Karen Lewis: If Takiya, Kanari and Lavontay are to be more than just names on an endless list, then we will need to do much more.


-Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’ commentary in today’s Chicago Tribune. Karen Lewis spends an hour talking with us this week on Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers Podcast.

With every Chicago shooting, we get an earful from a politician.

Loudest and most disingenuous is billionaire President Donald Trump, now concern-trolling us with tweets and comments that he will “send in the Feds” and do so much for “our inner cities.”

And like his hollow budget address, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to deploy state troopers to “contain” Chicago violence doesn’t come across as a way to solve the problem, but to score political points against his wine buddy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Meanwhile, Chicago mourns the loss to gun violence of three children: Takiya Holmes, Kanari Gentry-Bowers and toddler Lavontay White Jr. Having dedicated my life to helping young people realize their fullest potential, my heart aches for their families.

For the Chicago Teachers Union members who have spent their lives serving in our city’s poorest neighborhoods, this is all too familiar. For years, we have dealt with the painful aftermath of violence in our classrooms, hallways and schoolyards.

While we are not typically thought of as first responders to violence, teachers and school staff are often the first responders to the trauma that violence brings, especially when it happens to the very students entrusted to our care.

At Henderson Elementary School in West Englewood, teachers helped students write notes to Kanari, their classmate, before she died in the hospital. Since November, seven Henderson students or former students have been killed or injured by gun violence.

Every shooting of a child brings confusion, sorrow and fear for their classmates. Left untreated, these emotions cast a dark cloud, affecting young people’s ability to learn and focus — and, in the worst scenarios, leading them down the path to violence.

At the time, Mayor Emanuel claimed that there was no money to pay for these demands. And even after signing the contract, the mayor has continued to starve our schools, with help from Rauner. Carson Elementary School, down the street from Henderson, will lose more than $200,000 in the millions of cuts just announced.

We live in one of the richest cities, in one of the richest states, in the richest nation in the world. Elected officials who line up to mourn the latest shooting while claiming that “there is no money” to pay for prevention, or that the wealthy already “pay too much,” are really saying that they care too little.

Enough with the talk.

CTU members were willing to strike to ensure that all Chicago’s children get the resources that they deserve. We’ve forced the mayor to put our tax dollars toward young people, instead of into developer slush funds.

But if Takiya, Kanari and Lavontay are to be more than just names on an endless list, then we will need to do much more.

We must eradicate the conditions that create violence. That means policy change and resources: fully funded schools and thousands of new jobs that pay a fair wage.

The members of the Chicago Teachers Union show up for our students when the cameras are off. We need our public officials to do the same.

Rahm wears a white hat and other tails and emails from the dump.

Rahm’s email dump can be found here.  You can search by subject. For example, put Rauner in the search box.

Former Exelon CEO John Rowe to Emanuel on public school reform efforts.


Rahm introduces donor to Noble charter.


Alderman Joe Moore complains opposition to charters is “getting ugly” in the 49th.


Testing CPS teachers.


The wine club.


Rahm wears a white hat on charter schools.


Mayor Rahm gloats. Nobody has screwed workers like he has.


A good friend of mine worked for the City of Chicago for 30 years and retired a few years ago. He now must pay over $30,000 a year for health insurance for his family because the Mayor cut off his pension health care benefit.

In one of the private emails that Rahm Emanuel was forced to release as a result of a Better Government Association law suit, the Mayor gloats  about the pain he is visiting on thousands of Chicago public employees.


Who is Henry Feinberg?

On Dec. 31, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will complete a 3-year phaseout of the city’s retiree health care program, including a 55 percent subsidy.

10,000 city employees who started working for the city before April 1, 1986, and do not qualify for Medicare will have to search for coverage that will be difficult to find or too expensive.

Like my friend, the retired city workers will have choose between crazy expensive premiums that are double their retirement checks or go without health insurance coverage at a time of declining  health and old age.

“We have people who are 75 years old who worked for the city for 30 years and more and none of them qualified for Medicare coverage. They’re being dumped into an abyss,” said Clint Krislov, lawyer for the retirees.

But the Mayor gloats. Nobody has screwed public employees like he has.

He is king of the world.


The vanishing city: Black Chicago.


The top number is population growth and decline in different parts of Chicago from 2010-2015. The bottom number is population growth and decline from 2000 to 2010. American Community Survey.

