Protesters block Loop traffic demanding rent control, elected school board

SHARE Protesters block Loop traffic demanding rent control, elected school board

Protesters blocked traffic in the Loop on Monday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

A coalition of community groups on Monday stopped lunch hour traffic outside City Hall to amplify their demand that Illinois Senate President John Cullerton “stop doing the mayor’s dirty work” by blocking an elected school board and rent control in Chicago.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) introduced a bill that would have established rent control boards empowered to limit annual rent increases to one percent above the consumer price index. But it went nowhere during the spring legislative session.

For years, bills calling for an elected Chicago Public Schools board have drawn overwhelming support in advisory referendums, but stalled in Springfield amid opposition from Emanuel and his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Both mayors did not want to lose control over the schools. Nor were they interested in injecting elective politics into CPS for fear it would slow momentum for their pet education programs.

Daley and Emanuel both argued that CPS already has elected officials in the form of local school councils. That’s even though LSC’s can determine only how money is spent in individual schools. They do not set spending priorities and policy for the entire system.

On Monday the two issues came together as the Chicago Teachers Union joined forces with representatives from: Action Now; the Pilsen Alliance: Good Kids, Mad City and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

“Schools are being closed. … We’re being pushed out of our homes. Ten thousand Latino families pushed out of Pilsen. Twenty thousand families pushed out of Logan Square. You’ve got 250,000 black people pushed out of this city. Why? Because Rahm, Cullerton want to turn this city into a white, rich city,” said Jawanza Malone, executive director of KOCO.

Malone referred to Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the “puppet master pulling strings” in Springfield.

“He’s telling Cullerton, ‘Don’t pass an elected board. Don’t pass rent control. I’ll look out for you if you look out for me.’ Who’s looking out for us?”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the “real legacy of mayoral control” of CPS is a steady stream of scandals — and a revolving door of schools CEO’s — culminating in the biggest one of all: the sexual abuse of students.

Sharkey argued that mayoral control is more like “corporate control” with the “people who profit off those corporations” calling the shots at CPS.

“If the people get to decide ourselves, we wouldn’t allow a small group who don’t even send their kids to our schools to make millions off our schools. We would end it. We would vote them out. And that can’t be allowed. Because ultimately, corporate control is incompatible with democracy,” Sharkey said.

Alycia Moaton of Good Kids, Mad City is a student at Kenwood Academy, where there are “2,000 kids and only one social worker.”

“If you have a panic attack in school, you’re just told to go back to class like it was nothing. That’s not a safe environment for us,” Moaton said.

“We have Rahm Emanuel spending $95 million to fund a cop academy. But, you have schools being shut down. You have mental health clinics being shut down. But, Rahm can invest $95 million in the corrupted CPD.”

The raucous protest ended with dozens of chanting protesters marching out onto Randolph Street and forming a human chain that blocked lunch-hour traffic for a few minutes.

Chicago Police officers allowed the protesters to make their point as motorists fumed. Some drivers got out of their cars to take cell phone video of the protest.

Protesters seeking an elected school board and rent control blocked traffic briefly on Monday in the Loop. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Protesters seeking an elected school board and rent control blocked traffic briefly on Monday in the Loop. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

John Patterson, a spokesman for Cullerton, Emanuel’s closest ally in Springfield, said the portrait of Cullerton as the legislative roadblock on rent control and an elected school board is unfair and inaccurate.

In fact, the Illinois Senate approved an elected school board last year with only one change from the House-approved version. The amendment created a local board to draw maps for elected school board members, instead of having the General Assembly draw those boundaries with sign off by the governor. That sent the bill back to the House, where embattled Speaker Michael Madigan controls the agenda.

As for rent control, Patterson said Hunter is “setting up a series of hearings on affordable housing” that Cullerton is “working with her” to arrange.

“The senator has acted on both issues,” Patterson said.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins added, “Ten days after the legislative session ended is a strange time to focus on state legislation. Our focus is solely on continuing the achievement gains being made by students all across the city.”

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