Why It's Easy For Emanuel To Take On the Unions

The New York Times has a story today about the hot new cause among Republican governors: ending teacher tenure.

“Governors in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey have called for the elimination or dismantling of tenure,” the Times reports. “As state legislatures convene this winter, anti-tenure bills are being written in those states and others. Their chances of passing have risen because of crushing state budget deficits that have put teachers’ unions on the defensive.”

Rahm Emanuel is no Republican, but he’s with the GOP on this one. Emanuel was the only mayoral candidate to come out in favor of Performance Counts, a bill in the state legislature that would restrict teachers’ right to strike, and mandate layoffs by performance, not seniority.

Emanuel also has taken nearly a million dollars from donors to Stand for Children Illinois, a group that supports Performance Counts. Here’s the Capitol Fax newsletter, as quoted in Substance News:

It’s no longer a surprise why Rahm Emanuel so heartily endorsed an education reform bill that was vigorously opposed by the teachers unions. The Chicago mayoral candidate raised almost $900,000 from all but two of the same individuals, families and companies which filled Stand for Children Illinois’ coffers to bursting last month.

Elizabeth Crown, a member of the Henry Crown dynasty (which gave Stand for Children $500K and Emanuel $114K) had only contributed relatively small amounts before ramping up her giving with $50K to “Stand” and $15K to Emanuel.

Paul Finnegan, the co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners … $500K to Stand for Children and $50K to Emanuel.

Emanuel’s three major opponents -- Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel del Valle -- all told a forum sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union that they oppose Performance Counts, which appears to be dead in the legislature.

Emanuel also told the Fraternal Order of Police that the city’s pension plan is unsustainable and that he favors cutting benefits for current officers. Gery Chico, who won the FOP’s endorsement, prefers a two-tier system, with smaller pensions for new hires. So do del Valle and Moseley Braun.

The divide between the candidates on public employee unions is just a symptom of the class divide in this election. Chico, del Valle and Moseley Braun all grew up in blue-collar households. Chico’s father owned a gas station and a print shop, while his mother worked as a secretary. Del Valle’s parents both worked in factories. Moseley Braun’s father and brother were police officers. They’re all more likely to be sympathetic to the labor movement than Emanuel, the son of a pediatrician.

It could be that Emanuel has seized on an issue whose time has come -- forcing the public employee unions to make concessions as states and cities go broke -- and his opponents are stuck in the Democratic Party’s past. But his background makes it easier for him to take that stand.

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