MEDIA WATCH: Is Hollywood Rahm ducking the media? Few 'media availabilities' since Rahm's rent-a-preacher program became a public issue (and scandal) following January 20 revelations at hearings on snowy night. Last official event was following dramatic loss of Chicago Library Commissioner

By Saturday, January 28, 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had, for the first time since his May 2011 inauguration, avoided public media events, and maintained a blackout for most of the press from his headquarters on the Fifth Floor of Chicago's City Hall. The three days stretch from January 26, 2012 through January 28, 2012 when the Mayor's Press Office announced that there would be no "public events" for Chicago's media manipulator is the longest stretch of time since the inauguration that the mayor has avoided the media. (During the winter vacation of 2001, Emanuel and his family were on vacation, including river rafting, in Chile and Argentina, a time when he was both out of town and unavailable).

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (above right) hosted an unusual "back to school" event on August 2, 2011, when he ignored the city's more than 600 public schools and chose St. Sabina's Catholic School (background, above) for the site of his walkabout to encourage children to return to school on the opening day. (CPS had more than 100 schools opening that week as part of the controversial "Track E"). Reporters were originally told by the Office of the Mayor to show up a block west of St. Sabina's for the event, than told to go back east to St. Sabina's, where the mayor went up and down steps at a dozen homes, suggesting that children get to school on the first day and distributing magnets (above, "First Day" in Michael Pfleger's hand). The mayor refused to explain why a Catholic School and a Catholic priest should be appropriate for the annual event. Pfleger, who has long been the beneficiary of many government contracts, had also been bashing the city's public schools for nearly a decade. In 2004, he targeted Calumet High School for his highly visible media attacks, claiming that the school, rather than needing more public support, had "failed" the community. The subsequent decision by the Chicago Board of Education to "phase out" Calumet and, after spending more than $20 million to rehab the building, turn it over (for $1 per year) to the Perspectives Charter Schools has met with Pfleger's approval, even though the Perspectives schools inside the huge Calumet building have been shaken by scandals and have proven no "better" (as measured by standardized tests and other so-called "metrics") than other South Side public high schools. Surrounding Pfleger above are children from St. Sabina, along with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Alderman Latasha Thomas. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One possible reason for the mayor's avoidance of the press is that public demands are now beginning for accountability of the tens of millions of dollars that have been spent by CPS and other public bodies in programs administered through a favored few (mostly Christian) churches with virtually no supervision or accountability. Although public attention was focused by the end of January 2012 on the programs administered by Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, who had organized some of the Rent A Protests that began in September 2011 and dramatically escalated in January 2012, Watkins's programs are just the tip of a multi-million dollar operation to funnel public money into so-called "faith based" programs which operate with little or no public scrutiny and less accountability. The programs currently under scrutiny because of Watkins's public exposé are far from the most extensive in the city.

The press blackout comes at a time when just about every reporter in Chicago has legitimate questions about how much money the various organs of Chicago government have been paying to the group of Christian ministers Substance first dubbed the "Rent A Preachers" in stories that began in August 2011 following the mayor's breakfast for more than 100 preachers at Chicago's Sox Park "United Scout Lounge." The expensive catered meal featured two prayers, an appeal by Chicago's mayor for support for his "Longer School Day" push against the Chicago Teachers Union, and students from Kenwood High School singing religious songs.

The MC of the August 25 event was the Rev. Reynaldo Kyles, who works for CPS as a "coordinator" in the "Office of Family and Community Outreach" at a salary of more than $82,000 per year. According to CPS budget documents provided to Substance in October 2011, Kyles currently works in the "Office of Family and Community Engagement," a department created by CPS in July and August 2011, during the time that Mayor Emanuel was telling the public that his administration was "cutting bureaucracy" at the city's public schools (actually, the cuts Emanuel claimed from what he called "bureaucracy" were from the schools, while CPS was increasing administrative and central office costs by adding departments like "Family and Community Engagement"). Kyles is one of at least 17 people working in the newly created office. In August 2011, the Board of Education hired a former community organizer, Jamiko Rose, to head the newly created office at an annual salary of $152,000 per year. By October 2011, according the the CPS Position File (a budget document that lists all those who work full or part-time for CPS), Rose's newly created department had 17 people in it, with a total of nearly $1.5 million in salaries (alone). CPS provided a Substance reporter with a current (January 2012) Position File, but has to date refused to provide Substance with the password to open the large Excel spreadsheet, so it is currently not possible to update any additional information on the Office of Family and Community Engagement.

Rose has been very active in the current hearings on the school closings.

Others who spoke that morning included Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, one of the organizers of several public protests against the CTU who is currently under investigation by the Chicago Inspector General as a result of the January 2012 exposes of the Rent A Protest activities. Despite repeated requests, Rev. Kyles has refused to provide Substance with information about the activities of the "Office of Faith-Based Initiatives" which he heads. Rev. Watkins did not return Substance phone calls asking for comment following the Substance identification of Watkins as the organizer of the protests against Crane High School at Malcolm X College on january 6.

At that time, Emanuel joked with the preachers that he had seen less of his rabbi than he had seen of the Christian preachers, many of whom were receiving lucrative contracts from the City of Chicago, from Chicago Public Schools, and, possibly, other governmental agencies. Following the preacher breakfast Substance requested all of the information about the costs of the event, a request which CPS officials and CPS "Chief Communications Officer" Becky Carroll have repeatedly ignored or denied. The CPS "Chief Officer for Faith-Based Initiatives," Rev. Reynaldo Kyles, has also repeatedly told Substance that he "didn't know" who paid for the catered breakfast on August 25, 2011 at Sox Park, although the main greeting table was staffed by CPS personnel and the event was MC'd by Kyles. Although the "Rent a Preacher" and "Rent a Protest" programs of Chicago's mayor and his allies had been reported in Substance beginning on August 20, 2011, following the Sox Park event, it wasn't until the dramatic confrontations at the first of two "community hearings" on the proposed 2012 Hit List of schools to close or turnaround that the story became difficult to ignore by the city's corporate media. At the majority of public hearings on the evening of January 6, buses carried protesters from various churches and church-related programs across Chicago to the various sites where the hearings were held. At each site, those on the buses were given pre-printed signs to hold up during the hearings, ostensibly to support the closings or other actions against the public schools. Substance reporters were at four of the nine hearings and began to put together the pieces of the Rent A Protests following the January 6 events. One of those pieces was the identification of the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins as the organizer of the buses that brought protesters to Malcolm X College to attack Crane High School, which is facing a "phase out." Watkins's protesters, some of whom later said they supported Crane, were a minority in the crowd that nearly filled the Malcolm X gym for the heated exchange. Despite Watkins's efforts (which had brought protesters from the South Side to a West Side event), every elected public official who spoke that night told CPS not to close Crane.


January 28, 2012 at 8:02 AM

By: Bob Busch

Reynaldo Kyles in the old days

Tell me it isn’t so. The last time I saw Reynaldo Kyles was in the hallway of Simeon talking to

a basketball player named Deon Thomas. If a person Googles both names seems there was a spot of bother concerning them.

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