This is a new series on CNN, produced by Robert Redford. It shows former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel trying to make Chicago better, while dealing with protests over a plan to close fifty-four schools. (The largest such closing in the country).
Back to that in a moment. I wanted to take time out for a detour to discuss Chicago from my perspective.
I’ve been there many times, and have family and friends there. It’s a fun place to visit. The Field Museum. Science Museum, Hyde Park, the old Pullman village, and Wrigley Field for starters. (I might as well confess, I’ve managed NOT to be there in Winter).
Mayor Emanuel is not one to mince words. I winced though at the scene of the Chicago radio talk show when they referred to the Mayor as a circumcised Mayor Daley. Did I detect a note of Anti-Semitism there? Am I being overly sensitive? Maybe, maybe not.
The “1871” building with the high tech start ups was an interesting look at trying to modernize the Chicago economy.
Of course, you don’t have good television without conflict. Here it was the closing of the schools. I understand the Mayor’s point. It’s important to consolidate schools not just to save money, but concentrate resources to benefit the majority.
The financial part is especially important. Moodys just ranked Chicago’s bonds as barely above junk bonds. The city is going to have to raise taxes AND slash spending.
Mayor Emanuel stated 56% of African-American males drop out of Chicago schools. He wants to change that again, with the resources he has.
Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” No one wants their neighborhood school closed, but there is an added rub here. Chicago’s gangs.
Gangs in Chicago go back to the beginning, look at Prohibition. If a gangster like Lucky Luciano said “Chicago is a real goddamn crazy place. Nobody’s safe in the streets!” It has issues.
The Police Commissioner is a guy from the Bronx, named Garry McCarthy. Yeah, I’m from Brooklyn, but can identify with that. He uses Comstat to determine where the crimes are happening. Mayor Emanuel has to use computer programs for the schools to see where those resources are best placed.
To tie this up, the Mayor is trying to husband resources for the schools, the Police Commissioner is trying to clean up the gangs, with the resources he has.
Again, no one wants to see their local school closed. It some neighborhoods in Chicago though, that means more than just a longer trip to school. It means they have to go through enemy gang territory to get to the new school. That fact gives you a new understanding. Better schools don’t be anything, if a child is killed walking to them.
The Mayor though, has to think on a broader spectrum. He can’t print money, only has finite resources.
The show covered the protests and the closing of fifty of the fifty-four schools on the list. I did get a kick out of young Asean Johnson from the Marcus Garvey School. Very articulate for a nine year old. (Reminds me of the eleven year old son, of my Rwandan buddy Anastase, Cadeau. More about Cadeau in another post).
Both sides, the Mayor and the teachers claimed victory, after they went on strike over this. That’s usually good, no one felt they got their nose rubbed in it. Shouldn’t politics be the art of compromise? Mayor Emanuel could’ve taken an attitude of “The people in these gang neighborhoods don’t like or vote for me anyway and he could just do the math and see who backs him and turn his back on those areas, but he isn’t. As dangerous and local as their concerns are, the Mayor, unfortunately has to think of a bigger picture. (I know, easy for me to say).
Then there is the heroic principal of Fenger High School, Elizabeth Dozier, trying to turn it around. The school still has failing grades, but she is trying against some rough odds. No one wants to see the school that graduated Eliot Ness and Director Robert Zemeckis have such problems. I hope she gets to have the “Peace Walk.” she wants.
One sad statement was that kindergarten kids are already talking about having gang colors. I had to sound like Nancy Reagan and just say no, but here, the kids themselves need to say they don’t want gangs anymore. Otherwise, more honor students like Derrion Albert will not live to develop their potential.