Mitchell: Byrd-Bennett’s sentence doesn’t teach needed lesson

SHARE Mitchell: Byrd-Bennett’s sentence doesn’t teach needed lesson

Disgraced former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett before being sentenced April 28. | James Foster / Sun-Times

Follow @MaryMitchellCST“Triple B.”

That’s what the press called Barbara Byrd-Bennett from the moment she slipped into the top spot at Chicago Public Schools, a nickname that probably bred too much familiarity.

Now she’s “Triple D.”

She disgraced her family.

She disgraced the city of Chicago.

She disgraced the Chicago Public Schools.


Follow @MaryMitchellCSTByrd-Bennett came out of nowhere to replace the staid Jean-Claude Brizard, the Haitian born immigrant who was superintendent of Rochester City School District before being recruited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But it wasn’t long before Byrd-Bennett had gone down the same troubled track that too many other Chicagoans in powerful positions have gone down.

It was scandalous emails — most notably the “I’ve got tuition to pay and casinos to visit” email — that forced Byrd-Bennett to admit she steered $23 million in no-bid contracts to Gary Solomon, the owner of the SUPES Academy.

Byrd-Bennett, 67, had expected to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. Instead, she is going to spend the next 4 1/2 years behind bars.

Byrd-Bennett sobbed as she tried to explain what made her do it.

“I ought to be punished,” she told Judge Edmond Chang.

She wasn’t punished enough. Prosecutors had asked for more than seven years in prison.

Frankly, I had expected the former schools chief to suffer the same fate as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence.

And it’s not because I’m heartless, but this is ridiculous.

At some point, people who are fortunate enough in this life to land in powerful positions, for which they are highly compensated, have to govern honestly or be severely punished.

It will be a very, very long time before another Illinois governor tries to do what Blagojevich did. Every time Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, and his daughters are forced to publicly beg for mercy on his behalf, it serves as a warning to other shady politicians.

Byrd-Bennett should have gotten the maximum sentence because she ignored that warning.

Her crime happened at a time when the city’s reputation was still suffering from Blagojevich’s foolish schemes, and from Jesse Jr. and Sandy Jackson’s campaign debacle, as well as from Dennis Hastert’s hush-money scandal.

It’s just as Chang said: “It’s distressing that Chicago has not — nor seems to be able to — shed its image of public corruption.”

The sort of “I’m gonna get mine” attitude that Byrd-Bennett’s behavior represents, trickles down to the very criminals on the street.

The fact that Byrd-Bennett managed to stay on the good side of both Emanuel and his most vocal nemesis at the time — Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis — during a contentious school strike should have been tipoff that Byrd-Bennett was a bit too slick for her own good.

But the good people in this city gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Byrd-Bennett should have gotten the maximum sentence because instead of being an example of black excellence, she is an example of black greed.

And in a city where too many black parents are struggling to give their children a good public school education and, thus, the tools they will need to make a better life, Byrd-Bennett’s actions made that job a lot harder.

Byrd-Bennett should have gotten the maximum sentence because she wasn’t some naïve administrator who got tricked by a couple of businessmen holding out false promises. She got lured into this trap because of her own greed.

Finally, Byrd-Bennett should have gotten the maximum sentence for showing up in the courtroom with a cross prominently dangling from her neck.

I hate it when criminals pimp Christianity.

Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST

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