Chicago's 12th Ward Violent Politics

A change of power in the aldermanic election in the 12th ward where Little Village and Back of the Yards meet could be a deadly affair. Apparently incumbent George Cardenas, who was once affiliated with the corrupt Hispanic Democratic Organization where its former leader Al Sanchez was sent to prison, doesn’t take kindly to challengers.

“During the last election they burned down my garage, I was shot at twice, and they sent out city inspection people on the day of my mother’s funeral,” said Alberto Bocanegra, the 12th ward committeeman who is challenging Cardenas again in this election.

“They said if you don’t get out of the race, I’ll burn down your house and kill you,” he said. “It was a very tense election.”

Bocanegra said his fellow challenger Jesse Iniguez, who he grew up with, decided to drop out of the last race rather than stomach the death threats.

But that has not stopped the two progressive candidates from taking on the current two-term alderman who his critics claim has supported the mayor at the expense of the community he represents.

Bocanegra sounds like the kind of fighter public education needs these days as anything public is under attack and threatened with being privatized.

The burly-looking Hispanic contender (Cardenas said he looks like a gang banger) is an activist, the 12th ward committeeman and the chairman of the Cook County Green Party.

His education platform outlined on his website is solid:

“Part of the problem with the Chicago public school system is that it is run by politicians and businessmen who hold too much control and whose decisions – even when they have good intentions – are out of touch with the needs of our community.

“As your alderman, I will strive to give back more power to local communities and local school councils. We need more direct participation from students, parents, and teachers in the decision-making process. I will also work to provide for an elected school board – not 'yes' men for the mayor. This will make it more accountable to parents and the community. When so much power is concentrated in the hands of one person, it corrupts the system. Mayoral control of our schools must end. Let’s listen to our teachers and the parents in our community – not politicians who have not even taught in a classroom."

His criticism against the privatization of the city’s public schools is also on the mark:

“The Renaissance 2010 program implemented by Mayor Daley and former CPS CEO Arne Duncan has been a resounding failure. We do not get good schools and encourage learning when we close neighborhood schools, fire all school staff, and put in a charter school. This is a step toward privatizing our public schools. The purpose of education is to help children acquire knowledge, think for themselves, and develop into productive and happy adults.

“It is not about making money nor is it about blaming teachers. Yes, we need accountability, but we cannot get there by destroying the spirit of our communities and closing neighborhood schools. Instead, let’s give teachers more resources and support.”

However, it is his opponent Iniguez who was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, as well SEIU and the Tribune and Sun Times.

Iniguez supports a progressive platform that includes union rights, more transparency and accountability, city council approval for major city contracts, a partially elected school board and support for fresh schools, a union-backed initiative to reform the public schools.

However, a closer look at Iniguez’s platform reveals some troubling questions for Chicago public school teachers. He told the Tribune he supports merit pay and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) — a private management company that runs so-called Turnaround schools in which the entire staff is blamed for low test scores and fired.

Teachers in schools that have implemented merit pay have complained that it creates an ugly competitive environment rather than collaboration which is essential for student learning.

“I’m totally against merit pay,” Bocanegra said. “Being a teacher is possibly the most difficult job next to being a nurse. Lots of kids can’t learn, not because of the teacher, but because of their environment.”

Iniguez told Substance that merit pay should not be a legislative mandate, but something that should be bargained over as a possible way to increase teacher productivity.

“I do not have a strict belief that it has to be used or that it should never be used,” he answered in an email. “The decision should be a local one.”

Why support AUSL and the turnaround concept that blames every employee in the school?

“This is a misconception,” Iniguez said. “AUSL was originally started as a teachers’ training academy to help train the next generation of star teachers. What happened eventually is that AUSL did well in its first school and CPS tried to use it as an excuse to further Renaissance 2010 goals of restructuring. They decided to close schools and reopened those schools with AUSL.”

Iniguez said he believes school closing is not fundamental to the AUSL concept. However, every AUSL turnaround has resulted in the total purge of the employees, and the misconception that test scores have increased when lower scoring students have been nudged out. Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel has stated he would support 35 more turnarounds his first term in office.

“I’m totally against it,” Bocanegra said. “The teachers didn’t fail the school, the system failed the teachers.”

So why then has Iniguez, and not Bocanegra, earned the CTU’s endorsement?

Bocanegra blames Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the current Cook County commissioner for the 7th district, who supports Iniguez’s candidacy. Bocanegra said Garcia should resign for selling out his community when he noted the commissioner received three big campaign donations from pay day loan companies — or loan sharks as they are called for charging sky-high interest rates for people hard up for cash.

Bocanegra said his opponent is a wimp.

“If (Iniguez) dropped out of the race, can you imagine what Rahm will do with him,” he said. “He’ll chew him up and spit him out.”

