Rahm didn’t know? Why not?


The brilliant reporter Sarah Karp broke the story on the crooked deal between Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas.

In a Chicago Magazine interview with Carol Felsenthal former CPS CEO Jean Claude Brizard is asked what he knew about Rahm’s hiring of Byrd Bennett.

Why did Rahm want her as CPS CEO?

I don’t believe that the mayor did enough vetting of Barbara. He may have had inadequate counsel but frankly many were fooled.

Rahm didn’t do enough vetting and many were fooled?

Sarah Karp wasn’t fooled.

The indictment follows an earlier investigation by former CPS Inspector General Jim Sullivan, which was spurred by an article that I wrote for Catalyst-Chicago in 2013.

That Catalyst story followed a $20.5 million no-bid CPS contract awarded to SUPES to offer professional development to district principals, an agreement that raised red flags.

After covering CPS for almost a decade, I knew it was unheard of for the district to award a no-bid contract of that magnitude, especially for something that other organizations are able to handle. It was suspicious for SUPES, a small company not well known to education experts in the city to be awarded such a large contract.

I discovered Byrd-Bennett had worked for the company as a consultant. What’s more, there was evidence that she was still working for another Solomon and Vranas company after she took a position with CPS.

In an interview with me in December of 2013, Byrd-Bennett denied to me that there was any overlap.

If Rahm and so many were fooled – a big if – why is that?

Rahm says he doesn’t look at contracts. He says he didn’t meet any of those involved.

Why is that?

I think they call this creating plausible deniability.

Protect the boss at all costs.

The Trib is wrong again. Cutting services isn’t budget reform.


There is a huge corruption tax in Chicago.

Last week’s indictments of CPS leadership is evidence of that.

But the indictment of CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett is just going after low hanging fruit. The corruption goes deeper and higher.

Mayor Rahm is now engaged in a cover-up over how deep and how high.

While much of the picture remains missing, the email logs and documents the administration did release show frequent communication among key Emanuel aides, Chicago school leaders and the heads of the SUPES Academy consulting firm in the months, weeks and days leading up to Emanuel’s hand-picked school board awarding the contract in June 2013.

Now, turn to the Trib’s editorial today. They demand that alderman vote down the Mayor’s property tax increase until the Mayor cuts city wages, pension benefits and services to the most needy in the city.

It’s the Rauner turnaround agenda.

They applaud the Mayor for the cuts he has already made. Those cuts are just not enough, says the Trib.

Emanuel has taken some steps to make government more accountable. He curbed the city’s habit of selling off assets to balance budgets. He instituted a new way of collecting garbage that is more efficient. He is phasing out costly health care benefits for city retirees. He ended free water service to certain nonprofits.

The city also decreased its workforce under Emanuel — mostly through attrition, though, not layoffs. He tried to negotiate pension reforms with unions — some of those reforms are now being challenged in court — yet he had little success with police and fire, the two pension funds that make up most of the city’s unfunded liability.

Given the headlines of the past week, is takes a certain sense of the absurd for an editorial writer to keyboard those two paragraphs and consider it praise.

The Trib calls increased pain for the working people of Chicago budget reform. It is language that conceals. It is like bombing a hospital, killings doctors and patients and calling that collateral damage.

I agree with the Trib that aldermen should vote down this property tax increase. But what the Trib will never call for is increasing revenue.

Even with the totally appropriate rebate for low-income home owners, the burden of taxation falls too heavily on the working people of this city.

The Queen of England just bought a condo on Lakeshore Drive. She will pay the same property tax rate as us.

The truth is they don’t want us here.

Aldermen, particularly those who call themselves Progressive, should vote this tax burden down, defend services and fight for a tax policy in the city and state that stops protecting the rich and provides adequate revenue.

Rauner to Chicago: Drop dead.

DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM PHOTO DESK-tp Rahm Emanuel, Bruce Rauner, and Amy Rule arrive for dinner at the Paradise Valley Grill, Paradise Valley (near Livingston, Montana), August 2010. Mandatory photo credit: David Lewis. This image can not be republished online or in print. Any reuse must be cleared through David Lewis and the photo desk. Lewis-406.222.5126 406.581.3357 mtpioneer@wispwest.net

They may share wine and Wall Street connections.

But in the words of Vito Corleone, this is just business.

Mayor Rahm needs a property tax increase. In order for it to be politically palatable he wants an exemption for those whose home is valued at less than $250,000.

But Illinois is a flat tax state and not just on income. Our system favors the wealthy friends of the Governor.

And the friends of the Mayor too, to be honest about it.

The city has no home rule on this. In order to exempt low income homeowners from a property tax increase the city needs permission from the state.

“Nope,” says the governor.

In a statement late today, the GOP governor moved from being cool toward the plan to virtually promising to veto it, saying that Chicago first needs labor reforms, like cuts in workers compensation and lesser wages for those involved in city construction jobs.

“We applaud the mayor for proposing a property tax freeze for some families,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said, “but he should support a property tax freeze for all Chicagoans.” Rauner has proposed a freeze, offsetting increased spending mostly reducing pay and benefits for government workers.

