Mayoral candidates tout themselves in December 15 Education Forum at Chicago's Walter Payton High School

My colleague asked me who won after the mayoral forum Wednesday night, December 15, 2010, at Walter Payton College Prep High School. In other words, who sounded the best in defending public education and public school teachers which Substance readers want to know.

Candidates (left to right) on stage at Chicago's Walter Payton High School for the mayoral forum on education (December 15, 2010) Gery Chico, Miguel DelValle, Carol Moseley Braun, and James Meeks. The moderator Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association is at the microphone far right. Substance photo by Jim Vail.My answer -- they were all good, and bad.

On a cold December night four mayoral candidates -- former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico, former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle and State Senator Rev. James Meeks -- presented their education plans which swung from praising the efforts of Chicago public school teachers to bashing them on the heads.

The two notable candidates who were absent were Rahm Emmanuel, currently fighting to stay on the ballot because of questions about his residency, and US Rep. Danny Davis, who had to be in Washington D.C. during an important vote session.

In their opening remarks, Chico touted himself as a proud graduate of the Chicago Public Schools who turned around the schools when he served as president of the board of education.

"When I took over, the schools were facing a potential $1.3 billion deficit, school buildings were crumbling and children were not learning," Chico said. "When Daley brought me in we built 60 new schools, and we had six years of test score gains. But after 10 years, our schools are adrift again."

Del Valle talked about his passionate support for bi-lingual education.

Chicago City Clerk Miguel DelValle being interview by Fox News following the mayoral forum on education at Payton High School on December 15, 2010. Substance photo by Jim Vail."When I started school I was held back my first year because I didn't speak English," Del Valle said. "Two years later I had a wonderful teacher who inspired me and worked with me to be double promoted. I then was elected the first Latino to the general assembly."

Braun went straight to the heart of the matter in her opening remarks.

"What makes Walter Payton stand out is that it has the resources -- art and music and physical education, and dedicated teachers. I want every school to be like Walter Payton. We need a superintendent, not just a CEO or bean counter. Now we have all these school reform schemes every year that no one can understand."

Last, but not least, was Meeks, who touted himself as the leading candidate for an "equitably" funded education.

"We have too many kids trapped in underfunded and underperforming schools," Meeks said. "We lost Race to the Top only because we couldn't go far enough to make sure teachers are properly evaluated."

Moderator and former TV political reporter Andy Shaw's first question was should there be a state income tax increase to fund education.

Meeks and Chico danced around the sensitive question for voters by stressing transparency (Meeks) and property tax relief (Chico).

The two who answered the question directly and honestly were Del Valle and Braun. Del Valle said yes, noting the state is facing a $13 billion deficit, "so anyone opposed to a tax increase doesn't understand the reality we are facing."

Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun following the December 15, 2010 forum at Payton High School. Substance photo by Jim Vail.Braun said no, reminding the audience about the lottery which was supposed to provide money to public education but did not, and the fact that the we are in the middle of a recession.

Should the city have a superintendent or a CEO, and who should it be?

Chico said former school CEO Paul Vallas did a great job, but as he sensed some resistance in the audience to this name, he then mentioned former Chicago chief education officer Barbara Eason-Watkins. Chico claimed the state mandates keeping the CEO model, but this was later challenged by Braun who said there is no state mandate on who to name head of the Chicago public schools.

Meeks, Del Valle and Braun agreed that there should be a superintendent to run the schools with an education background, with Meeks noting the current CEO model has lost the trust of the rank and file teachers.

Shaw's next question hit the teachers head on — what should be changed in the next teachers union contract?

Del Valle first defended the teachers, noting that nationally teachers are taking a big hit with all the talk about getting rid of incompetent teachers. He did concede to the overwhelming demands from the business class that student performance should be in the next contract.

Rev. Sen. James Meeks of Chicago spoke with Fox News following the forum at Payton High School. Substance photo by Jim Vail.Meeks answer was a bit more creative, demanding the union to do the dirty work.

"I call on the CTU to put a proposal out to identify incompetent teachers," he said. "If not, then I'll ask the general assembly to get rid of incompetent teachers."

Actually, the last Chicago Teachers Union team under president Marilyn Stewart did in fact start such police action under the Fresh Start program where the union was helping to fire tenured teachers at Wells High School.

Braun was most gracious in her answer


"I think we have to stop scapegoating teachers," she said. "They are not doing this for the money. We need better collaboration to work with the teachers union."

Chico cited his experience with negotiating two teacher union contracts while he served for the Board of Ed. He also noted he has a family filled with teachers, including his wife, two of his children and his mother-in-law.

"I don't battle with the teachers," Chico said. "Tom Reece (past CTU president who lost to Debbie Lynch) was exemplary. Most teachers are good. This is a tough job."

