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Are Friends Really Foes?... John Fritchy and 'independent politics' in Chicago

"The overall aim is not to establish a monopoly of power, but also to monopolize the competition for it."

These words written in the book Virtual Politics by Univeristy of London professor Andrew Wilson describe how Eastern European governments and the elite who fund them set up fake opposition groups in order to create and control the opposition.

"It is a special brand of hyper-Machiavellian politics which is described this way by a Ukrainian analyst: 'Western observers are looking for attributes of, or departures from, normal democratic procedure. But our elections are different. The big falsification is the falsification of the whole electoral process, the falsification of almost all the participants in that process. There are no real political subjects, no real independent political actors. ...[M]ost parties are only the creation of various donors looking for a suitable facad,'" Mark Ames, editor of Exiledonline, wrote in his review of the book.

And what current corrupt post-Soviet states do is really no different than what Chicago machine politics do in this city.

One need look no further than state representative John Fritchey, the "progressive" legislator who happens to also be a product of the "machine."

Fritchey's face seems to be anywhere there is something progressive constituents can cheer about - whether it's his focus on ethics and campaign finance reform when he helped to pass the first campaign finance reform law in Illinois, outlawing the practice of campaign fundraising by state inspectors, his efforts to rein in escalating ATM fees and combat identity theft and drafting a law that prevented retailers from printing full credit card numbers on receipts.

According to Progressive Illinois, Fritchey set up a political action committee to raise money for progressive issue campaigns and to back "progressive" candidates.

He is endorsed by unions because he supports raising the minimum wage and protecting workers.

In education, he has aligned himself with the Raise Your Hand coalition of parents, students and community activists who want the mayor to put the TIF monies back into education to cover the alleged $300 million deficit. He is currently sponsoring anti-TIF legislation.

But the question has to then be asked - how much of this is real, especially when it is coming from someone is solidly aligned with the machine of Chicago which is backed by the very corporate interests that are anti-worker and anti-progressive anything.

Perhaps no one better than da Mayor himself called him out on it when Fritchey criticized his plan to privatize Midway Airport a few years ago. The mayor noted, according to The Reader, that "Fritchey voted for the 2006 bill that set the stage for the Midway and parking garage deals by granting blanket property tax exemptions to private investors who lease those city assets."

In other words, Fritchey represents the kind of politics many of us take for granted here - smiling politicians saying they want to help you, then taking action to do the exact opposite after the cameras are turned off.

For someone who parades around as a defender of consumer interests and campaign finance reform, the fact of the matter is Fritchey is a lobbyist who represents the who's who of corporations who pay him to go against those interests.

Take for example a time he represented hip-hop record producer Rudy Acosta in a zoning change to permit the construction of a 44 foot high, 7,000 square-foot structure in the neighborhood of Independence Park on Chicago's northwest side. According to his Wikipedia page, neighbors complained that they were never notified of the proposed zoning change despite a requirement they be notified by certified mail. Fritchey said, "If they don't like the zoning change they shouldn't blame me because they didn't pay attention to it." Fritchey then threatened the neighbors with a defamation lawsuit, Wikipedia stated.

Fritchey has always been backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, run by the UPC, the machine of teacher politcs until the activist group CORE won the recent elections. Last year the CTU under president Marilyn Stewart told delegates that if they wanted to do phone banking to help save the jobs of teachers at schools scheduled to be closed under the controversial privatization Renaissance Plan, they would have to do it themselves. A week later it was discovered that Stewart provided a room full of a couple of dozen volunteers calling citizens to vote for Fritchey who ran for congressman and lost last year.

This despite the fact Fritchey boasts on his website that he helped sponsor legislation to double the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and has voted a few times in favor of vouchers, which diverts tax dollars from public schools to private schools. The proliferation of charter schools in Chicago has cost many CTU public school teachers their jobs despite charter schools' dubious claims of success.

Fritchey has the perfect reformist democrat party background - the child of a Moroccan immigrant and primarily raised by a single mother, he attended the Latin School on a "hardship scholarship," before attending the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law school with the help of federal aid, according to Wikipedia.

He solidifies his progressive credentials in this surprisingly glowing report from the independent media website Gapers Block.

"He was officially, in the parlance of Chicago politics, nobody nobody sent," wrote Ransin Canon in his 2005 Fritchey profile. "Yet it took years for Fritchey's naturally frank (ha, ha) nature to come through to the broader Chicago political establishment, due to its observers's natural cynicism."

