In the midst of a budget crisis and a month after hiring a $165,000-a-year communications chief, Chicago Public Schools is adding another high-powered communications boss who’s moving from City Hall just in time for election season.
Bill McCaffrey, who until Friday was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s deputy press secretary, is moving down the street to 125 S. Clark Street as of Tuesday to become “chief for media relations,” according to a district spokesman.
“Thank you for reaching out, but as of July 11, I am no longer with the Mayor’s Press Office,” read his auto-reply to his City email address. “Starting July 15, I will be at Chicago Public Schools.”
McCaffrey could not be reached immediately Monday by phone for comment. He was one of the last holdouts from the Richard M. Daley administration in the City Hall press office.
Neither mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn office nor CPS spokesman Joel Hood would comment on any specific reason for his move at this time. Nor would Hood say if McCaffrey’s salary — which a city website pegged at $99,000 as of September 2013 — would change.
Hood emailed a statement: “The CPS communications department is undergoing a re-organization and recently hired individuals who have high levels of experience and expertise in different facets of communications to better serve the needs of the District, its 40,000 employees and the public.”
In an email, Quinn called McCaffrey “a dedicated public servant whose expertise and commitment to provide information to the media and public have earned him a strong reputation,” adding that “Bill brings to CPS nearly ten years of experience in city government, and he will certainly continue to serve the people of Chicago with distinction.”
The mayor is apparently shoring up the district’s press office just as a new Sun-Times poll shows him to be very vulnerable, were he to face off against Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. Lewis, who led teachers in a 2012 strike, has railed against Emanuel for closing a historic number of schools for low enrollment and cutting neighborhood school budgets while opening new charter schools.
McCaffrey’s installation comes about three weeks after the approval of Ronald Iori as “Chief District Communications and Marketing Officer,” by the Board of Education, an executive office position that comes with a $165,000 salary. Hired by CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Iori worked in the private sector and boasts expertise in crisis management at Kaplan Higher Education, Aramark, H&R Block and others, according to his bio at www.IoriCommunications.com. Iori started his career in newspapers.
Iori filled a vacancy created when Becky Carroll resigned as chief communications officer in March, a few months after giving birth to her first child. Carroll was Emanuel’s handpicked choice to head the schools office when he took power in 2011, to oversee his education message on a longer school day and the decision to close a historic number of neighborhood schools in mostly black neighborhoods. She has since founded a super PAC called “Chicago Forward,” which has already raised at least $1 million, expected to support the mayor and his aldermanic allies.
In its newly released 2015 budget showing a deficit of $876.3 million, CPS budgeted 17 positions for its communications office, down one position from the year before and four from 2013. Hood said five of the 17 will still be vacant once McCaffrey comes aboard. The department’s proposed spending also dropped about $49,000 from 2014 to $1.8 million.
CPS is not the only city agency seeing a shuffle in communications staffers; the Chicago Police Department also got a new deputy director of news affairs Martin Maloney, after Adam Collins moved to City Hall.