Since 2000 Chicago has lost 200,000 in population from the predominantly African American sections of the city: The far south side (nearly 150,000), the south west side (nearly 16,000) and the west side (36,000).

At the same time the Loop and near west side, near north side and near south side have gained nearly 100,000 residents.

Trust me. The folks living downtown didn’t move from Auburn Gresham (-7,000) or Roseland (-5,000).

Under Rahm Emanuel’s rule, the demographic trend of the disappearing African American Chicago continues at a dizzying pace.


The city is still losing people in Austin and other neighborhoods west of the United Center. And the total number of residents inland from the lakefront, or Far South Side, continues the free-fall that began in the last decade. Total population there has gone from 526,750 to 476,903, ACS figures show.

That’s a remarkable drop of nearly 10 percent—in just five years.

Among once-solidly middle-class, industrial African-American neighborhoods that are being hammered:

• Auburn Gresham, off 7,159 residents to an estimated 45,842.
• Englewood, down 6,911 people, to 26,121.
• West Englewood, down 6,552, to 32,156.
• Roseland, which lost 5,141 residents and is down to 42,305.
• Chatham, which has 31,359 residents after losing 3,664.

The city’s overall population has stabilized. But Black Chicago is vanishing.

Donald Trump campaigned on a guarantee of the return of industrial jobs. Chicago proves the emptiness of that Make-America-Great-Again promise. What we have is the permanent loss of Chicago’s industrial base, the subsequent loss of good paying union jobs and the departure of African American workers who held those jobs.

If anyone expected Rahm Emanuel to offer an alternative to the empty promises of Donald Trump, the past five years should be evidence enough that he has nothing.

A Chicago taxpayer talks about the possible teacher strike.



I have a lot of friends across the country, and something is about to happen in Chicago that will get national attention: a strike in our public school system. This likely will be brought up by Trump or Clinton at some point. The circumstances that got us to another teachers’strike are complex. Before someone highjacks the issue on the national stage, I thought it’d be worth a relatively short explanation. So, if you like to be informed, read on:

One part of the break between the teachers and the city is about pension payments. About 25 years ago, the city made a deal with the teachers to pay a much larger chunk of their shared pension costs in lieu of a raise. The pension is a critical part of the pay package for a teacher in Chicago, since the city doesn’t pay into Social Security — so the teachers don’t get that — and there is no 401k savings through the city, like you’d have at most large companies. The pension is what the teachers will have to retire on, unless they’ve been able to save in an IRA out of their own pocket. Teachers in Chicago aren’t rich…I make more at my truck driving job, even after a huge decrease in hours the last 18 months, than about 90% of the teachers. Teaching is a solid middle-class living. So the teachers’ union isn’t soaking the city in some kind of unfair deal. There are many details I’m leaving out, but this post will be long enough…

The city, being Chicago, skipped so many payments into the pension for so many years, and it’s required by law to have a certain level of funding for the pension, that now the city can’t catch up without massive cuts or taxes. So they want to make the teachers pay much more into their pension, essentially taking away the one way teachers can retire safely. The city’s financial mismanagement is now the teachers’ problem, and the city wants to guilt them into giving more to their pension, without any additional benefit. It’s not the teachers’ fault the city blew this, and it’s not the teachers’ problem to fix. Especially because:

Chicago is broke on purpose. We have the money to fund pretty much whatever we want, but we hide it. The main scheme? The Tax Increment Financing fund, or TIF. This plan hatched way back in 1977 works like this: the city sets up a zone, a TIF district, in a “blighted” neighborhood, and within those boundaries any property tax increase for 23 YEARS IN THAT ZONE goes into a fund controlled by the mayor. Example: your property taxes are $5000 this year. In two years, they go up to $5700. The $700 increase goes into the TIF fund. And in 23 years, if you’re paying $15,000 in taxes, $10,000 goes into the TIF fund. The money in the TIF fund is supposed to be used to help poor neighborhoods in the city, and TIF zones are supposed to only be in poor neighborhoods.

But you know what happens? The city creates TIF zones all over the place, like freaking DOWNTOWN. There is no precise law saying that the money taken out of a poor neighborhood has to be used in that neighborhood. So, neighborhoods like Englewood, a very poor black neighborhood, get about $0.15 on the dollar back TIF investment in their neighborhoods. The rest is spent however the mayor wants. The money in the TIF fund is not in the city’s general budget, it’s reported in a very complicated way, so that it takes a local private citizen who is motivated (God bless him) some months to add up how much is really in this fund.