Fritchey then married the machine. From a "nobody nobody sent" he married the daughter of Samuel Banks, an attorney who for years, according to Wikipedia, was synonymous with influence in Chicago's 36th ward, a "powerful behind-the-scenes figure for his brother and Fritchey's uncle William Banks, the powerful northwest side machine alderman who heads the city's zoning commission, and is affiliated with Alderman Richard Mell, father-in-law of deposed governor Rob Blagojevich."

"The shadow cast by these two heavyweights has kept Fritchey's energetic, pragmatic progressivism obscured from much of the voting public, denying him the notoriety of similar maverick, independent legislators," Canon further wrote in Gapers Block.

Well, let's take a closer look at clients he currently represents, and see how his lobbying work while simultaneously working as a legislator pans out for those who pay to play.

Before the heroic stance of the Whittier school community in Pilsen today which is defying the Chicago Public Schools and police orders to vacate a field house that is supposed to be torn down because they would like to see it turned into a much needed school library, workers at Republic Windows similarly refused to vacate their factory two years ago because they were not paid for work done despite the fact Bank of America used bailout funds to buy the closed factory.

While many high-profile politicians lined up to support the workers as the story went national, Fritchey steered clear away. Perhaps it was because one of his clients was Bank of America, which has also donated to his campaign. Fritchey said he didn't need to support the workers publically because it would have looked like he was "grandstanding," according to Progressive Illinois.

The fact is over the years his voting record has been very sketchy when it comes to supporting the little guy. In addition to voting for school vouchers three times, he voted against a bill to prohibit gaming interests from making political contributions (while taking more than $25,000 from those same interests), voted against a bill that closed loopholes in the payday loan bill (he was the deciding vote that killed the bill in committee after it passed the state senate 44 - 7), and he voted against a prevailing wage bill, according to Progressive Illinois, a media website covering state politics.

There is even a question about his association with taking on TIFs and the mayor, as he did with Midway Airport. Fritchey did not support 32nd Alderman Scott Waguespack in 2007, who ran against incumbent Ted Matlak, who worked for deceased machinist extraordinair Daniel Rostenkowski.

Waguespack, a newcomer who defeated the machine's Matlak, has championed open government and transparency at city hall when he voted against the corrupt parking meter deal which turned out to to be a giveaway of city assets to JP Morgan. The city ended up losing billions to the investment bank at a time when the city is broke, and the Mayor who brokered the deal has quickly exited the scene.

Waguespack hinted he was interested in running for mayor before Daley dropped out of the race two weeks ago. Now it appears he's going to have a little competition just to retain his seat in the city council. Political insiders say Fritchey made a deal to set up Jonanthan Goldman of Raise Your Hand to run for alderman against Waguespack.

A Raise Your Hand representative said Goldman had been considering running for alderman, but has decided against it. Goldman did not respond to a question from Substance to say if he is a candidate in the aldermanic race. He is no longer on the Raise Your Hand steering committee.

Candidates have to declare if they will run in the next February aldermanic and mayoral elections in November, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.

Not to confuse the two politicians in this world of "virtual politics," both Waguespack and Fritchey chose to ignore the teachers at Prescott Elementary school when they pleaded for help from a principal who harassed the staff to force them to resign so he could put in his own team. Principal Erin Roche also sabotaged the special education program, eliminated the bi-lingual teaching position and virtually outlawed fun activities such as field trips and assemblies, while the number of students attending the school in Lincoln Park slowly dwindled. Roche eventually received a warning resolution from the Board of Ed.

In Virtual Politics, Wilson "debunks one false dialectic, that of the surface world of electoral politics versus the real world of manipulation and 'fake democracy,' of the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys'," Ames wrote in the 2005 Exile book review.

So then who was the bad guy and the good guy here when Fritchey ran to be the 32nd ward democratic committeeman in 2004? Former alderman and old guard committeeman Terri Gabinski, according to Gapers Block, had the current alderman Matlack (old guard bad guy) run in the race, and then Fritchey (new good guy) pulled out a few weeks later, with some speculating this was a manuever by Fritchey to ensure Gabinski's support for future higher office.

Fritchey said it was all done to better the lives of the ward's constituents.