Walter Payton students then asked a few questions. One asked Braun what she thought about selective enrollement schools, and Braun answered they should make all the neighborhood schools good.

Another student asked Del Valle about bullying and what he would do. The former state senator said he too was once bullied and remembered having to leave school at a different time to avoid getting beaten up. He stressed implementing policies to address it and making it a part of professional development.

Should there be a longer school day? Shaw noted that Chicago has one of the shortest school days and school years in the country.

"The fact of the matter is the schools are not educating anyway, so how would a longer school day help," Braun blurted out, completely negating her earlier statements in support of teachers. This drew a hushed silence from a well-behaved crowd that was applauding at all the appropriate times.

Del Valle said they should establish community centers, so that the children can learn with their parents, and that the kids need time to play.

They took away recess, and have only 20 minutes to eat, that's inhumane," Del Valle said to a spirited applause.

Chico touted that fact that he created a longer day with after school programs in hundreds of schools and a longer year with summer school. He advocated increasing the school day from six to eight hours and the school year from 176 days to 200 days.

"To pay for it, cut the central bureacracy by one-third," he said.

Meeks said to increase the reading and math times from 60 minutes to 90 minutes. He then reiterated the urban legend about how the number of prisons built are based on the reading level of elementary school students.

All the candidates agreed that school choice is important for parents, but in varying degrees.

Chico said he is proud that the number of charter schools has increased from 15 when he was president of the board in the late 90s and early 2000, to 91 charter schools today.

"People need choices," he stated.

Braun said she is committed to a high quality public education.

"We need to make sure our public schools are high quality for the parents, and they can choose afterwards," Braun said.

But Meeks said school choice is most important. He noted that the US Post Office got better when its competitors FedEx and UPS entered the market.

"We're talking about a broke system," Meeks said. "They say it will take seven years. But we need to do this now ... And vouchers will make public schools get better."

For some reason, Meeks last voucher statement generated heavy applause, citing the competitive free market place as the cure to public schools.

Del Valle quickly countered Meeks statement.

"The day we get vouchers in Chicago is the day we give up on our kids," Del Valle responded, which also generated heavy applause.

It is interesting to note at this point that not one candidate talked about the devastating effect poverty has on the children in the so-called "failing schools," and the lack of jobs and adequate health care that greatly effect the children's performance in the classroom.

The next question was about TIFs - Tax Increment Financing districts used as tax incentives to develop blighted areas in the city.

Del Valle adamantly stated the money diverted from the schools should be put back into the schools, Meeks stressed transparency (again, loud applause), Chico said they still gave $1 billion to the schools and therefore should stay, while Braun clearly voiced the crowd favorite - ban them!

"We should have a moratorium on the (TIF) program," Braun said. "Even the aldermen don't know about the money. They shouldn't take money from the schools and give it to development."

Should the infamous former schools chief Michelle Rhee, who even moderator Shaw noted was so divisive in Washington D.C. that her presence led to the mayor's re-election defeat, be allowed in Chicago?

The question must have been posed because of the possibility that Emmanuel might ask her to come to Chicago.

Not one candidate welcomed Rhee should they be mayor, however. Meeks said maybe she could be used as a consultant, Chico again pitched for Vallas, while Braun and Del Valle stressed home-grown candidates to lead the Chicago public schools.

How about the return of Paul Vallas, who is currently running the schools of New Orleans and consulting in Haiti?

Meeks said no, he's not an educator, Del Valle agreed, Braun said "Nope" while Chico said "Yes."

And the question we were all waiting for - what grade would you give the Chicago public schools?

Braun said a D- but schools like Walter Payton have helped raise it, Chico said a C- but he'd like to give it an A - noting the mayor has to show leadership and "recruit good teachers which he hasn't done in the past."

Meeks said in a weak-sounding voice that you cannot give the schools a D because they say the mayor has done a good job, while Del Valle said he could not give the schools an overall grade, then said maybe a C, but noted there were a lot of As and Bs, but most high schools would be failing, so he'd give them a D. Meeks then said it sounded more like an F.

So after this civilized mayoral debate concluded, what grade would we at Substance give the candidates. In the spirit of evaluating us all, here it is:

Carol Moseley Braun - B- (a surprisingly great effort, despite a slip up that has us concerned)

Miguel Del Valle - B- (a defender of public education who needs to speak up)

James Meeks - D+ (the teacher basher par excellance who sounds good)

Gery Chico - D+ (clearly the self-declared business candidate outside Rahm)

Class dismissed!


December 16, 2010 at 11:12 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Gone Fishing

Sounds to me like they were all not quite sure how to bait their hooks on this fishing excursion as they quest for the the mayoral office.

