Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) undecided about seeking re-election

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 08/04/2014, 07:56pm

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The chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee said Monday she has not yet decided whether to seek re-election, but her hesitation has nothing to do with losing a key supporter.

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), 49, said she goes through the same soul-searching exercise every four years, weighing “a number of things, including family, career, things I have in the hopper and things I’m doing for the community.”

She added, “I continue to evaluate what I’m doing and whether I’ll run. I have not made a decision yet. I’m still considering my options and what I’m gonna do for the next four years. Everybody should … consider their options with their careers.”

In late May, Father Michael Pfleger, the crusading pastor of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church, withdrew his longstanding support from Thomas in favor of Glenda Franklin, director of the St. Sabina Resource Center.

At the time, Pfleger argued that Auburn-Gresham needs “courageous” new leadership and a “more aggressive plan of action” to confront the vexing problems of unemployment, crime and education.

On Monday, Thomas insisted that her political indecision has nothing to do with Pfleger’s decision to jump ship.

“His decision doesn’t make my decision…I have a lot of major supporters,” the alderman said.

“Everybody has a right to consider what they want to consider. That’s democratic society.”

Thomas now serves as “of-counsel” at the law firm run by her one-time DePaul University law school classmate Victor Reyes, former chieftain of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) at the center of the city hiring scandal.

The alderman said her hesitation has nothing to do with that career change, either.

“I’ve been practicing law for 24 years. I will continue to practice law until I can’t read anymore. I’ve been doing it from the beginning. I always had clients. I’m with a firm now. I had my own firm. That doesn’t change anything,” she said.

Last month, Thomas was one of several African-American aldermen demanding that Chicago Public Schools modify admissions standards at its most elite public high schools to stop a surge of white enrollment at the expense of black students.

During a City Council hearing on the subject, Thomas said she was concerned that a federal judge’s 2009 decision to vacate a desegregation consent decree had slowly resulted in “re-segregation” of the city schools.

“Any time you’re talking about racial diversity in schools or anywhere, you’ve got to have race as part of the standard. That’s my opinion. I haven’t heard anything to change my mind,” Thomas said on that day.

“Now that you’ve taken race out for four years and saw [the adverse impact], race can be one of the factors. Before, it was one of two factors. Now, race can be one of six or maybe seven factors you use, so it’s not weighted as heavily as it was before. Your legal consultants should be exploring that with the idea that, when you took race out, we were falling backward.”

Earlier this year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that white admissions have been climbing over the last four years at Walter Payton College Prep, Jones College Prep, Northside College Prep and Whitney Young College Prep.

The increase in white freshmen — from 29 to 41 percent at Payton and nearly that much at the other three marquee high schools — coincides with a federal judge’s 2009 decision to lift a 1980 consent decree that had required Chicago Public Schools to be desegregated, including a mandate that no school be more than 35 percent white.

Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd) and Will Burns (4th) were so troubled by the decline, they demanded City Council hearings with an eye toward modifying the controversial “socio-economic criteria” put in place when the consent decree was lifted.

The stakes are high. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using $17 million in tax-increment-financing (TIF) funds to add 400 seats to Walter Payton College Prep and another $60 million in TIF money to build a new selective high school for 1,200 students nearby, named after President Barack Obama.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) is, so far, the only incumbent alderman to announce plans to retire from politics. Thomas would make it two.

She was appointed to the City Council in 2000 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley after Daley chose then-Ald. Terry Peterson (17th) to run the Chicago Housing Authority.






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