Huge turnout for Chicago Teachers Union LEAD dinner shows growing power of CTU, honors legislators and aldermen who supported the union and public schools

Considering it was not an election year, the turnout of nearly 1,000 teachers, politicians and their friends and families for the annual LEAD (Legislators Educators Appreciation Dinner) was considered by most as a triumph for the union and the leadership of CTU President Karen Lewis and her team. On the evening of October 28, 2011, nearly 1,000 people showed up at the Plumbers Union Hall on Washington St. in Chicago for the LEAD, cheering political leaders. The political leaders who attended included the Governor of Illinois several state senators and representatives, one U.S. Representative, and six aldermen.

Part of the crowd of nearly 1,000 teachers and others who attended the annual LEAD dinner at Chicago's Plumbers Hall on October 28, 2011 can be seen in the above photograph, taken while Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was delivering the keynote address for the evening. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The event served to remind the union teachers that political power was part of the equation for better public schools for all of the children of Chicago and decent pay, benefits and working conditions for all those who work in the schools. The event also was the stage on which the CTU unveiled its legislative priorities for the coming year, including major reforms within Chicago's public schools (lower class size; and end to the '20th Day Rule') and, for the City of Chicago, an end to mayoral control via an elected school board. The fourth of four legislative priorities for the CTU in the coming year will be "End Pension Attacks" according to the LEAD program.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (above right) thanked Chicago Teachers Union President and the union members for their help in the tight November 2010 election and in the year since. Quinn delivered the keynote speech to the LEAD dinner. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The keynote speaker for the evening was Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who praised teachers and public schools for the job everyone is doing. Quinn reminded the teachers that his interest in public schools didn't begin when he was running for governor in a tough race in 2010, but was long standing. Quinn told the group that he had been a member of the Local School Council at Chicago's Sayre elementary school for years. Several of those in attendance contrasted Quinn's commitment to public education and Chicago public schools to the outright hostility to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel not only chose to send his own children to one of the four most expensive private schools in Chicago (the University of Chicago Lab School), but has spent his entire five months in office staging publicity stunts on behalf of the city's charter schools, while routinely denigrating the city's public schools and the teachers union.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (above standing) greeted the dozens of Illinois and Chicago political leaders who attended the LEAD dinner. Above, left to right, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White (a CTU member), Senator Iris Martinez, and Rep. Linda Chapa La Via. In the background some of the huge crowd that filled Plumbers Hall on October 28, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Held on a Friday, the event was characterized by hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members wearing their Friday red, as part of the union's ongoing organizing drive against the attempts by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to break the CTU and impose a kind of company union on Chicago schools. Emanuel was conspicuously absent from the event, which came a day after the Chicago Reader exposed the fact that Chicago's supposedly Democratic mayor preferred meeting with millionaires and billionaires than with working people in Chicago. Also conspicuously absent was Illinois House leader Michael Madigan, who has been pushing union-busting legislation through the Illinois General Assembly for the past several years. Madigan, ostensibly a Democrat, had just resorted to a possibly illegal maneuver in Springfield to get passage of legislation favoring Commonwealth Edison and again Illinois consumers.

The union presented awards to several political leaders who had helped out during the previous year.

State Senator Iris Martinez (above, speaking) accepted the "Great Community Advocate" award from CTU for her work, along with State Rep. Cynthia Soto, in passing SB630, which became the new law defining how the Chicago Board of Education must go about any future school closings, turnarounds, or other major changes. The law, which is in effect now, is why the Board of Education has to announce its 2012 "Hit List" (as the closing lists were first dubbed by CORE and Karen Lewis more than four years ago during the protest against Arne Duncan's implementation of Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" program) by December 1, 2011, instead of keeping the list a secret until the very last minute. Rep. Soto was unable to attend LEAD. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The "Great Community Advocate Award" was presented to State Senator Iris Martinez and State Rep. Cynthia Soto for their work on SB 630, which put into law the procedure that the Chicago Public Schools must now follow when they plan to close, reorganize, or "turnaround" a school. Senator Martinez accepted the award on behalf of herself and Representative Soto, who could not be present at LEAD.

