Politicians Shine at CTU LEAD Dinner
When political bigwigs buzzed about at the Chicago Teachers Union annual Legislators Educators Appreciation Dinner Friday night, October 29, 2010, there was certainly a feeling of charged energy in the room. And the room, the large hall at the headquarters of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, was filled with more than 1,000 union members, community supporters, and candidates. There was barely enough space to walk between the tables, which were being added until the doors were finally opened to the dinner at 5:30 p.m.
Handshakes and smiles circulated a night of cocktails and corned beef and cabbage in which Democrat politicians mixed with city teachers and union officials before Tuesday's election. The dinner, which had been an annual affair hosted by the CTU until the past couple of years, when it was not promoted by former President Marilyn Stewart, was the largest LEAD since the early 2000s, according to many long-time observers. Current CTU President Karen Lewis and the union's staff worked overtime to revitalize the event.
"We might be able to win court cases, we might be able to win grievances, but we need to stop the attacks from the legislators who are well funded," said CTU President Karen Lewis.
Lewis was followed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, a former teacher of 30 years, who perhaps said it all as far as union and government officials are concerned: "We have to win with Quinn."
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, running a close race with republican Bill Brady, was walking up and down the aisles being pulled over for photographs, shaking hands, smiling and chatting and answering questions.
Then he took the podium to an outburst of applause and spoke briefly, punctuating why Brady is a horrible choice because he wants to cut education by $1.2 billion, lower the minimum wage, and support vouchers.
"You are the custodians of the future and you are my heroes," Quinn said. "I want to say I've totally enjoyed working with Karen."
Quinn, and the rest of the Democratic party, is very dependent upon the unions to get working people out to the polls to vote on Tuesday. He has been calling the CTU, as well as the other unions, to push for their support in the race.
Quinn promised the CTU more funding for education and to veto the voucher bill should it arrive on his desk. He promised the AFL-CIO no job cuts in the near future, a pledge the business community, led by the Chicago Tribune, have heavily criticized.
Earlier in the week, he had been denied a chance to speak to the annual luncheon of the Retired Teachers Association of Chicago, according to RTAC director Bob Bures, when he refused to agree to promise the retired teachers that he would not support any additional raids on the Chicago teachers pension fund, such as the one he signed over teacher and retired teacher protests after the quick vote in the General Assembly in April 2010.
An interesting twist in the night were two hopeful mayoral candidates — Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle and Alderman Bob Fioretti — circulating the rooms in their quest to be the next mayor.
Bets are on that Rahm Emmanuel, who was probably sprinting outside the White House and to the airport as soon as he heard that King Daley was calling it quits after twenty years of rule, will be the next mayor. Emmanuel first served as a fundraiser for Daley before raising money for President Clinton, and later serving as a congressman before returning to the White House as President Obama's chief of staff. He not only has all the money, he also apparently has the machine slowly but surely ready to back his annointment to be Daley's successor.
One of Emmanuel's top challengers, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, just recently dropped out of the race.
So Mr. Del Valle, many teachers are asking, do you really think you have a chance to win against the ruling class's chosen heir to the throne?
"It's not all about money," Del Valle said, his eyes gleaming. "It's also about the people."
Accompanying Del Valle was Alderman Ricardo Munoz, who along with other campaign workers, was handing out Del Valle for Mayor buttons. Fioretti told Substance he is still in the race for mayor, but his star has dimmed as well since the Emmanuel freight train exploded through Union Station.
Alderman Scott Waguespack, who was once thinking about running for mayor by will not, William Dock Walls, a perpetual mayoral candidate, and Green party governor candidate Rich Whitney, were other notables in an event packed with powerbrokers in suits.
Waguespack spoke briefly to the teachers and legislators after receiving a public education award. He mentioned three important things for public education — a great union leadership, an elected school board and reclaiming TIF monies for the schools.
"I want to give a lot of credit to Ben Joravsky for educating me about the TIFs," said Waguespack, who voted against the mayor's disasterous parking meter privatization deal. "Where is all that money going? It's not going to the schools."
Jonathan Jackson, whose brother Jesse Jackson Jr. was once considered a top contender for the mayor race until his ties to the former Governor Blagojevich surfaced, also attended the event. He has been at the forefront of supporting public schools in low income areas that have been targeted to close under Daley's privatization plan.
There were two prominent mayoral candidates not in attendance. Emmanuel, who has spearheaded neo-liberal reforms that have decimated unions across the country, and the Rev. James Meeks, who once called the CTU the biggest gang in Chicago.
In addition to many CTU union employees and officers, there were also many UPC members such as former CTU vice president candidate Mark Ochoa, as well as former CTU president Debbie Lynch.