger classrooms with fewer teachers, resources, and extracurricular activities. Next week will definitely be back to school week, but with all the cuts, there will be a lot fewer familiar faces and activities for Black students.






City Budget Crisis Hits Black Community


Maze Jackson

While all eyes have been focused on the budget battle in Springfield, Chicago has a budget crisis of it’s own to manage. In May, when Republican Governor Bruce Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council, he made it clear that Chicago could not look to Springfield to solve its budget issues. Currently, Governor Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan are locked in a fierce budget battle of their own, which leaves Chicago on it’s own to solve its own budget crisis.

To understand the Chicago budget crisis fully, it is necessary to look at how the crisis was created. Here is the simple breakdown. The city of Chicago is responsible for paying for a portion of retirement benefits for its unionized employees, who are responsible for paying the other part. In return, when those employees retire the city guarantees them a portion of their salary (pension) along with medical and dental benefits. The city currently contributes to the Municipal Employees’ Annuity &Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEABF), Laborers’ & Retirement Board Employees’ Annuity & Benefit Fund (LABF), Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund, and Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.

Over the last 15 years while city employees continued to pay their share, the city was not paying its share. According to the Commission to Strengthen Chicago’s Pension Fund’s Final Report, “the Funds had lost ground in the falling market of the 2000-2002 ‘dot-com bust’ but had not substantially recovered in the subsequent rising market, despite good returns on investment.” This required the city to borrow money to pay the benefits for a steady stream of retirees, essentially putting it “on the credit card.” As the city continued to charge the pension payments, the interest payments on that debt grew, requiring the city to borrow more money just to keep up with the interest payments, creating a “vicious cycle” whiled leaving the pensions woefully underfunded according to the report.

The city essentially reached its credit limit in May, when Moody’s Investor Services downgraded Chicago’s bond rating status to junk. That means that the cost of borrowing money increases dramatically. It also means that Chicago it will be less attractive to investors, with some pension funds even being forbidden to purchase bonds with a junk rating. All parties agree, Chicago has got to solve the pension crisis, and none of the solutions are pleasant.

The Emanuel Administration spent its first term laying the blame for every tough decision at the feet of the “previous” administration, rightfully so. In his last years, Mayor Daley made some questionable decisions to balance budgets, including selling the Chicago Skyway and the infamous parking meter deal. But as Mayor Daley fades in the minds of Chicagoans, the pressure is on Mayor Emanuel to give answers, and blaming the previous administration will not be enough for the taxpayers.

In 2012 Emanuel resurrected an old Daley favorite, privatization of Midway Airport. to try to discuss the pension deficit structurally. The idea was tabled when the winning bidder declined the offer. Emanuel has also been said to favor a Chicago-based casino, but with the current budget impasse in Springfield, that solution is still a way off.

Most recently, Emanuel proposed a state law that would cut retiree benefits in exchange for repaying the pensions unfunded liability. Judge Rita Novak struck the law down as unconstitutional. It was Emanuel’s second attempt to fix the city’s budget through Springfield, with the first attempt being struck down in the Illinois Supreme Court. Things do not look good, and from all accounts, Emanuel is preparing for the worst.

The Chicago Defender obtained a letter from Alex Holt, Director of Office of Management and Budget to Chicago aldermen “regarding the acceleration of the 2016 budget process.” She says, “This year’s budget will be extremely challenging, in large part because of significant pension obligations, and it will require some difficult choices, both in terms of reforms and revenue. But through consistent and constructive collaboration, we can establish a comprehensive budget that makes responsible financial choices while continuing to make essential investments in neighborhoods, infrastructure and public safety.”

Springfield Rules


Maze Jackson

If you know anything about Springfield, you know The Rule: The Speaker always wins. Everyone knows not to get on The Speaker’s bad side or you risk the possibility of being neutered in state government and politics. It appears however, that Governor Bruce Rauner does not know The Rule, nor does he care.

Feared as the most powerful man in Illinois politics, rarely if ever is The Speaker’s authority questioned. While the media likes to portray The Speaker as some nefarious character in the murky world of an Illinois political drama, he has actually proven to be the leader strong enough to build “consensus” among his members. From what I have observed, The Speaker spends a significant amount of time accommodating his members, converting even the candidates most vocal against him on the campaign trail into supporters once in the legislature.   The Speaker also has a formidable, military-like political organization that relies on discipline, legislation, and fundraising to maintain control of state government. The Speaker’s status is rarely challenged and his members remain loyal because of The Rule.

Enter Governor Bruce Rauner trying to break The Rule with Black people possibly paying the price. Rauner campaigned heavily on the promise to beat The Speaker in Springfield, but he has found the task to be a bit more difficult than he anticipated.   Unlike The Speaker, he is a business titan but a political novice, with even less knowledge of Springfield. Governor Rauner also has a talented, yet relatively green to Springfield staff, even if for no other reason than Democratic dominance for the last decade. What he lacks in experience he makes up with money: money to insulate himself and his staff from the effects of a government shutdown; money to finance media campaigns; money to finance campaigns; and money allows him to ignore The Rule.

The Speaker has already shown his early dominance, soundly defeating every significant piece of legislation that Governor Rauner proposed. The Speaker has also gotten the Governor to remove two of the four pillars of his turnaround agenda. By all accounts, it is only a matter of time before The Speaker teaches the Governor, The Rule; except this time I am not so sure it will be as easy.

On numerous occasions, I have heard Governor Rauner speak, and somewhere in that speech, he always says something to the gist of, “I am willing to take the arrows…be the bad guy.” Translation: “I’ve made the necessary but painful necessary for the long-term sustainability of the company, regardless of the human impact.” And that’s why I think The Speaker may have a much more difficult time teaching the Governor The Rule.

Bruce Rauner the businessman has prepared Governor Rauner for the protests that will ensue if the government shuts down. Bruce Rauner the philanthropist has prepared Governor Rauner for stories of the families that will suffer. And the long-term outcome for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has prepared Governor Bruce Rauner for a protracted union battle (Walker is now considered a potential Presidential candidate.)

In Illinois, we have grown accustomed to Democratic governors who, regardless of their issues, put “people” first regardless of “fiscal” challenges. Gov. Rauner came into office prepared to deal with the “fiscal” challenges, regardless of the “people.” In the past The Speaker was able to give the governor a budget and let him “take the arrows…be the bad guy,” for the any cuts. Those governors were always concerned with voters, so they generally did not make deeps cuts to services important to Black people, so Black people usually benefitted from The Rule.

If The Speaker gives Governor Rauner a budget with a $3 billion hole, he WILL make the cuts. We already know those cuts will not be good for Black people. So, I am not suggesting that The Rule has changed, but maybe the game has.