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

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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.

Background

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.

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Police Murders Expose Black Intergenerational Differences

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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.

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Mt. Carmel: Black Parents Want Out of Football Mecca

 

by

Maze Jackson

By all accounts most parents that sent their kids to Mt. Carmel Catholic High School thought they knew what they were getting themselves and their children into. Known as a “football school,” Black parents that send their children to Mt. Carmel to play football know that it will be tough, but hope that the outcome will be better mean and productive citizens. Knowing this, they optimistically place their children in the care of Mt. Carmel.

Mount Carmel is a football mecca, few would argue with its success because the proof is in the pudding. Lead by Frank Lenti, an old school Catholic League football coach who rules his teams with absolute authority, Mt. Carmel is second only to Joliet Catholic with thirteen Illinois state football championships under its belt. Mt. Carmel also has a record of consistently producing college level players, which is a major factor that attracts Black parents, sometimes with limited resources to the Catholic League football powerhouse.

But behind the bright lights, state championships, and college recruiting come allegations of academic discrimination, punishment vs. payment, and a football first mentality that many of those same Black parents did not expect. This first in a series of articles will focus on Mt. Carmel as one of the last Catholic high schools on the south-east side of Chicago, struggling to maintain its connections to traditional base while keeping a tight grip on changing Black athletes.

Legacy on Hard Times

Mt. Carmel has to maintain the delicate balance between staying connected to its legacy while generating revenue under current market conditions. Mt. Carmel’s issues are compounded by its physical location which is at 64th and Dante, in a neighborhood bordered by the edge of the University of Chicago and Stony Island. Based on its location alone, Mt. Carmel has to fight the stigma of being in the “hood” as it also tries to compete with rival Catholic schools that are located closer to “safer” enclaves on the southwest and northwest sides.

Increasingly, the same Catholic schools in those same enclave, are becoming a refuge for the residents of the northwest and southwest sides seeking to protect their children from the ills that plague CPS, a fact that Mt. Carmel’s Principal John Stimler readily admits.

“We have to compete for students with places like Saint Rita and Marist and it’s a challenge to get them to come here when their parents are concerned about shootings on Stony Island. It’s really tough,” he lamented. “We have the other schools saying we are going to be the next Hales,” he continues, referring to Hales Franciscan High School, the predominately Black Catholic high school on 49th and Cottage Grove.

But Mt. Carmel’s history and legacy as a football powerhouse keep the alumni contributing and college recruiters in the building. Some parents allege that as Mt. Carmel continues to struggle to find the resources to operate, it has traded academics excellence for a win at all costs mentality to appease alumni, who are willing to write checks for champions. Which is why some allege Mt. Carmel is willing to go to extreme measures to control its players

Football Plantation

One such example is Foster Williams IV. By all accounts, Williams was a standout player on the rise whose parents were actively involved in his life and football career. They agreed to send their son to Mt. Carmel for the opportunity to play for Lenti with hopes that the powerful coach could translate his football skills into a scholarship opportunity. But after three years, when Williams’ parents could no longer afford Mt. Carmel’s $11,300 tuition and fees, they decided to transfer him to Simeon because of financial hardship, a fact that Principal Stimler disputes.

“Foster Williams was a disgruntled parent who thought his son was better than he was, so he transferred his son to Simeon so he could play football. He used financial hardship as a way out. If a kid goes to school three years at Mt. Carmel we bend over backwards to make sure they graduate from here, so that wasn’t really the issue. Mr. Williams transferred his son purely for football reasons, which just isn’t right,” said Stimler.

Williams’ father tells a different story. “I could not afford Mt. Carmel anymore. How can anyone tell me my finances? They did not want my son to play anywhere else,” Foster Williams III said in an interview. Williams also states that when he decided to transfer his son out of Mt. Carmel, his family was subjected to threats and intimidation from the school, coaches and players.   According to Williams it began with Mt. Carmel trying to convince him to stay, but when they realized that he was determined to transfer to Simeon, things got ugly.

It began with Lenti allegedly telling a team captain that he would make sure that Williams would never be recruited by colleges. Williams says,” Lenti tried to make sure my son could not play in Chicago his senior year. He chose to sink his teeth in to my son. They tried to make him an example for the other kids, using fear and intimidation.”

According to Williams, one evening, a group of Mt. Carmel players showed up at his doorstep, looking for his son, and pinned a note to the door demanding the helmet. “A helmet I paid for. My son used it for summer camps so we bought it outright,” Williams recounts displaying a paid email from Mount Carmel. “But in today’s world, why any grown man would send a group of young people to my door is just unbelievable. It’s just plain irresponsible. They crossed the line.” Williams said.

“His son kept one of our helmets, painted blue, and posted it on Twitter. So yes, maybe coach encouraged some of the boys to go get the helmet. I mean come on, he posted our helmet painted blue, so of course nobody liked that, and you know how kids are,” Stimler said, referring to the same incident.

Williams also alleges to back up Lenti’s threat that Williams would never play football in Chicago again, Mt. Carmel refused to provide his son’s transcripts in a timely fashion for “fees,” which his father said was a tactic to “make my son miss the eligibility deadline. But I paid for everything including the fees. I wanted to make sure we could walk out of there free and clear.”