The "David Peterson Award" was presented to State Rep. Monique Davis (27th District) and State Senator Esther Golar (6th District), both from Chicago. Representative Davis was the only member of the General Assembly last year to vote against the infamous SB 7, which she characterized at the time as a "union busting" law aimed at the Chicago Teachers Union. State Senator Golar sang a song about teachers to the group.

David Peterson had been CTU's man in Springfield for decades during the 1980s and early 1990s, when the union had established its greatest power at the state level. The award in his name, CTU Legislative Director Stacy Davis-Gates told LEAD, reminded everyone of the union's legacy when union members go to Springfield to lobby for what teachers and public schools need.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis smiles on the side while Alderman Deborah Graham (29) tells the teachers at LEAD how she and Alderman Robert Fioretti (2, standing on the right) introduced the ordinance that will require banks to provide security at abandoned buildings they have foreclosed on when those buildings are near public schools. The two aldermen received the CTU "Defender of Public Education" award. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Two Chicago alderman were given the "Defender of Public Education Award". Alderman Robert Fioretti and Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward) were responsible for the legislation that will force banks to maintain security at foreclosed buildings near schools. Alderman Graham told the LEAD that the ordinance had 32 co-sponsors.

All of the CTU officers and staff were at LEAD. Above, Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle (right) greeted Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (left) when Quinn arrived, while one of the governor's aides (rear) looked on. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In the program for the LEAD dinner, the union unveiled its "CTU Education Policy and Legislative Program Highlights for 2011 - 2012." Here is what they say:


Smaller class size leads to educational achievement, especially in elementary grades.

Yet a new CTU study of state records documents this fact: when it comes to crowding students into classrooms, the Chicago public school system ranks among the top offenders in Illinois.

Our own school survey found over 200 classrooms where the Chicago Board of Education violates its own policy on the maximum number of students allowed. In one school, for example, we found 43 students packed into a third grade classroom. This is unacceptable.

We will continue to advocate for these children even thought Illinois law unfairly prevents us from officially negotiating for smaller class sizes. You can help us change this law.


When in 2010 the Chicago Teachers Union began the first "Municipal Campaign" in the union's history — supporting candidates for alderman in the city's 50 wards and hosting a mayoral forum and preparing for the endorsement of a candidate for mayor — some were skeptical. Beginning in the days of the Kelly Nash Machine and continuing through both mayors named Richard Daley, CTU lore had it that the Chicago Teachers Union focused its energies on Springfield and national politics and stayed out of the way of Chicago's mayor and his City Council. By October 2011, the skeptics were silent as CTU devoted more and more time to working with City Council members on dozens of issues. Six members of the Chicago City Council joined teachers at LEAD. Above (front) aldermen nicholas Sposoto (36), Timothy Cullerton (38), and Scott Waguespack (32). Rear: CTU Municipal Coordinator Joey McDermott and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. One of the many things challenging pro-union aldermen in Chicago today is the push from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to locate charter schools and force "turnarounds" in many new wards, even though the residents do not want or need them, preferring instead to demand that the real public schools are improved for everyone. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Instability, mostly at neighborhood schools, begins on the very first day of school because each year the Chicago school board waits until the 20th day of the school year to announce final teacher class assignments. The result is four weeks of school understaffing and disruption of the teaching and learning that was already underway. Instead of adequate planning, the school board uses the entire first month of the school year as a "wait and see" period. Education is in limbo while the school board decides where to put teachers. The Illinois School Code mandates that there cannot be a reduction in teachers due to decrease in the number of students at a school after the 20th day of the school year. You can help us change this law.


By law, Chicago Public School District 299 is the only one in Illinois with an appointed school board. The majority of Chicagoans support our call for democracy, a simple an fundamental principal, in how our school board members are chosen. Electing school board members will provide parents and citizens with more input into school decision-making. It will also help us hold the school board accountable to the public and not to politicians. We want a school board that is representative, accountable, inclusive and transparent. You can help us change this law.


The average Chicago Teachers Pension Fund CTPF) retiree earns $42,000 per year. Of the 87,000 retired teachers in Illinois, almost one in five (17,269) receive a pension that's less than $20,000. Our retired members have spent up to 35 years educating students and count on the pension promised by the state.