Now, there is plenty wrong with the Mayor’s property tax proposal that even a low-income waiver won’t solve.

But that isn’t the Governor’s concern. He wants cuts to construction workers’ wages and reductions in salary for cops, firemen and teachers.

This is just another way to get his right-to-work, anti-union turnaround agenda implemented.

But look north, Governor Rauner.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker had his anti-union turnaround agenda too.

Now his popularity and poll numbers are lower than the standing of the Milwaukee Brewer’s in the NL Central.

The Brewers have just been eliminated from the playoffs, by the way.

Disaster-based school reform. Before there was McQueary and Miner there was Arne. And Bruce Rauner.

The reaction to the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen McQueary and her op-ed piece hasn’t really died down yet.

For those of you who were in Kazahkstan last week and missed it, the hapless McQueary wrote a column wishing for a Hurricane Katrina to do to Chicago public schools what Katrina did to New Orleans even though it killed thousands of people: Destroy a public school system.

McQueary conveniently ignored that we have had our own Hurricane Katrina. His name is Rahm Emanuel.

The reaction was furious and viral. Decent people were appalled by McQueary’s heartless comparison on the tenth anniversary of the disaster.

That reaction did not include the Chicago Reader media critic, Michael Miner. He wrote a defense of McQueary that was equally heartless and factually wrong.

Miner joined with McQueary in arguing that only bodies piled high in the morgue would drive real school reform.

He cited the work of journalist Gary Rivlin to show that New Orleans was better off now than before Katrina.

Rivlin quickly distanced himself from the ghoulish Miner.


Yet the reaction continues.

“No. We’re not done with Kristen McQueary’s Katrina essay yet,” writes Julie Vassilatos in her Chicago Public Fools blog.

McQueary was rightly called out for her astonishingly cloddish essay, and even issued one of those I’m-so-sorry-you-misheard-me-that-way apologies.

But to simply stand, agape, at her insensitivity, while understandable, is to miss something important here.

Kristen McQueary is wrong about New Orleans schools.

She is wrong about the facts about New Orleans schools. The situation is complex and problematic–even supporters don’t gush about it as McQueary does. This glowing paragraph in her ecstatic paean to New Orleans is patent nonsense.

Before there was McQueary, before there was Miner, there was Arne Duncan.

He said the same thing:

Katrina, Duncan said, was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it gave the city a chance to rebuild and improve its failing public schools.

In an interview to air this weekend on “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” Duncan said “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.”

And before McQueary and Miner there was Governor Bruce Rauner.

Rauner said the same thing.

“New Orleans is too, with [Paul] Vallas and what’s been done. Politically they didn’t have to blow up the system, the hurricane blew up the system. They could start fresh. It’s a tragedy but it’s one of the few bright spots of that horrible event, where they didn’t have the political fight.”

Just in case you forgot, the Paul Vallas that Bruce Rauner is praising was chosen by his Democratic Party opponent Pat Quinn in the last election to run as Lt. Governor.

The disaster-based school reform ghouls are everywhere.

The worst of them don’t write newspaper columns.

They run the Department of Education, the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois.

Rahm won’t quit on pension deal based on union leadership sell-out.


Attorney Gino DiVito representing us before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Mayor Rahm won’t give up on his pension theft.

It doesn’t matter that Cook County Judge Rita Novak ruled it unconstitutional.

It doesn’t matter that all seven members of the Illinois Supreme Court, Democrats and Republicans, ruled that any reduction in benefits constitutes an illegal act.

Rahm argues that because SEIU 73 President Christine Boardman and other sell-out city union leaders agreed to it, it is legal.

That is the totality of his argument.

Three days after a Circuit Court judge tossed out the reforms and shot down all his legal arguments, Emanuel insisted his “collaborative approach” with organized labor would prevail before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Never mind that the state Supreme Court already has overturned state pension reforms and is likely to do the same to Emanuel’s plan to save the Municipal Employees and Laborers Pension Funds.

Never mind that Circuit Judge Rita Novak cited the “crystal-clear direction” provided by the Illinois Supreme Court and the high court’s reading of the Illinois Constitution: Membership in a government employee pension system “shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

“The only solution is working in a collaborative basis [with labor] to come up with something because the taxpayers cannot bear the burden alone,” the mayor said after returning from a European bike trip with his daughter.

“I happen to [believe] both in the substance of our argument in front of the Supreme Court, but also in the substance of the approach we had, which was a collaborative approach working with labor. I’m not gonna [say it’s a] forgone conclusion, just because one judge ruled, that it means the Supreme Court will rule that way. I think the approach will stand the test of time — meaning, employees deserve a retirement system and taxpayers also deserve to make sure that everybody’s contributing to the process and the solution.”

The lesson is obvious.

When you have an iron-clad constitutional protection that is crystal clear, as Judge Novak said, watch out when our union leaders start offering to compromise on that iron-clad protection.

Ironically it was only last April when we stood at the IEA Representative Assembly, before the ISC had ruled and asked our union leaders for a promise that they would not bargain away what we expected to win in court.