Iniguez, who acknowledges that he and Bocanegra share many left of center positions, thinks his opponent is too high strung.

“I’ve known Alberto since we were both young,” Iniguez said. “I think that deep down he wants to help, but for some reason he tends to take this race as some sort of personal beef with the other candidates. He has often said things to me like you’re weak or makes comments in public that are designed to provoke his opponents. I think that on some political issues we are close to each other, but we have drastically different solutions. For example, we both think that that police response time is bad. But I have proposed an auxiliary police force, whereas Alberto — at the BNPC forum — proposes hiring “smaller police officers” so they can catch up to criminals when they are chasing them. I think Alberto has strong ideological positions, but is less practical than I am.”

Both candidates support a moratorium on charter schools, while their opponent said he does not support the moratorium, and agrees with Emanuel that the city should take a look at cutting current city worker pensions.

“Cardenas is backed by the corrupt HDO,” Iniguez said. “I am an independent and intend to continue to be so. Cardenas has stated that he wants more charter schools and is not in favor of a moratorium. Cardenas did not grow up in the neighborhood and did not even vote until the year he ran for election. I have participated in the ward since childhood working on civic programs and church involvement. I am for small business, he wants Walmart. I support clean air, he takes money from Midwest Generation.”

Bocanegra noted that Midwest Generation donated $25,000 to Ald. Munoz, who supports Iniguez. Midwest’s two factories in the surrounding area have caused over 2,000 asthma attacks and 500 emergency visits each year, Bocanegra said.

“Basically, we see it as blood money,” Bocanegra said. “Munoz decided to keep the power plants open.”

Bocanegra, who will not take any corporate money, said he has earned a lot of enemies for telling the truth.

“I have been fighting for the working class even before I ran for alderman,” he said.

He has also amassed more campaign dollars ($50,000) to Iniguez ($30,000), while Cardenas has raised over $100,000.

Perhaps Bocanegra’s most interesting proposal to raise money for a debt ridden city would be his so-called “speculative tax” on trading at the Chicago Board of Trade.

“It will raise $3 billion for city coffers which would be enough for the city budget to pay pensions and hire more teachers and build new schools,” he said. “That’s a lot of extra money for the city, but a drop of water in the bucket (for the traders). But they’ll fight it tooth and nail. The Board of Trade makes more money than the country’s GNP.”

Bocanegra said the key to any business is how well you treat your employees. He said he ran a day labor business in which he paid the workers a decent wage and treated them with respect, and as a result, his business flourished.


February 23, 2011 at 11:06 PM

By: Solis did not make it-VOTE for Morfin

time to come out and support Morfin

Will Solis reveal how much he will get from Rahm? From Burke? From Rangel? In order to win! It will be the small victories on the city council-vote Morfin.

February 25, 2011 at 2:39 PM

By: reyrey lc

Somebody has noble savage issues

Iniguez clearly has though out his positions and is looking for space to compromise without throwing teachers under the bus. The Latino guy-Bocanegra- who seems more ideologically pure according to Jim Vail\'s standards is clearly preferred in this article as he lives up to the noble savage construction of the Latino that Vail was apparently hoping for. Anyone with his or her own ideas, is not worthy.\r\rIf Vail actually took a minute to go into the neighborhood, he\'d see gang members (not gang member look-alikes but actual gang members) tearing down signs of the other candidates (i.e. other than Bocanegra) and causing chaos at the polls on election day. \r\rVail might also want to notice that Sergio Bocanegra was gluing Alberto\'s signs over other candidates\' signs and even bragging about.\r\rAs for the lack of \"substance\" in this article. Iniguez said he supports the original idea of AUSL where neighborhood schools are supported rather than ignored in favor of charter schools. Just because CPS has used AUSL (a public nonprofit by the way--not a \"private management company\")to feed its failed turnaround strategy does not make the original idea bad or unable to be revisited. If anything, AUSL (pre-turnaround linkage) helped get around the \"bad Principal\" problem that many teachers are quite familiar with. \r\rVail\'s logical fallacy is exposed by this analogy:\rA claims Christianity was originally an egalitarian, progressive movement that sought the promotion of love, justice, and equality and therefore ought to be considered. The Crusades happened. Therefore the original principles of Christianity are not worth revisiting and A himself supports the Crusades. Dubious reasoning indeed! \r\rNote also that iniguez said he would support merit pay if teachers felt it could be used as a bargaining chip (as happened with WEAC recently--ignoring walker\'s later craziness) and would not be state mandated from above. This reflects an understanding of collective bargaining and the pressures from outside to quash it. Taking a pure ideological stance against it--for all time--is irresponsible and not up to the candidate or alderman in any case. What part of local does Jim Vail not understand?\r\r\r

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