CTU legislative director Stacy Davis-Gates had just returned from what some called her "Baptism of Fire" in Springfield during the beginning of the Veto Session of the Illinois General Assembly in October 2011. By the time she returned to Chicago for LEAD (above), the unions had forced the withdrawal of one of the more odious pieces of legislation (HB 3827, which would have given Mayor Rahm Emanuel dictatorial control over the city's workers' pension funds) and established presence on much else. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.We are not allowed to receive Social Security. We contribute 9% of our salary to our pension fund each payday. The Chicago Board of Education is still on a "pension holiday" and has not paid into the fund for over a decade — now our pension plan is in crisis and teachers have been blamed for the financial woes of the schools and state. Chicago corporate CEOs, many of whom will collect millions of dollar when they retire, are pushing "solutions" to take control of and reduce our pensions rather than require adequate funding for them. You can help us stop these bills.

Comments by those who attended LEAD were largely favorable.

"The LEAD dinner was an uplifting event for my husband and me," said retired teacher and Substance staff member Theresa Daniels. Terry Daniels and her husband Jim have been retired from Carver Area High School since before it became Carver Military Academy.

Veteran Chicago teachers (now retired) at the Substance table on October 28, 2011, for LEAD. Above, left to right, Marybeth Foley (retired out of Richard Wright Elementary), Jim Daniels (retired out of Carver Area High School), Theresa D. Daniels (retired out of Carver Area High School), and Carlene (Lotty) Blumenthal (retired out of Prosser Vocational High School). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."As President Lewis said, we could not only talk with the politicians who have been helpful to our cause, but also have fun," Daniels continued. "And fun it was. Jim and I are talking about going every year, especially given the wonderful and most perfect location of the Substance table. (Congrats to George for that for getting our reservation in very early). The company there and everywhere in the hall was so good. Congrats to the CTU for conducting such a successful affair — with only one admonishment: Next year and always, if you say dinner is at 5:30 pm, then you must serve at 5:30 pm. This, for many reasons: The food needs to be hot; people should not be starving during the ceremony; and remember, there are diabetics there who must time their eating judiciously. I suggest that the meal be served on time with everyone eating then, and the ceremony to begin at 6:15 pm while the rest of us may still be eating...."

As usual, the local corporate news media barely covered the event, even though they were informed of it.

According to the CTU press release on line prior to the event:

CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will honor six outstanding legislators who have been on the forefront of education and labor justice issues at its annual Legislators and Educators Appreciation Dinner (LEAD), on Friday, October 28 at 5:30 p.m. The dinner will be held at Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd.

Substance editor Sharon Schmidt (above left) took the time to thank alderman Nicholas Sposato (36) and Timothy Cullerton (38), while Alderman Robert Fioretti (2) stood in the background and CTU attorney Robin Potter enjoyed the conversations. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn will offer the keynote address. State Representative Monique D. Davis (27th District) and State Representative Esther Golar (6th District) , Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward), Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward, State Representative Cynthia Soto (4th District) and State Senator Iris Martinez (20th District) will receive prestigious awards for their outstanding support of teachers, public education and organized labor.

During the gala, CTU will unveil its legislative platform and draw attention to issues CPS teachers and paraprofessionals are advocating for such as smaller class sizes; ending the 20th Day Rule, used to reduce the number of teaching positions based on student attendance on the 20th day of school; and, their efforts to have taxpayers elect members to serve on the Chicago Board of Education in order to have fair representation, accountability and inclusiveness.

State Rep. Monique Davis (above, in red, on left) and State Senator Esther Golar (beside Davis, in grey) waited during the early announcements. When Monique Davis was introduced, the crowd cheered her wildly as one of the few completely consistent friends CTU has had in the Illinois General Assembly. Davis and Golar later received the "David Peterson Award" from CTU President Karen Lewis. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Teachers are also geared up to stop the assault on their pensions. For example, CTU is leading an effort in Springfield to stop House Bill 3827 designed to eliminate the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund Board of Trustees (CTPF) and give the mayor of Chicago the power to appoint four members to a new, combined seven-member pension board. The legislation proposes combining the pensions of the Chicago Police, Chicago Firefighter, Chicago Municipal, Chicago Laborers, Chicago Park District, and Chicago Teachers and as a group would then elect only three trustees.


