Random Thoughts. SCOTUS appointment puts Kirk and NEA/IEA on the hot seat.


The sudden death of Antonin Scalia and the fight over his replacement has put Illinois Senator Mark Kirk on the hot seat.

Kirk, a north shore Republican, has always tried to pass as a moderate.

That only works because the Rush Limbaugh wing of the GOP gets most of the news coverage.

In reality, he is a true blue right-winger.

Kirk has not yet said whether he will follow the law and vote to allow President Obama to pick the Scalia replacement.

It will be a hot issue for Kirk since he is up for re-election and is considered the most vulnerable Republican senator.

It was just a month ago that my union, the NEA and the IEA, gave Kirk an A grade, primarily because he voted for ESSA authorization.

The IEA has endorsed Kirk ever since he was a congressman.

This is the problem with our union’s grades and endorsements. They are made with blinders on, ignoring all but the most narrow of what the leadership calls education issues.

It is not a social justice orientation to politics.

With the Supreme Court in the balance, Kirk’s vote yet unknown and public employee union rights among many issues that will be determined by a future Supreme Court, teacher union chickens have come home to roost.

My readers respond to NEA/IEA Mark Kirk love.


We learned Friday that the National Education Association and the Illinois Education Association awarded Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk an “A” grade.

I expressed my disagreement, of course.

As did many of this blog’s readers.

A sample:

Tim Furman wrote, “Kirk got the “Charter School Champion” award from the charter school lobby in 2014. (Durbin got it the year before.) The method of assigning grades based on key votes is absurd; it misses the major themes behind the work these people are actually doing. Mark Kirk is hardly the worst Republican, but any system that assigns an “A” to someone who is actively trying to privatize public education is missing some fundamental internal checks. You’ve already written about the bizarre, full-of-internal-contradiction IEA endorsements of Mark Kirk; this dumb grading system seems to be more of the same muddled thinking.”

Joan O’Malley. “Fred. The NEA & IEA sure didn’t ask my opinion. Kirk is the worst Senator in Illinois and he has been in power too long. His total conservative voting record shows no thought as to serving the people of Illinois. I hope Tammy Duckworth defeats him this time. His handicap is unfortunate but that is no reason to vote him into office again. I think he is a destructive influence in Congress.”

Anonymous. “Kirk also came out supporting Rauner and Rauner’s plan to destroy SEIU and AFSCME in negotiations with state employees. There seems to be 2 sides to the NEA, the “union” side and the “we are not a union, we are an association” side. This comes from many decades of teachers not being allowed collective bargaining in most states. In some states, it is still a criminal offence for a teacher to go on strike. If a teacher strikes, they are not only fired, they lose their certification and have an official misconduct record. This makes it very hard to get a teaching job anywhere. It is from this sort of history that the NEA “non-union” side tries to tread lightly. They probably did not even notice Kirk’s vicious attack on public sector unions. Meanwhile, the “union” members are sandbagged by this endorsement of someone that supports outlawing fair share and wants to eliminate meaningful representation of teachers and other public employees in Illinois. Sort of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. They either don’t know or they don’t care.”

Glen Brown. “About 4 ½ years ago, Illinois Senator, Mark Kirk, also agreed with Newt Gingrich and advocated for a law that would allow our state to declare bankruptcy, even though state bankruptcy would invariably rob public employees of their contractual right to an earned pension (http://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2011/08/why-bankruptcy-should-never-become.html).”

Walter Esler: We don’t count.

Political map of Chicago

– By Walter Esler. Walter is a retired Chicago AFSCME member.

A few weeks ago we heard noises outside our front window. I told my wife there was trouble. I was worried about my son, I said. He lives on the first floor. My wife said it was firecrackers. I said I didn’t think so. I knew the sound. She said I should stay inside.

I went downstairs.

The windows looked okay, so I went out.

Justin, the 19 year old who lived next door, was standing on his porch. The window had been shot out. Justin lurched through his front door, holding on to the door frame. His mother and grandmother started screaming. Non-stop screaming. There was blood on their front steps.

Another kid was on the sidewalk. On his side. He tried to move, but the leg under him wouldn’t work. I could see a bullet hole in his hip. His gun was on the sidewalk, a few feet away. I called 911. Someone had been shot, I said, and an ambulance was needed urgently. The cops came eventually. An ambulance came a while later.