But he wasn’t free and clear according to the school. After giving Williams the transcripts, Mt. Carmel asked the IHSA to block Simeon from allowing Williams to play football based on boundary restrictions. “We did ask the IHSA to enforce its own rules,” confirmed Stimler, who is coincidentally a member of the IHSA board.

The rule he references is IHSA bylaw No. 3.043.3, which requires a student athlete transferring from a private to public school also to sit out of athletics at their new school for one year. This applies even if the student-athlete already resides in his or her public school district.

Stimler wanted to eliminate the younger Williams’ high school career and any potential scholarship opportunities at the same time his family was going through financial hardships. “What they did to my son, It was just wrong!” the elder Williams emphasized.

“When we said we couldn’t afford it anymore, they told us to ‘get a loan,’ his wife chimes in.

Williams eventually won his case with the IHSA and his son was able to play for Simeon after missing one game. He finished the season as a standout and has received interest from some colleges. But he is discouraged about his future prospects because of his decision to leave Mt. Carmel. According to his father, he “knows Coach Lenti is going to ruin me, he’s done it before.”

In the meantime, his father Foster Williams III is emphatic when speaking to Black parents who are considering sending their kids to Mt. Carmel to play football. “If your kid is good they sink their teeth into them. And if you don’t do what they say, they do their best to ruin them, both athletically and academically. Do not say I did not tell you! But as for us, we just want amnesty for our kids” he says as large group of parents waiting to tell their story nod in agreement,

(The Chicago Defender attempted to give Mt. Carmel the opportunity to respond to the allegations. They declined, but did send a letter in response to our inquiries.)

 

 

 

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Emanuel Puts Aldermen in Uncomfortable Position with $5 Million Settlement

by

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.”

 

 

 

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MAYOR PASSES $588 MILLION TAX INCREASE, LAUNCHES 2019 CAMPAIGN

by

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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Students Return to School But Will the Funding

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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City Budget Crisis Hits Black Community

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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.”

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The Big Payback

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Maze Jackson

 

There is an old political saying that goes, “Good politics equals good government and good government equals good politics.” Politics defined is the interrelationships between the people, groups, and organizations in a particular area of life insofar as they involve power and influence or conflict. Taking that definition of politics into account is important in providing context for understanding how and why people are chosen or appointed to positions of power in government at all levels.  Politics is the process that transforms a citizen into an elected official, which then gives the elected official the ability to govern.  So politics, by its very nature is transactional, whether Democrat or Republican.

In Illinois, the transactional nature of politics has often come under scrutiny, not only from local watchdogs and media outlets, but also by the federal government.  Long known as the corruption capital of the nation, the underbelly of transactional politics in Illinois have been in the national spotlight.

Illinois governors Ryan and Blagojevich were sentenced to federal prison for what had previously been known as political horse trading.  While those are two of the more egregious examples, transactional politics continues.  To the victor goes the spoils, and part of those spoils include key cabinet, board, agency appointments, and jobs that are known as “exempt positions” which are all generally reserved for the winner’s supporters.  The level of those appointments are generally based on what the appointee was able to give the politician during the campaign, with the top spots often going to high level political donors, business leaders, and campaign volunteers.

Generally, the appointees are expected to advance the agenda of the elected official that appoints them.  In this article we will examine some of the most recent appointments of Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, why they were appointed, what the appointment means, but most importantly, what it means to the Black constituency that they represent.

Rauner Appointments

When candidate Bruce Rauner threw his hat in the ring to be the governor of Illinois, he knew he faced an uphill battle, particularly because of Democratic dominance in Cook County.  That dominance is widely credited to the Black community. Blacks vote for Democrats over 90% of the time in one of the largest counties in the nation.  While recent Illinois Republicans have avoided the Black community during gubernatorial contests, Rauner made a conscious effort to appeal to Black voters.

Hoping to take advantage of the Black community’s increasing disillusionment with Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, Rauner enlisted the services of some high-profile Black community leaders including Rev. James Meeks, Pastor Corey Brooks, N’Digo Publisher Hermene Hartman, and Dr. Willie Wilson to act as surrogates for his campaign.

While Meeks, Brooks, Hartman and Wilson were vilified in the Black community for supporting the Republican candidate, they remained loyal and when Rauner was elected to office, he rewarded that loyalty with key appointments.

Rev. James Meeks

Rev. James Meeks was once considered the heir apparent to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation P.U.$.H., but in recent years has focused on expanding his own power base.  Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, which is based in the arena-sized House of Hope in the far South Side’s Roseland community.

No stranger to politics, Meeks has been a vocal advocate for equitable education funding to the point of threatening to run in the 2008 Democratic Primary against former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich eventually agreed to provide an additional $1 billion dollars in funding for Illinois schools but was ousted from office before he could follow through on their agreement.

Meeks ran and was elected to serve in the Illinois State Senate in 2002. Throughout his time in Springfield, He remained singularly focused on education funding, but became increasingly frustrated with the difficulty he encountered trying to increase education funding in Springfield, which was controlled completely by Democrats.