It’s a little over $1 billion.

Also realize that when you’re taking property tax increases and shifting the surplus into a fund, instead of where it usually goes, all those other governmental services suffer. So, the schools get almost exactly 50% of our property taxes, and that’s how we fund our schools. The parks get a share, and so on. When there are over 100 TIF districts (!!!) in the city, that means all the property tax increases for DECADES are not going to where they need to go, like schools and parks and anything else a city pays for. It goes into the TIF slush fund.

So we have in Chicago more than $1 billion, off the books, to use however the mayor wants. But this money — if the schools get 50%, at least $500 million — should have gone to paying for things we need. Chicago is broke on purpose. It’s like having a huge secret savings account, but not using it to pay your bills when you run out of money in checking. So you declare bankruptcy and stiff your creditors, but you still have all this secret money.

— The last point is crime and schools, and where they intersect. The violent crime rate in Chicago started going up when Rahm closed 50 public schools four years ago. Though declining enrollment was the stated reason, the real reason was the city wanted to replace the union public schools with charter schools. Rahm’s campaign manager for his first run in 2010 was the president of of a huge local charter school chain.

Charter schools can keep up to 25% of their funding as profit, i.e. “overhead.” They can also pay teachers much less money for longer hours, hide their finances because they’re “privately run public entities,” and kick out all the bad kids to the public schools. Look up John Oliver for his takedown of charters, but for our purposes, the city closed all these schools, almost all in poor black neighborhoods, then almost immediately announced we need a whole bunch of charter schools. In fact, on the day they announced the school closings, our alderman (O’Connor!) scheduled a neighborhood meeting (which everyone found out about by accident, they “forgot” to tell us in time, even though it’s the law) about a charter school he wanted to open in our neighborhood where he just announced the local public school was closing! This didn’t go well with the neighborhood, he backed off.

But that’s what Chicago is like with schools.

All those jobs lost, and all those safe spaces in bad neighborhoods we lost, when the schools were closed, is why we have out of control crime here.

— Finally, the backdrop of the election: Both candidates would do the same thing Rahm tried, closing public schools in favor of “choice,” which is code for breaking the union. But Rahm is a Democrat, and a long time Clinton friend and political ally. A bad strike here will make Clinton look worse, and also ruin Rahm’s chances to be a senior advisor in the White House, his getaway plan. So the stakes are high.

I’m not even getting into how the Rauner, and thus Rahm, want to tie teachers’ pay to test results, which would be fine for the few schools that have happy healthy kids from good families with good income as the main student body, not so good for 90% of the rest of the public school teachers.

My wife and I are with the teachers on this one. We can solve many of our money problems in Chicago by using our secret TIF money. We have to pay the teachers what was promised them, our word shouldn’t just be good to other countries.

Chicago friends, correct me where I’ve missed something or got it wrong. And if you want to share this, go for it.

-Abused Chicago Taxpayer

More cops are the answer? What’s the question?


Figuring out what the question is can be the most difficult part of a job.

When we had a learning or behavior problem with a student, we would meet as a team to talk about it. Everyone who had some interaction with the kid met together and presented all kinds of data. Not just test scores, although that too.

What did we see? What did we know?

Sometimes someone would jump ahead to offer some intervention. But as often as not the team would resist coming up with an answer before we truly knew what the question was.

By the way, if you want to know what teachers do when we are not with students, this is what we do. Plus prepare for when we are with students.

The issue of coming up with the right question led me to think about Rahm Emanuel’s claim that in response to the terrible spike in Chicago’s murder rate he would hire a thousand more cops.

There was a sadly funny headline from the Onion that made the rounds last week.

“Rahm Emanuel Concerned Gun Violence Could Spread to Parts of City He Gives Shit About.”

It was funny but sad because it reflected the racism of our Mayor’s civic policies which favors the wealthy white neighborhoods over the working class and poor.

It also reflected the image of the city as wracked with gun violence and as America’s murder capital.

This image is so widely accepted that Donald Trump is able to use Chicago as shorthand for his Law and Order  racist dog whistle.

However, the data suggests something quite different. Our violence is targeted. Our victims come from specific neighborhoods and are children of color.

The month of August set a two-decade long  record of 91 murders in Chicago. All but nine of the victims were African American and Hispanic.

Half were under the age of 20. Our children.

The Englewood neighborhood on the south side was a particular hotspot for August murders. It’s one of the city’s poorest areas, with more than 40 percent of the residents living below the poverty level. This year, homicides there are up 171 percent over the same time last year.