The crew waited outside while the cops investigated. There was no hurry.

A neighbor asked a cop why these things were happening. The cop told her she lived in a bad neighborhood. Eventually the ambulance crew went in and took Justin out. Justin told them he was having trouble breathing. They put him in the ambulance. He died a couple of hours later.

The blood stains are still visible on our neighbor’s front steps.

I would like to know exactly what the Mayor has been doing, beyond taking pensions away and closing schools and libraries. There are no jobs. We’re not getting City services on the Northwest Side. Everything goes to the lakefront wards. Maybe the lakefront liberals still like him.

We don’t count.

Logan Square to BK: Mayoral Control, John Kass on Waguespack and the Chicago race for mayor in the NY Times.


 John Kass at our Logan Square meeting with Alderman Waguespack. Photos: Fred Klonsky

We are spending a week with family in Brooklyn. The weather reports forecast a windchill of minus 30 in Chicago on Thursday. In Brooklyn they talking 40 by the weekend.

It ain’t Miami. But we will take it.

Meanwhile Rico Gutstein, UIC Professor of Mathematics Education, has sent me a copy of a report by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education on mayoral control. On Tuesday many voters in Chicago will be voting on an elected school board. The results of the Collaborative’s study are clear. Vote yes for an elected school board.

Last Saturday I was at a Logan Square neighborhood meeting for our neighboring 32nd ward alderman Scott Waguespack. As an outspoken member of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, Scott has in some ways been alderman for all of us who live in wards represented by the toadies of the Mayor.

Like my alderman, Rey Colon.

I’m working to have a real alderman in my 35th ward by next week. His name is Carlos Rosa.

The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass was at the meeting with Scott Waguespack too. Kass is hardly a progressive. But there is no love lost between him and the mayor who he calls Rahmfather.

Today Kass’s column focuses on Scott and another Progressive Caucus member, Nick Sposato. Sposato was the 36th ward alderman but got redistricted for not bending over for the Mayor. Now Nick is running in the 38th.

John Kass writes about Scott Waguespack:

Rahm’s multimillion-dollar political action committee has already come out to pound Waguespack with negative ads, which proves to me Waguespack is seen as a threat.

“Why does he have to spend all that money? He wants no dissent,” Waguespack says of Rahm. “He wants no democracy. And that’s unacceptable to me.”

We were in an apartment in Logan Square where concerned neighbors gathered to hear Waguespack; professionals, working people, newcomers. Also there were organizers for United Working Families, the labor and community coalition that sprouted in response to Rahm’s elevation by the anti-union oligarchy that runs things.

People asked the alderman about everything from tree trimming, taxes, city finances and ethics, and Waguespack handled it all seamlessly.

That’s why for years I’ve thought, and still do, that Waguespack could — and should be — mayor of Chicago. He knows city finances. He’s thoughtful. He wouldn’t treat the city like so many toy Gumbys to bend to his will.

And he stood up to former Mayor Richard M. Daley back in the day when few would, leading the criticism on that ridiculous parking meter deal, the one that forced Daley to step down and pick Rahm as his caretaker.

“Sometimes the secrecy at City Hall can be overwhelming,” Waguespack tells them. “The secrecy of the red light cameras, and the $1.7 billion in TIF (tax increment financing) funds.”

Listening to him, I got the sense that Rahm guards it all as if he were a dragon in a cave.

“That’s unacceptable,” Waguespack says. “It wouldn’t be acceptable in any other city. I don’t know why it’s acceptable in Chicago.”

– – – – –

Even though I am in Brooklyn this week it is hard to get away from the Tuesday election (I early-voted the first day). The Chicago Mayor’s race is on the front page of this morning’s New York Times.

Tracey Lasenby of South Shore has yet to decide. “Look, I believe that the city has become a great tourist destination under Mr. Emanuel,” she said. “But what’s the sense of building a park if my child can’t play in it because they’re going to get shot? What’s the use?”


Keeping retirement weird. There has to be a morning after.


It was the fifth worst snowfall in Chicago. Ever. Over nineteen inches. The record stands at twenty-four.

Actually, the sixteen inches that fell just on Sunday may be the most for a twenty-four hour period

We shoveled three times during the storm. I believe it is best to kind of keep up. Like washing dishes as you cook. Which I do and Anne doesn’t.

And our next-door neighbor Bridget surprised us and shoveled one more time, including our steps and porch.