October 29, 2011 at 8:09 AM

By: Bob Busch

The Dinner and the Democrats

What are we thinking?

First let me thank Rep. Monique Davis for her courageous stand against SB7. She is the only legislator I would shake hands with. She is also the only one in the House or Senate who should get a dime from us next year. Why our president, whom I supported and voted for, would rub elbows with Gov.Quinn is beyond my comprehension. That man signed both the pension deform bill, screwing new workers, and SB7 into law. The latter bill will in effect neuter our union as another smiling face so crudely explained in the infamous Aspen Video. Perhaps we are keeping our friends close and our enemies closer.

October 29, 2011 at 9:04 AM

By: Rod Estvan

the perplexing problem of the Democratic Party

What can I say about the LEAD dinner? There are no doubt others out there besides Bob who have real reservations about honoring Governor Quinn given the fact that he supported SB7’s provisions targeting CPS and the CTU. Substance has reported on the Governor's comments when he signed SB7 and he made zero references to the harsh provisions in SB7 targeting the CTU's ability to bargain for its members.

The CTU is not alone in having this contradiction, in the disability rights movement I have been at major disability rights events honoring Governor Quinn within days after he proposed budgets cutting millions of dollars in funding for services to people with disabilities.

I can only say this - the labor movement has for a long time hitched its wagon to what it believes is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, as has the disability movement. This worked to a degree when the US economy was running relatively smoothly and the progressives could push through laws, rules, and entitlements that took the edge off our market economy. I believe those days are over and this approach may have run out of steam. Some of the progressive Democrats that still have any sense of self worth are going to have to leave the party because it is moving rapidly to the right. Where they can go is the big question because there is no labor party option for viable third party option on the left right now.

If the LEAD dinner served to have this discussion with more or less progressive Democrats it would be of great use. But I doubt that seriously happened and that is understandable. I understand that and I live that reality when I am acting as a lobbyist in Springfield. Clearly it would be insane to abandon the existing political process and denounce all of the various political lackey politicians of the 1% social elite. But we should be clear that it is not just Speaker Madigan or Mayor Emanuel who are the “bad” Democrats, the problem is much deeper than that.

Rod Estvan

October 29, 2011 at 11:03 AM

By: Jay Rehak

Well, said, Mr. Estvan

As is often the case, Rod Estvan has articulated the issue quite clearly. We who believe in social justice have a very narrow band of choices from which to choose. There are three choices each of us has: A) Give up B)Choose the lesser of two evils C) Create a new choice more in line with our ideals.

The problem with C) is that it takes a long time and the forces against creating an alternative are great. That said, I am for helping to create C) while in the meantime, choosing B) over A).

October 29, 2011 at 4:23 PM

By: Bob Busch

Social Justice Experiments

The Road to Ruin

Eight of my friends were involuntarily transferred in the spring of 1977. They were part of a live experiment in social justice just, as I was part of one In 1970.The Simeon eight were all shipped off to Prosser because they were Black.

I was luckily assigned to Simeon because I was I wasn’t. This was all because the Board of Education decided it was easier to integrate the Faculty than the schools. In 1988, I ran for the Simeon LSC which was pretty bold for a white guy. I lost, but at least I tried to represent the faculty in that social experiment.

In 1995 the Mayor took over the schools, leading to Vallas and a decade of social experiments. Hello Northside Prep — and welcome to the charter school movement. Recently we have SB7 a revolutionary application of social justice. Even as I write the movement is alive and well. Anyone for a longer day? As a forty-one year veteran of South Side high schools, I guess I am social justice myself imagine that.

October 31, 2011 at 3:12 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Social Justice

We musn't confuse "social justice experiments" with "corporate readjustment." Mr. Vallas didn't care about helping society as much as he cared about streamlining budgets and centralizing control. And I get the tone, totally, but SB7 and charter school proliferation as a means to ending public education and unionization are bombs targeting educators, for which the students are collateral damage.

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