Englewood is among four out of Chicago’s 22 police districts that accounted for about a third of August’s murders.

Look at a map of where the murders took place and they are concentrated in a couple of neighborhoods.

They are our city’s poorest neighborhoods. They are our communities where unemployment is the highest. They are the communities  where the Mayor closed neighborhood schools.

Urban sociologists who are smarter than me have written about the changes in Chicago gang culture and how it has led to the proliferation of gun violence.


Let’s look at all that.

A number of studies have shown that any interaction between a police officer and a civilian increases the likelihood of the civilian getting shot or killed.

Black men are disproportionately killed by police. But his research suggests that the reason for this increased risk is the greater number of stops and arrests by police, what is known as “excess exposure”.

So someone tell me. What is the question here where the answer is more cops?

Chicago’s murder rate isn’t the result of “absent Black fathers.” It is the result of the presence of one particular white one.


Former Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy took part in a year-long conspiracy to cover up the police murder of Laquan McDonald.

But that didn’t prevent the guy from taking a swipe at Colin Kaepernick’s widely supported protest of police violence.

Chicago. The city of no shame.

Our Mayor doesn’t blame Kaepernick for Chicago’s violence. He blames Black fathers.

In case McCarthy didn’t know, Kaepernick plays for the San Francisco 49ers, not the Bears. He is not responsible for the rise in Chicago violence  which took place under McCarthy’s watch.

I say Kaepernick plays for the 49ers, although Kaepernick hasn’t seen much time on the field since his protest. His jersey is flying off the shelves, however.

As for the Bears, the less said, the better.

In the city of no shame Black fathers are not the problem.

One particular white one is.

Chicago’s Mayor.

Time Magazine is reporting that the overall crime rate in the United States during the past two years has been flat.

But the murder rate in the United States has risen 13%.

The rise in the nation’s murder rate is totally and uniquely because of Chicago.

A new study released Monday by New York University’s Brennan Center projects that while crime overall in 2016 has remained virtually unchanged from last year, the murder rate is expected to rise 13.1% thanks to unprecedented violence in Chicago, which has seen more than 500 murders this year alone. Chicago is the only major U.S. city to report an increase in murders in both 2015 and 2016.

Does someone need to tell the Mayor that Black fathers aren’t the cause of the city’s violence?

Am I missing something? Don’t most American cities have Black fathers?

In Chicago they are among the victims.

I know 2 out 500 Chicago movers and shakers.

I once met Muhammad Ali.

By “met” I should say that I shook his hand and he autographed my draft card.

That was in 1967 in Los Angeles at an anti-war rally against LBJ.

Like it says in the old Garth Brooks song, “I have friends in low places.”

So it is not surprising that as I scanned the list of 500 Chicago movers and shakers listed in Crain’s Chicago business, I could only spot two people who would admit to knowing me.

These two great women are definitely not friends in low places. In fact, they among the highest of the high.

CTU President Karen Lewis and Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry are greet-with-a-hug friends.

And frankly, as I looked over the rest of the list, those are the only two I would want to know.

Juanita is not just a friend of the parks. She is a friend of the people.

And Karen Lewis. Well. It’s Karen Lewis.

The only two friends on the list.

I have a reputation to look after.


Random thoughts. Chicago’s gun deaths are somebody’s people, daughters and sons.


I know this is a tough town.

But the thing about Chicago’s gun violence, Greg Hinz,  isn’t primarily how it impacts Rahm Emanuel’s political career.

That is pretty much settled.

It’s over. Six months more or two years.

Yet, it is pretty ghoulish for Crain’s Greg Hinz, in the wake of the carnage this Labor Day Weekend – 13 people were killed and another 52 were wounded – to focus on how the murder rates “threaten all Rahm has built.”

Although somebody needs to tell me what exactly that has been.

When they first announced that the number of deaths so far this year exceeded the entire total for last year, the City said, “Not so. We under-reported the number of people killed last year. It will take a few more days until that happens.”

More gun deaths than L.A. and New York combined.

Hinz makes some suggestions as to what Rahm can do to turn this disaster into a political plus.

That’s the Chicago Way, I suppose.

Hinz was only doing Rahm-think.

But thirteen people died bloody deaths Labor Day Weekend in Chicago.

Somebody’s sister, daughter, son, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife and husband.

That’s not a political crisis for Rahm not to waste. It is just a horrible waste.