Del Valle is probably the least of the evils, but then hey! There's no substitute for a properly organized union engaged in a massive public information campaign, now is there?

December 17, 2010 at 6:50 AM

By: Maria Rosa

Next Mayor and schools

Your score a good one. I'm impressed with the top two you graded "B." Good idea to create community centers for children and parents to learn together.

December 17, 2010 at 3:03 PM

By: Maggie

best choice is so obvious

Mr. Chico is easily the best candidate. He has the best experience, best goals and the best temper to lead this wonderful city. People don't like the truth and want to hide from the cold hard truth. Mayor Chico absolutely should be the name of the next mayor. Chicagoans are kidding themselves if they vote for any other candidate. Chico is by far and for all, the little guy and the big shots, the best candidate.

December 17, 2010 at 5:33 PM

By: dribbler

Why won't Gery answer questions the Save-A-Life investigations?

12/13/10, public letter to Gery Chico from political writer Lee Cary: 'Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico says he wants "more openness, transparency and accountability." But will he walk the talk by answering questions about the "shady non-profit" he was "instrumental in bringing to the Chicago Schools"?:

December 17, 2010 at 8:11 PM

By: dribbler

Why won't Gery answer questions the Save-A-Life investigations?

12/13/10, public letter to Gery Chico from political writer Lee Cary: 'Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico says he wants "more openness, transparency and accountability." But will he walk the talk by answering questions about the "shady non-profit" he was "instrumental in bringing to the Chicago Schools"?:

December 18, 2010 at 5:40 AM

By: Patricia Breckenridge

Mayoral Forum at Engineers' local May 16th

I support Carol Mosley-Braun. She has held the highest public official position of all candidates. She is honored as an Ambassador and the first African-American woman elected to the Senate. She has national and international experience with the public, as well as, education policy and funding. She is articulate and literate on issues addressed on the local level, so she can represent the 3rd largest school system in the nation with knowledge of current events and the history of school reform and lack of funding or inequity. A comment thread in a UK periodical suggests that even Costa Rica, etc. will be buying into the charter school proliferation in America. This international business investment will continue to dismantle our traditional public school system for profit as Finland uses US best practices to be ranked #1 in the world (Isn't this called "Going out of the world backwards."), so we need someone with international savvy .

I was impressed by Walls, but he offers little experience in the public, education, and political spectrum compared to Carol-Mosley Braun. Once he gathers moss he'll be more awesome.

Del Valle was impressive, but he didn't seem to "hold a candle to" Carol Mosley Braun's experience.

I was disappointed with Danny Davis' absence knowing that we represent the 3rd largest education system in the nation and we carry a lot of weight during election season. His letter in his absence was impressive and addressed current issues and misuse of education funding.

Chico represented the forbidden word — "charters." Charters were never implemented as researched and theorized. Instead of providing collaboration and meeting students' needs they were manipulated to destroy the bedrock and nurturing of entire school communities.

Meeks carries a bad stigma of bad teacher rhetoric, even though he tried to clean up his act.

United we stand, divided we fall.

December 18, 2010 at 9:17 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Mayoral Race

I support Carol Mosley- Braun too. I think she is the best person for the city and will hopefully be able to undo a lot of the damage that has been done over the past 20 years or so. I think she is a proven leader and shows that she cares about children and all people.

December 19, 2010 at 11:16 AM

By: I think Braun will be overwhelmed and city council

willnot cooperate with her.

Her Hyde Park cache will NOT help her either. She is starting to reach out, but she probably will not get a cross over vote. Please do not think that everyone was thrilled with her as a 1-term senator. And what's up with the (lack of) an AA coalition around ONE candidate? This hurts her. Davis has the whole west side and Meeks has 30,000 voters. Honest, I like her better that Chico or Rahm, but without a strong coalition, she will not make it. Does PUSH support her? Good luck.

December 20, 2010 at 8:44 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Mayoral race

If Meeks is elected, I think the school system and many other communities will really be in trouble. I may even vote republican if he is chosen as the democratic candidate which will be the first time since I started voting. Like many right wing candidates, he really scares me.

December 20, 2010 at 10:30 AM

By: Jim Cavallero

Mayoral Race Not a Primary Anymore

Just to clarify the Chicago Mayoral election is no longer made up of democratic and republican primaries. It is now a non-partisan election. Everyone running is on the same ballot. In order to win the Feb. 22 election someone needs to get "50% + 1" of the vote. If no one does then the two highest vote getters square off in a run-off election in April.

The overcrowded field almost assures that there will be a runoff. The numbers right now show Emmanuel leading the field. The other top vote getter is probably up for grabs right now.

December 20, 2010 at 3:21 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

To Jim Cavallero

Thanks for the clarification. I wasn't aware that it wasn't a primary anymore. That changes things and makes it much more interesting.

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