SPRINGFIELD — An emotional state Rep. Jaime Andrade brought lawmakers to their feet on Wednesday in denouncing an Illinois Policy Institute cartoon that depicted a young African-American boy from Chicago begging for money for school from a wealthy white man with half-empty pockets.
The North Side Democrat denounced the cartoon as “s—,” prompting Democrats to rise to give him a standing ovation, with Republicans quickly joining in.
The conservative think tank defended the cartoon, arguing it was not racist, but late Wednesday took it down from the organization’s website, saying the controversy was a distraction from the real issue, “the failure of political leaders to address the root cause of our struggling education system.”
The cartoon was intended to depict how Chicago doesn’t use TIF funds for education — amid the conservative think tank’s push to have Chicago deal with its pension mess outside of the school funding debate. Both the governor and the institute believe Chicago is using its TIF districts to hide property tax money, thus needing more money from the state. But the image sparked anger and emotion on the floor, from both sides of the aisle.
The debate over the image began on Twitter when state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, called it a “Sambo” cartoon. The man in the cartoon is showing the child an empty pocket on his right, with “TIF $” coming out of his left pocket. The child is sitting on the floor with a backpack, a Cubs hat and holding a sign that reads “Need money 4 school.”
“Are you saying that wealthy white businessmen are not using TIF to take money from black and brown kids?” the Illinois Policy Institute tweeted in an exchange with Mitchell.
Mitchell, in turn, argued that the group could have “drawn another kid. “You could have drawn an african american child without exaggerated features (ie lips),” he wrote.
“But you made a different choice, one that links to a dark and troubled history,” Mitchell tweeted.
Andrade asked Democrats and Republicans to “stand” with him “and show that this is unacceptable.”
“Especially with what’s going on right now in Virginia. People forget that I am a minority. Maybe because I move my hands and think I’m Italian. I don’t know. . . . This is unbelievable that we today in 2017 are still dealing with this s—. Because that’s what it is.”
“There’s no reason the Illinois Policy Institute should describe colors and races of people when they’re having a fight,” Andrade said.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, also joined in on the debate on Twitter: “Cartoons don’t make racism any more palatable @illinoispolicy should delete their cartoon and apologize. That has no place in policy debate.”
By late Wednesday, Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman, a close friend and adviser to Rauner, said in a statement that “the cartoon told the truth,” but was being removed.
“We have taken down the cartoon, not because we think it is racist, but because it is a distraction from another truth — the failure of political leaders to address the root cause of our struggling education system. We stand ready to work with all elected officials and advocates who would like to see TIF money properly refocused on students across the state.
Tillman also accused lawmakers of using racism “in an attempt to smear policy opponents.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner has hired several of the think tank’s members to senior posts. Rauner’s office declined to comment Wednesday night.