Mitch Roth, IEA General Counsel, was brought to the microphone to say it was his legal opinion that if the Representative Assembly voted to make the IEA take a position of no compromise on our constitutional pension rights, “we would have to withdraw from the We Are One coalition” of state unions.

That not only doomed our request for the promise. It was simply not true.

It was fortunate for state employees that Gino DiVito, who represented us in oral argument before the ISC, was uncompromising in his defense of the pension protection clause.

Good thing it wasn’t Mitch up there.

Union mis-leaders have given Mayor Rahm the only argument for pension theft that he has left: “union collaboration.”

Good thing for us the courts aren’t buying that argument either.

Another pension win in the courts. Rahm loses big time.


No matter how many times they try to say the law doesn’t mean what it says, the courts say otherwise.

And so it was today when a Cook County judge overturned the city’s changes to two pension funds, declaring them “unconstitutional and void.”

The issue was a 2014 state law Emanuel pushed through the legislature that aimed at shoring up the financially imperiled pension funds by reducing cost-of-living increases and requiring workers to kick in more money.

The ruling was not only a rejection of Rahm’s plan, but another slap at the legislature’s irresponsibility and ignorance of the pension protection clause of the Illinois constitution.

How many ways can we say it?

You cannot cut benefits to solve the problem. You must raise revenue.

The story is just breaking.

More later.

Things that should be in the spotlight that are more important that LeBron James’ penis.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 7.56.04 AM

I have written a blog post title guaranteed to get a lot of hits due to search referrals.

I was surprised to see a reference to  Lebron’s schmeckel in a headline in this morning’s Sun-Times:

LeBron James’ penis remains in spotlight during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Not for me.

I got home from my birthday dinner at a new neighborhood seafood place in time for the fourth quarter, and Step Curry’s shooting was much more impressive to me. As was LeBron’s triple double.

But it made me start thinking of what should be in the spotlight and isn’t.

What will happen to Sarah Karp’s story on Rahm juking graduation rates? Karp is the great investigative journalist who just moved from Catalyst to the Better Government Association.

How long will the spotlight be on that?

Karp says, among other things, that CPS has been counting girls who drop out due to pregnancy not as drop outs but as “transfers to motherhood.”

Scandals involving Rahm seem to have short shelf-lives.

Like whatever happened to the FOIA request for emails between Rahm and Chicago billionaire Michael Sacks?

It came out that Rahm and Sacks were meeting almost daily and that there were 1500 emails between them discussing public policy.

Also prior to the election there was talk of an SEC investigation into kickbacks to the Emanuel campaign and Bruce Rauner’s campaign from those doing pension business with the city and state.

What happened to that?

Just prior to the election Rahm’s people promised that the email correspondence between Rahm and his closest financial advisor would be released in 77 hours.

Why 77? Because that would put it after the election.

They have never been released.

Oh. Here is something needing a spotlight:

Whatever happened to the federal investigation of corruption in UNO charter schools?

And how long will this grand jury be meeting on the Barbara Byrd-Bennett SUPES scandal?

Until we forget and the spotlight goes elsewhere.

So many things that need a spotlight.

Leave LeBron’s penis alone.

Chicago Teachers Union: The bond rating downgrade is meant to induce panic.


CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement regarding Moody’s downgrade of the Chicago Public Schools bond rating:

“The downgrade is an example of how the rating agencies work in concert with bond holders in pushing our city and schools to the brink by recklessly increasing termination fees and costs of borrowing. Today’s action by Moody’s induces further political panic to force the city to implement even more misguided fiscal decisions that will hurt our students and public schools,” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.

“Mayor Emanuel and his handpicked school board have refused to challenge big banks like Loop Capital and Bank of America for misrepresenting the risks of toxic swap deals or take responsibility for market conditions in the 2008 collapse that have greatly increased Chicago’s liabilities. Additionally, rating agencies have consistently argued that the mayor must get more revenue and repair a rocky relationship with the CTU in order to improve Chicago’s ratings.

“Instead of heeding this advice, the mayor has provoked more labor discord by demanding a 7 percent reduction in compensation for teachers and paraprofessionals while promulgating a fiscal ‘crisis’ of the Board’s own making. He has also refused to support progressive revenue options like a LaSalle St. Tax, releasing the TIF surplus, suing the banks for toxic swaps, advocating for a Millionaires Tax and other revenue options.”

Breaking: Rahm gives 10th Ward’s Pope $15K the day AFTER the election.

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It was no secret that 10th Ward Alderman John Pope was a Rahm water carrier in the city council.

Or that Rahm was a big supporter of Pope’s in his apparent losing effort to hold on to his seat from the progressive challenge of Susan Sadlowski Garza.

But why would Mayor Rahm give Pope $15,000 from his own campaign fund the day after the election?

Some 10th Ward residents have reported that Pope’s campaign people have been going to those who requested absentee ballots but didn’t mail them in postmarked by election day as required by law.

There has been a concern that ballots have been exchanged for money and postmarks messed around with.

I mean it is not like that kind of stuff never happens in Chicago.

What would John Pope need with $15,000 dollars the day after?

Or $2,500 of Ford Motor Company money one day before?