Meeks eventually rose to Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in 2008. In 2013, Meeks resigned from the Illinois State Senate, disillusioned with the lack of progress on his mission.

Fast forward to 2013 and Bruce Rauner enters the race and one of his major goals is increased education funding, Meeks number one goal.  The two met and after some discussion, Meeks agreed to join the Rauner campaign.  Throughout the campaign, Meeks remained a steadfast supporter of Rauner because of his promise on education funding, even as large portions of the community branded him a “sellout,” sure that Rauner would cast him aside if he were to win the election.

Rauner won the election, appointed Meeks to his transition team, and eventually appointed Meeks to become the Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).  Meeks’ critics claim that the appointment was political payback for selling out the community.  For Meeks, serving as the Chairman of the ISBE, which administers billions in school grants, allowing him to have a direct say in the education process. “The primary job of the state board is to make sure districts are providing the best possible education to all students. As chairman I believe it is vital that all students, especially low-income students and students of color receive the education they deserve. An education that will lead to success after graduation in college and careers,” Meeks stated.

Pastor Corey Brooks

Indiana native, Pastor Corey Brooks first made news when he decided to camp out on the rooftop of his church until he raised enough funds to build a community center for his church.  He successfully raised the funds with donations from notables such as Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.  Brooks followed that exploit up with a walk across the country against urban violence.  He also launched the Project H.O.O.D. initiative in the Woodlawn and Englewood communities. Operating a church in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, many Blacks may question his intentions, but few question his authenticity.

Brooks was already familiar with the Republican Party and had been known to court conservative leaning politicians not traditionally welcomed in the Black community. All of Brooks’ initiatives garnered national media attention, making him a household regular in Black and White communities, and a likely target of support for Rauner in the Black community.

Like Meeks, Brooks looked at the state of the Black community and realized Springfield was completely controlled by Democrats. Things didn’t seem to be getting better, so he too decided to break from the ranks and openly support Rauner. He too was ridiculed, criticized, and called a sellout by many in the Black community.  Used to being stung by Democratic politicians regularly, Black people talked openly about Rauner ditching Brooks after the election.

Also like Meeks, Rauner appointed Brooks to his transition committee after he was elected. Rauner consults with Brooks regularly when making decisions that impact the Black community.  Just recently, Rauner appointed Brooks to the Illinois Tollway Board.  While Brooks will only collect an annual salary of  $31,426, the Illinois Tollway annual budget is in excess of $1 billion dollars and is one of the state of Illinois’ largest economic engines.  As one of Illinois’ largest economic engines, Black participation at the tollway remains at minimal at best.  Brooks’ detractors doubt the impact he can have as only one of a nine-member board.

Consider however, that Brooks, who is also a lawyer, has already proven that he knows how to cut the deals to get to the table with conservative Whites.  They key will be if Brooks can translate that Board appointment into Black economic opportunity and development.

Hermene Hartman

Once a dominant force in the Chicago political, social, business scene, N’Digo founder and publisher Hermene Hartman had found herself struggling for relevance before she signed on with the Rauner campaign.  While Hartman still operated her publication, it was but a mere shadow of what it had been in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  But with an email list and a recognizable masthead, Hartman made herself one of Rauner’s most vocal advocates and one of Pat Quinn and the Democratic Party’s harshest critics.

Unlike Brooks and Meeks, Hartman served as a paid campaign consultant for Rauner during the campaign, working to connect Rauner with various community organizations and influencers.  While Rauner spent millions on campaign consultants, Hartman was ridiculed for only receiving $55,000 for her services.

Hartman was in a precarious place post-election, because her services were paid for, Rauner had no post-election obligations to Hartman.  In fact, until Hartman published a scathing electronic editorial five months after Rauner’s election, the governor had not contacted her for anything.  After the editorial, Rauner appointed Hartman to the $46,960/year Human Relations Committee, where she will have a say in settling employee discrimination complaints in Illinois. While the position is rather innocuous, Hartman fight workplace discrimination.

 

Rev. Willie Wilson

Rev. Willie Wilson is the plainspoken South Side businessman, preacher, TV host, philanthropist, and donor that used his influence among local ministers to become one of Rauner’s biggest supporters.  Unlike the other Black Rauner supporters, Wilson’s interest in Rauner’s election was business.  Sources say that Wilson, who owns a business supply company, is positioned to take over the concessions at the Illinois Department of Corrections.

If true, Wilson will have translated his support for Rauner into hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.  Those contracts can potentially lead to more jobs, business opportunities, and higher quality meals for prisoners if Wilson is genuinely concerned about the Black economic development.

That remains to be seen, because Wilson has gone from supporting Rauner, to an unsuccessful mayoral run, to a recently announced Presidential campaign, potentially squandering any political capital he may have earned if he shows poorly.

Payback is a political fact of life.  Meeks, Brooks, Hartman, and Wilson have all been paid back based on what they did to get the Governor elected.  It remains to be seen if they can translate their personal payback into benefits for the Black community as a who

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