"So who is John Fritchey," the Gapers Block writer said. "Is he indeed the Mr. Smith-Goes-to-Springfield he often appears to be, or is he merely another cog in the Chicago Democratic establishment, high-winning his way to more influence and prominence?"

Even though Fritchey has stated on record he would love to be the next mayor of Chicago, he is now vacating his state rep seat to run for Cook County commissioner, because, according to one supporter who is also a displaced teacher, he wants to see the books and clean up the mess.

"Hey, anybody who is the enemy of the guy I hate and promises to do more, and clean it up, even when we don't know if he can do it, or has ever done it, is the guy I got to go with," this teacher said.

So perhaps the sky's the limit for someone we really don't know - or maybe don't want to know - in the hope things get better.



Comments:

October 2, 2010 at 2:57 PM

By: Matt Lassiter

Seriously?

Holy cow, this article not only has so many basic facts wrong, but at the end of the day, it says nothing.

He represents 'the who's who of corporations'? I looked and found all of two well-known corporate clients he represented over the last decade. One for a whopping $5000 in fees. The overwhelming number of his clients are individuals and small businesses. Do a little bit of research, it's all public information.

He was against payday loan reform? Funny that he received the Monsignor Egan Award for his efforts in passing payday reform legislation.

He ignored Prescott? He has been fighting for Prescott since getting elected, helped the parents start a group to turn the school around and helped lead the fight to keep the school open when CPS wanted to close it last year.

Fritchey didn't support Waguespack? He was Waguespack's biggest donor. Did you even talk to anybody involved in that campaign? Did you look at the D-2s?

Fritchey had a deal to support Goldman? It's safe to say that that would be news to either one of them.

I guess an 'article' like this is what happens when somebody uses Wikipedia and people with axes to grind as their sole sources.

October 3, 2010 at 3:13 PM

By: Jim Vail

Thanks

Most of this comment is true - and that's what makes politicians like Fritchey so powerful.

Yes, I plead guilty to using Wikipedia and yes it is wrong to rely on this website as a source. But I also used Gapers Block, Progressive Illinois and Fritchey's own website.

You don't need to add to Fritchey's accomplishments in this comment, the story is filled with them. I just happened to dig a little deeper.

I disagree that so many of the facts are wrong in my article. Which facts are wrong in the story? Bank of America is not a well-known client of Fritchey's? There is no doubt that he is a lobbyist, and a legislator at the same time (irony, laugh track please).

"He was against payday loan reform? Funny that he received the Monsignor Egan Award for his efforts in passing payday reform legislation."

- receiving an award gives you credence? The writer here does not dispute the fact that Fritchey voted against a bill that closed loopholes in the payday loan bill - which is rather ironic, no? Our president received the Nobel Peace Prize, does that make him a peacenik (Afghanistan, irony anyone)?

The fight for Prescott school was not so simple. There was a fight before to out a tyrancical principal who is on a CPS warning list because he is so bad. Fritchey and Waguespack both stayed clear away from that fight (I guess attacks on teachers these days are not supposed to be addressed).

Yes, Fritchey and Waguespack supported Prescott to not be closed - I mention plenty of Fritchey's accomplishments, and Waguespack's as well. There just happened to be another fight they chose to ignore.

"Fritchey didn't support Waguespack? He was Waguespack's biggest donor. Did you even talk to anybody involved in that campaign? Did you look at the D-2s?"

-Let's not forget, it's all about making deals, supporting one guy, then dropping that support on a dime to get whatever it is they want, case in point Fritchey's decision to drop out of the race for committeeman several years ago.

Yes - it's called politics. And the more people understand the details, the more informed they will be, which can only strengthen democracy for the people, and throw the bums out who try to appear to be your friend, when really they're not.

October 3, 2010 at 5:42 PM

By: Kathy Jacobs

Solidarity Needed

Thanks Jim, for this article. I know how thorough you are when you write a piece and I appreciate that. You do have the annoying little habit of including both sides of a story even when those emotionally invested in the situation would prefer that you report only their position. I guess that’s called good journalism—so rare today.

There are plenty of state and local politicians who are readily available for meaningless school photo ops such as ringing a big bell in the school yard on opening day or posing in front of a mural. It is also fairly painless for a politician to have a staff member write some boilerplate about how completely the politician supports a school. But when a politician stands up against injustice at a school, no matter whose higher-up-underwear is going to get bundled if he does so...well, that's the measure of a man.