Yesterday we joined our neighbors and shoveled out cars and sidewalks. Wes, who lives on the corner came over and helped shovel out my car. Because he lives on the corner he has two sidewalks to clear. Plus it is a kid route to school.  So it is extra important that he keeps it walkable.

An ATT service truck got stuck in the snow down the block. I tried helping the guy.  I had to think twice about it. ATT and everything. But the guy was just a worker having a shitty day, so three of us tried pushing the van. It didn’t work. He had to call in and get a tow.

Rahm didn’t have plows down our block until late afternoon. I’m not sure what that does except create foot high walls of snow banks in front of parking spots we had already shoveled out.

Two kids came by. Anne and I had already done the front of the house. But the backyard is so filled with snow that Ulysses can’t lift his leg above the top of it to pee. I paid the two kids twenty bucks to shovel the side of the house and a path from the back porch to the back fence. They did a great job and had way too much fun.

Ulysses promptly took a dump halfway down the path that they had shoveled.

Kedzie Boulevard by us is lined with early 20th century mansions. They were built mostly by German merchants. Those immigrant merchants wanted houses like the wealthy folks on Lakeshore Drive. But they weren’t as rich as them, so they often added a basement apartment that they could rent out.

Now these boulevard mansions go for over a million bucks.

Walking Ulysses this morning I slid my way past 2324 Kedzie. Although they had shoveled their driveway and put two orange cones down, they didn’t bother to shovel the sidewalk. Hundreds of people walk on that sidewalk every day to catch a bus at Fullerton, or walk to the CTA station on the Square.

The people were forced to walk through nearly two feet of snow. That has created a path of hard ice. It won’t melt for weeks. Maybe a month if the temperature doesn’t get above freezing.

To the neighbors at 2324 North Kedzie Avenue, thanks so much.

From your retired neighbor and all the people who walk every day past your high, locked, black iron fence on the twenty-five feet of slippery ice.

And the two orange cones in your snow-cleared driveway.

There are no safe passage routes when it comes to The Hawk.


It is 6:30 AM and the digital thermometer on the kitchen counter says minus six degrees.

But the coffee is hot and the bowl of oatmeal I just had is filling and warming.

Chicago schools are closed for the second day.

I spoke with an old friend from my old district in Park Ridge last night. Our contract always builds five snow days into the school year. However, once we use up two, any further days are taken away from Records and Planning Days. Those days are dedicated for teachers to do administrative work and report cards with no student attendance.

Losing them means even more work to take home.

In my early teaching days the superintendent would wait until the last possible moment to call off school for the weather.  At 5AM, with two feet of snow on the ground I would wake, shower and dress – and then the phone would ring with the message that school was closed. Some days the call would come after I hit the road. No mobil phones in those days.

I don’t recall many days that were called for cold. Whether that is the result of climate change or common sense, I don’t know.

As union president I would get complaints no matter what decision the administration made. “Not contractual,” I would say, knowing that half the staff was happy and half was not.

Of all the issues I had to deal with, the weather was definitely one I would stay away from.

Monitoring Facebook I notice that when CPS called off classes for yesterday at 6PM on Tuesday evening there was a lot of Facebook cheers. But when CPS did it again yesterday, closing schools for today, I read of lot of posts expressing disappointment.

“My students were just getting into a new book on Monday. Great discussion. Was really looking forward to the follow-up.”

Parent response also is split.

The weather is a tale of two cities.

Wealthier parents complain about the closings. “I don’t get it. I drive my child to school and it’s only a few feet to the school door,” wrote one on Facebook when this happened last year.

Families with less must struggle to find child care and things for their children to do.

With Mayor Emanuel closing fifty neighborhood schools, poor kids on the West Side and South Side now face long walks to school in subzero temperatures.

These last two days, that is dangerous.

There are no safe passage routes when it comes to The Hawk.

For Chicago’s homeless or for those with no heat in their apartments or homes, there is only one 24 hour city-run shelter.

Chicago operates a dozen warming centers throughout the city, many of which are offices or centers run by the Department of Family Support and Services. Notably, only the Garfield Center at 10 S. Kedzie Ave. offers overnight accommodations. Smith said that between Sunday, Jan. 5 and the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 7, approximately 1,500 people had used the city warming centers.

For so many, this is a city without a heart.

