To be a progressive politician in Chicago these days, most people think you need to be on board with a number of key issues near and dear to progressives across the city.
For one, you need to be for more transparency and accountability in government. For proof, just look at the regular denunciations many progressives make of Chicago’s “rubber stamp” City Council.
For another, you’re likely to support demands for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reverse his 2012 decision to shutter six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics without debate or Council hearings.
And you’re almost certain to get behind calls for an elected representative school board, if for no other reason than to wrest control of the city’s schools from the fifth floor of City Hall.
As it turns out, that last issue could well be a problem for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the latest candidate to jump in the race for mayor.
On Wednesday, just two days after he announced, Garcia was asked if he favors an elected school board.
Asked Wednesday by a student about whether he favors an elected school board, a cornerstone issue for the progressive movement he hopes to lead, Garcia was noncommittal, saying he has “toiled with this issue.”
“I’m more for an elected school board than against,” he said, then added he has concerns that money could skew the outcome of such an election.
“There’s too much money in politics,” said Garcia, making one of the same arguments as opponents of elected school boards, a misgiving you never heard from Lewis.
The truth is, perhaps no other issue is more at the forefront of a progressive agenda in the run-up to the 2015 municipal election than getting an elected representative school board for Chicago’s public school system.
Chicago is the only city in Illinois without an elected representative school board, and many education advocates and political activists believe school board elections are crucial to bringing democracy back to decisions over how the school system is run.
Members of the Progressive Reform Caucus in Council have been fighting a running battle for years to get the issue on a ballot before voters, only to be beaten back each time by Emanuel’s aldermanic allies. The Caucus’ chairman, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2), who’s also running for mayor, sponsored or cosponsored resolutions in both 2013 and 2014 to get the issue on the ballot.
As well, a coalition of activists groups is currently embarked on a city-wide effort to get the issue in front of voters with a ward-by-ward strategy that places the question on the ballot in each of the city’s 50 wards.
To that end, activists from organizations such as the Chicago Teachers Union and United Working Families, to name a few, are currently out circulating petitions in an effort to get the roughly 50,000 signatures city-wide needed to get the issue on the ballot.
The question even looks to be an issue in aldermanic races across the city, as some groups are actively working to get aldermanic candidates looking to unseat incumbents to circulate petitions for an elected school board side-by-side with their own nominating petitions.
Not surprisingly, it’s these very groups and others who back the elected school board issue who are also lining up to place their support behind Garcia, should he manage to collect enough signatures and build a campaign infrastructure necessary to make a run.
Which, should Garcia not change his mind and come out more forcefully on the issue, could place some activist groups and financial supporters of Garcia in the uncomfortable position of backing a candidate who’s not 100 percent with them on one of the progressive agenda’s key platforms.
While no candidate needs to move in lockstep on every issue his or her supporters believe in, Garcia’s lack of clarity on the issue could place him outside of a movement that’s already underway and looks to be gathering steam in the run-up to 2015.
That means come Election Day, someone’s going to have to move one way or the other. Especially if it comes down to a choice between simply unseating Rahm Emanuel and working on an issue many believe is vital to change the direction of Chicago and its future.