I hope that the CTU is welcoming input from its members about which state and local politicians were “out of the office” when teachers called for help and that they will use those testimonies to decide whom to endorse and support with monetary donations. If CTU endorsements and donations are routinely handed out to the same old same old because it’s business as usual, then politicians will continue to assume they can punt by parroting the mantra that LSCs run the schools. They, the politicians, will claim they can do nothing for teachers who ask for help. Politicians will continue to feel comfortable calling teachers outrageous names so they look tough to the voters. Yes, teachers are voters too and one would think that politicians might consider wooing their votes, but teachers also have a contract that guarantees tenured teachers due process. How’s that been working out for them?

Unless ALL teachers send a message to state and local politicians that they’re not going to be played one day and then expected to support them the next, we will all have to live with Newsweek commentator Jonathan Alter’s nonsensical opinion in “Waiting for Superman” – “‘It's very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time,’ Alter says in the film. ‘Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teachers' unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform.’”

Let’s have more articles about politicians’ positions on education and teachers.

October 4, 2010 at 11:51 AM

By: Isabell Scott

Mayoral race

So whom should teachers support in the mayoral race?

October 4, 2010 at 1:59 PM

By: Bill Naegele

John Fritchey

I'm not sure what the motivation of the author is in his hatchet piece on John Fritchey or why we now have political pieces like this in Substance. As for Isabell's question, if teachers have to ask Jim Vail who to vote for for mayor then the whole city is in big trouble.

I don't live in Fritchey's district but if I did he would always have my vote. John was one of the most vocal supporters of school funding reform over the past decade. It would seem that this issue would be of the utmost importance to teachers and would be prominently featured in any Substance article about Fritchey. He boldly bucked the establishment by speaking out loudly for the need to achieve parity among school districts by addressing the over reliance of school funding on property taxes. John courageously sought to alleviate the inequities in funding caused by the archaic tax system currently in place. This may not have won him many votes in his district but he persevered anyway sometimes incurring the wrath of legislative leaders and co-sponsoring HB 750.

Here is a personal story about the courage and tenacity of John Fritchey. During my Union's strike in 2004 against the City Colleges we were at a stalemate with management and locked in a bitter dispute where the Mayor's goal was to break my Union. In my role as legislative director, I sent out letters to 23 Chicago legislators whom we had supported over the years with contributions and workers during their elections. In fact, several of them owed their jobs to us and will, to this day, admit that the Cook County College Teachers Union literaly put them in office.

Out of all those state legislators only two, John Fritchey and the late Larry McKeon, supported us by walking our picket line. It takes a lot of courage for a Chicago politician to knock heads with the Mayor. Fritchey's support helped us win our strike in 2004 and he has helped us many times since then. He has proven himself to be true friend of labor. It doesn't matter to me who his law clients are or that he represented a rap star or who his wife is related to or that he knows Dick Mell.

What matters to me is that he truly cares about public education and is not afraid to speak up on the floor of his chamber to advocate for causes he believes in.

I chaired the IFT regional PAC endorsement session where we voted to endorse Fritchey. The committee was made up of rank and file union members from, not just CTU, but all locals who had members residing in the 5th Congressional District. Fritchey gave, by far, the best interview and the vote was overwhelming for Fritchey. It was a democrataic process and the vote was open and public. The CTU was following the advice of our committee by working to support our IFT endorsed candidate and I'm glad that they did and I would hope that they will continue to participate in the process, have their say, vote, and then support the endorsed candidate.

I don't agree with all of Fritchey's votes but I will vouch for the fact that he was always accessible to me, he listened, we would argue the issues, and then he would vote the way he thought was right. He may not be lefty or radical enough for Jim Vail but he always has the best interests of his constituients at heart. He'll make a great Cook County Commissioner and he would be an excellent mayor. We should all be so lucky.

Bill Naegele,

Local 1600

IFT Vice-president

October 4, 2010 at 3:59 PM

By: Bill Naegele

John Fritchey

I'm not sure what the motivation of the author is in his hatchet piece on John Fritchey or why we now have political pieces like this in Substance. As for Isabell's question, if teachers have to ask Jim Vail who to vote for for mayor then the whole city is in big trouble.