Rahm is spending $2 million to go after the Progressive Caucus. Don’t let it happen.


A leading independent voice in the Chicago City Council. Alderman Scott Waguespack.

It was a night not unlike the one we will have tonight.

January in Chicago.

Wind chill around 20 below.

Hundreds of Logan Square neighbors, parents and students were crowded around the front doors of the Armitage Baptist Church for a hearing on neighborhood school closings. At the time, nearly every one of our neighborhood schools was on Rahm’s closing list of 300 schools.

CPS security was tight at the door. They were letting people in at an incredibly slow pace. I was certain some of the young kids or elderly were going to get hurt.

It was at that moment I spotted Alderman Scott Waguespack pull up in his car. “Alderman. Can you do something?”

As a Chicagoan, that’s not a question you ask with high expectations for what answer you will get.

But Waguespack did not disappoint.

All the doors opened wide and everyone got in safely.

That’s been his role as a leading voice of the small Progressive Caucus in the Chicago City Council.

His has been a voice against the corporate agenda of the Mayor.

He voted no on the Mayor’s budget.

So the Mayor will spend $2 million dollars to defeat the members of the Caucus.

Beginning with Scott Waguespack.

Members of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus have denounced the $2.2 million super PAC created to re-elect Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his City Council allies as a bullying attempt to stifle dissent by “taking out” its eight members.

On Tuesday, “Chicago Forward” proved them right by making two of eight Caucus members its first targets: Aldermen Toni Foulkes (15th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd).

In a costly direct-mail piece going out this week, “Chicago Forward” is targeting Waguespack for casting one of four “no” votes against a 2015 budget that raised the city’s parking tax again to generate $10 million needed to double the year-round army assigned to patch potholes and repair crumbling streets.

A second mailer indirectly targets Foulkes by lavishing her opponent, Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th), with praise for bringing jobs, a Whole Foods and affordable and senior citizen housing to her impoverished ward and for being a driving force behind the recently approved plan to raise the Chicago’s minimum wage to $13-an-hour by 2019.

Foulkes and Thompson are running against each other, thanks to a new ward map that merged portions of their two wards.

Waguespack says the opening salvo shows how out of touch Emanuel is with voters’ genuine concerns.

We need to keep and expand the Progressive Caucus.


Keeping retirement weird. Chicago cops.


At the Museum of Modern Art yesterday.

Just checking in.

We are still in Brooklyn visiting with our family. It is nearly new year’s day but the temperature will be over 50 degrees and the sun is shining.

Yesterday we took the train to mid-town and went to the Matisse show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Another wonderful day with our family.

I understand that the Mayor is spending his holiday in Chile.

Maybe he is checking in and reading this blog this morning.

Here’s a post for him by John C. Malec, a retired Chicago cop. He writes on the Facebook page, City Workers Past and Present:

Today I received my letter from city about my next check about losing another 246.00 a month for health insurance. I have been handicapped for many years. I served as a Chicago Police Officer for over 28 years. We struggle month to month in making ends meet. Twice we almost lost our home. People have given their all to help us through these ups and downs even during their own struggles.

Now this feeling of losing my humility because of a person who cares about no one. Rahm, you have thrown us to the curb. You have no idea what’s it’s like to walk out every morning with your gun not knowing what to expect. Having your life on the line. That’s because you are protected by your body guards day after day.

Well who’s protecting us now. We have no body guards to save us from our financial burdens that YOU have caused for us. You treat us like we are nobody. Our pain and mental suffering come from someone who doesn’t deserve the title you were given. I know your 2015 will be ok because your income hasn’t been touched. Guess what my 2015 has already been effected because you don’t give a damn what survival is all about.

I am angry…most of all my heart is filled with sorrow for how this year is going to be a struggle for me. I not only suffer from a horrible disease…but I am suffering as a retiree who can’t even bring in money with small job because of my health. What are my options paying for medications or making sure we have a roof over our heads. We can’t just get a place to rent because of all of my disabilities. I apologize for venting to my fellow brothers and sisters in blue but you are my family.

I wish I could be wheeled in front of our so-called mayor to explain how he has altered our lives but he’s being protected by his body guards..who are protecting him from dealing with people he doesn’t care about..I am sitting here crying while my wife is typing for me because I am so broken-hearted and feel like another shovel of dirt has been thrown upon me.

Happy new year, Rahm.