Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in a no-win position now that Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has been exposed as a liar and the architect of a cover-up.
If Emanuel fires Claypool, he’ll be turning his back on a friend of nearly 40 years whose tenure has included impressive results on both the education and school funding fronts.
The mayor would also be emboldening the Chicago Teachers Union in the run-up to the 2019 mayoral election by serving up the head on a platter the union has long demanded.
If Emanuel keeps Claypool — even after he “repeatedly lied” to Inspector General Nicholas Schuler — it will invite CPS employees to do the same, send a dangerous message to students and gamble that a schools CEO whose integrity has been tarnished can still function.
On Thursday, the mayor argued that Claypool “acknowledged that he made a mistake” and called it “a sign of character to publicly acknowledge where you’re wrong and take responsibility for it.”
Emanuel also said there are “two sides to every story” and Claypool “deserves the right to be heard.”
Hours later, Claypool apologized again and said he “misread the situation” and is “embarassed” by his “mistakes in judgement.”
Schuler did his best to leave the mayor as little wiggle room as possible.
“What kind of signal would it send to CPS employees, parents and children if the CEO was allowed to change records as part of a cover-up and keep his job?” he wrote.
David Axelrod, a close friend of both Emanuel and Claypool, predicted the fiercely-loyal Emanuel would stick with Claypool.
“Rahm, from my conversations with him, appreciates the progress the system has made in terms of dealing with its horrific financial problems and educationally on Forrest’s watch,” Axelrod said.
“He feels a sense of loyalty — not just out of friendship but out of performance. And not just at CPS but also at the CTA, which was kind of a mess when Forrest got over there. You don’t casually toss aside that kind of leadership.”
Axelrod added, “Issues over which you should leave go to corruption or profiteering. What you have here is a guy who wanted to get the best possible representation for the kids of Chicago and was over-zealous in making that happen. That, to me, is a pardonable sin.”
Even before the inspector general’s report, Claypool’s tenure appeared to be winding down.
His lawsuit accusing the state of distributing school aid in a way that discriminates against Chicago was dismissed, even if it may have laid the groundwork for a deal in Springfield.
His threat to close schools three weeks early if he didn’t win that court order turned into an empty threat when Emanuel rode to the rescue to keep his vaunted longer school year intact.
“Does he see himself as CEO of the schools for life? No. I don’t think that. Some time he will leave. Do I think he will leave now because of this? Absolutely not — and he shouldn’t,” Axelrod said.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, said Emanuel has shown himself to be “incredibly loyal to his people,” and he doesn’t expect that to change with Claypool.
“If it comes to a point where he can no longer be effective, he will be given the dignity … to leave on his own terms,” Brookins said.
“It depends on how loud the drumbeat gets in the next couple of weeks and months. … If it blows over and the public does not view it as seriously as the inspector general, Forrest may be there for a while.”
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley managed to survive the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals by throwing everybody around him under the bus.
Emanuel has served up only one head — that of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy — and only after protesters demanded the mayor’s resignation for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
The mayor insisted then that McCarthy had become a “distraction” by losing the community’s trust and that his “loyalty” to his only police superintendent did not trump his “bigger loyalty” to the city.
After reading Schuler’s report, the same argument could be made about Claypool.
“The situation the inspector general has uncovered is a huge mistake. I don’t know that it warrants the quote-unquote ‘death penalty,'” Brookins said.
“But time will tell. And it will tell in short order.”