I don't live in Fritchey's district but if I did he would always have my vote. John was one of the most vocal supporters of school funding reform over the past decade. It would seem that this issue would be of the utmost importance to teachers and would be prominently featured in any Substance article about Fritchey. He boldly bucked the establishment by speaking out loudly for the need to achieve parity among school districts by addressing the over reliance of school funding on property taxes. John courageously sought to alleviate the inequities in funding caused by the archaic tax system currently in place. This may not have won him many votes in his district but he persevered anyway sometimes incurring the wrath of legislative leaders and co-sponsoring HB 750.

Here is a personal story about the courage and tenacity of John Fritchey. During my Union's strike in 2004 against the City Colleges we were at a stalemate with management and locked in a bitter dispute where the Mayor's goal was to break my Union. In my role as legislative director, I sent out letters to 23 Chicago legislators whom we had supported over the years with contributions and workers during their elections. In fact, several of them owed their jobs to us and will, to this day, admit that the Cook County College Teachers Union literaly put them in office.

Out of all those state legislators only two, John Fritchey and the late Larry McKeon, supported us by walking our picket line. It takes a lot of courage for a Chicago politician to knock heads with the Mayor. Fritchey's support helped us win our strike in 2004 and he has helped us many times since then. He has proven himself to be true friend of labor. It doesn't matter to me who his law clients are or that he represented a rap star or who his wife is related to or that he knows Dick Mell.

What matters to me is that he truly cares about public education and is not afraid to speak up on the floor of his chamber to advocate for causes he believes in.

I chaired the IFT regional PAC endorsement session where we voted to endorse Fritchey. The committee was made up of rank and file union members from, not just CTU, but all locals who had members residing in the 5th Congressional District. Fritchey gave, by far, the best interview and the vote was overwhelming for Fritchey. It was a democrataic process and the vote was open and public. The CTU was following the advice of our committee by working to support our IFT endorsed candidate and I'm glad that they did and I would hope that they will continue to participate in the process, have their say, vote, and then support the endorsed candidate.

I don't agree with all of Fritchey's votes but I will vouch for the fact that he was always accessible to me, he listened, we would argue the issues, and then he would vote the way he thought was right. He may not be lefty or radical enough for Jim Vail but he always has the best interests of his constituients at heart. He'll make a great Cook County Commissioner and he would be an excellent mayor. We should all be so lucky.

Bill Naegele,

Local 1600

IFT Vice-president

October 4, 2010 at 10:47 PM

By: Jim Vail

Response IFT

Again - I do not dispute the criticism, and love to hear more stories about Fritchey helping out unions and such. That's great!

The more we know about these legislators who have a lot of power over public education and such, the better.

Of course, the writer above doesn't like all the votes Fritchey has cast - but what the heck, we'll take what we can get.

But I do protest - "(Fritchey) truly cares for public education."

Believe it or not - someone who votes in favor of a voucher bill to divert public monies to private entities, not once, but three times - is not, I repeat, is not "a true" defender of public education. He wants more charter schools (and of course CTU votes), which I guess the privatizers would argue is still public education, just managed privately. Well, charters are mostly non-union (which is really the point) and not regulated like "true" public schools, so Fritchey's union credentials again look suspect (walking picket lines to boot).

Now - here's the interesting part - I love this latest lament claiming the article was purely an attack on Fritchey because it came from an IFTer.

If Mr. Fritchey were to run for re-election for his state rep. seat - the IFT would not endorse him. Yes, the IFT, the institution that endorses democrats as sure as the snow melts every spring, would not endorse Fritchey. In fact, they ain't endorsing any democrats - including Mr. Quinn in his heated governor race - who voted in favor of Madigan's pension bill that diverted about $2.5 billion from the state pension fund and upped the retirement age to 67.

I'm sure Mr. Fritchey huffed and puffed, but in the end he was the 61st vote in favor of the pension bill, when only 60 votes were needed to pass this blow to our state pensions.

The writer above also asks why is Substance now publishing political pieces (aren't elections just around the corner?).

Now that's something the higher ups want to hear, how dare independent media write about the politicians who decide where and when and if the money to fund education and other public entities gets doled out.

But all you Fritchey fans out there - bring it on. Bring in your wonderful Fritchey tales, we love to read 'em here at Substance. Let's just not forget, those who hate unions, public education and democracy are none the less happy with this "progressive" democrat.

January 12, 2011 at 6:26 PM

By: robert

Where was John on the tax vote?

Where was our Rep Mr Fritchey on the tax vote?

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