It’s Rahm Emanuel’s hot mess. Crime is out of control, the summer is close at hand. The mayor faces heated discontent from unions, education activists and parents, particularly black folks.
A year ago, Emanuel and his school board closed almost 50 public schools; most served black children on the South and West sides.
Now comes his politically inexplicable decision to open an elite, selective-enrollment school. On the near North Side.
Last month Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials announced that the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School will open in 2017. Built with $60 million in tax increment financing funds and located near the old Cabrini-Green public housing development, the new school will instantly become a highly competitive haven for learning.
Emanuel must have thought the Obama name would grease the wheels. Instead, it threw grease on the flames.
The president is still beloved here, especially among African-Americans, including my mom and political barometer. But Mom is not impressed.
In fact, she is incensed. Outraged. And feels disrespected.
“How dare he!” she exclaimed on the phone the other day. The new school should be on the South Side, says Mom, a Hyde Parker. “There is so much need.” The day before Emanuel unveiled Obama Prep, his school board voted to put three struggling schools — serving predominantly black communities — on a turnaround plan, and turn them over to a private school operator.
“We bitch and complain [but] after the closings are done,” Mom says. “Then they go and march and sing. Now is the time to tell the mayor we will not tolerate this!”
School officials say Obama Prep will be centrally located, accessible citywide, and that African-American students enjoy other selective school options.
Mom’s not buying it. She and her friends are talking about protesting at the next Chicago City Council meeting.
Legions of others in the black community are tired of the rampant crime. The city has suffered at least three straight weekends of double-digit shootings. Teenagers are murdering each other. The mayor and his police department have deployed many anti-violence strategies, yet the killing continues.
Emanuel is sticking to his script. He is a man of supreme confidence, has plenty of power, and a bit too much arrogance.
Just ask former Mayor Jane Byrne. In 1983 she lost City Hall after one term, at the hands of the same black voters who helped put her in office.
If Emanuel asked, Byrne might say, “Back in 1982, I made a terrible, fatal political mistake when I dumped two African-American school board members and replaced them with whites. That wasn’t my first mistake, but it was the beginning of the end.”
Black voters were incensed, outraged, and most of all, disrespected.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson spearheaded a boycott of Byrne’s beloved ChicagoFest. A movement was born, and the rest is political legend. Harold Washington took up the challenge, and Byrne lost her mayoralty in a three-way Democratic primary.
“Mr. Mayor,” Byrne might tell Emanuel, “you can’t cure disrespect with spin and symbols.”
There are plenty of angles on who might take on Emanuel in his 2015 re-election bid. A Preckwinkle run, a Fioretti effort. Perhaps another three-way, one that could force Emanuel into a runoff.
Another legend in the making?