LEAD in Chicago features Chicago Teachers Union political agenda amid largest turnout ever

The smell of corned beef and cabbage wafted through Plumbers Hall along with potatoes and carrots as the dinner began. A packed hall tends to generate more excitement, and the 2013 Legislators, Educators Appreciation Dinner (LEAD) was a sell-out, with more than 2,000 people, including many of the most important political leaders in Illinois and Chicago, devoting their Friday night to political action. It was October 25, 2013, and the political power and a tradition dating back more than three quarters of a century in the Chicago Teachers Union were on display.

The size of the crowd that filled Chicago's Plumbers Hall on October 25, 2013 made it impossible to get a photograph of the entire crowd. The above photograph was taken showing about one third of the crowd from the balcony, which was also filled with tables. Substance photo by David Vance.CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, the master of ceremonies, was both energetic and informative. Johnson told the crowd that the union's increasing political action was one of the keys to the future, and that the rank-and-file will determine the success of the union's political agenda. One of the reasons why the union was faced with extreme difficulty during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 was that since the passage of the 1995 Amendatory Act Chicago teachers had been discriminated against. It is still illegal for the CTU to bargain over many subjects, including class size, unless the Board of Education agrees. The Amendatory Act also gave mayoral dictatorship to Chicago in 1995, ending some balances of power, and put into office the nation's first "Chief Executive Officer" (Paul Vallas) instead of a superintendent of schools.

The dinner opened with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., as the first speaker. He stated that the current school crisis is not Karen Lewiss problem; this is our problem. The school closings, he noted, are all in someones aldermanic district, senate district, or legislative district.

There is a hostile attitude in the country for blacks, browns, and women, he added. The first public schools were mission schools for reconstruction. We are now closing schools for reconstruction and building jails for our students.

The budget for schools, Jackson said, was cut 50 percent, as it was for school loans, and programs in mission schools.

This is a government shutdown close schools, foreclose homes, no jobs at OHare. We need affordable health care, but we also need affordable food, affordable living wages, affordable housing. We have T-Mobile getting $49 million [in tax breaks?] and not offering jobs to one black or brown person. The issue is not a few doing well; our mission is those left behind. Dare to break the silence. Lets put our children to work. Schools supply one and a half meals per day, but jails supply three meals a day all year long. They supply warmth in the winter and cool in the summers and a recreation center.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Civil Rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson Sr. conferred during the LEAD dinner. Both spoke. Substance photo by David Vance.No wonder, in other words, Jackson said, that some people actually prefer jail to the outside world.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn talked about his desire to establish more early childhood education programs and raise the minimum wage. He spoke about scholarships for students who cant afford college, rights for immigrants, and an elected school board. Quinn said Chicago is the only place in the state of Illinois that does not have an elected school board, to great cheers from the crowd, which want to change that. During his speech, some people shouted, No more charter schools. Quinn has been criticized for providing nearly $100 million in state dollars available to UNO's charter schools. Quinn was elected in 2010 by the slimmest of margins, winning only three counties, including massively in Cook County. Chicago teachers helped get out the vote on election day to defeat Bill Brady, who would have provided Illinois with the same kind of union busting programs now in place in all the state surrounding Illinois.

Quinn's speech was followed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She spoke about teaching history in high school for ten years before being elected to the Chicago City Council. According to her Chicagos Got Talent! biography, Preckwinkle has successfully fought for greater funding for education and affordable housing in her ward. She sponsored the Living Wage and Affordable Housing ordinances, and was lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to institute a more racially equitable map of Chicagos ward boundaries. Many at the LEAD dinner are promoting Preckwinkle as a candidate for Mayor of Chicago against Rahm Emanuel in 2015. Every time Emanuel's name was mentioned, the boos were loudest.

Chicago Teachers Union Communications Director Stephanie Gadlin was leaving to work on Governor Quinn's re-election campaign. Above, Stephanie Gadlin, Jesse Jackson Sr., and CTU President Karen Lewis. Substance photo by David Vance.U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky to the crowd that she is the daughter of two teachers and also taught in the Chicago Public Schools. Schakowsky said she appreciated the pension her mother received upon retiring, which helped her father in his last years. She told the cheering crowd that she attended Rodgers Elementary School and Sullivan High School.

She said she is committed to protecting pensions. Schakowsky reminded the unionists that she marched with the Chicago teachers during their 2012 strike. Schakowsky was first elected to represent Illinoiss 9th congressional district in 1998 after serving for eight years in the Illinois House Democratic leadership as a chief deputy whip and as a member of the steering and policy committee. She also told the LEAD that her district includes both her alma mater, Sullivan High School in Chicago, and New Trier High School in Winnetka, providing a living contrast in the inequities in the funding for public education and the kinds of resources that are available.

If "rank and file activism" were the theme of the 2013 LEAD, many of the union's activist members have been living it for their entire lives. Above, Pat Knazze, now retired from teaching, and Margo Murray, could tell younger union members about decades of political action for the CTU. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt. State Senator William Delgado received the Legislative Leader Award. Delgado has serve d in the Gensral Assembly since 1998 and has been a lifelong activist. For years, he served on the Kelvyn Park High School Local School Council. Delgado has worked to pass the Illinois DREAM Commission Act and Senate Bill 2815, and Senate Bill 3568, dealing with fair wages. Delgado has worked to ensure that everyone has access to community health centers throughout the state. Recently, Delgado has been appointed chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

State Representative Ken Dunkin also won the Legislative Leader Award. Dunkin has been a member of the Illinois House of Representatives since 2002, representing the Fifth District. He serves on several committees including AppropriationHigher Education; Elementary and Secondary Education; Financial Institutions; and International Trade and Commerce. He was raised in Chicagos Cabrini-Green Public Housing Development, and attended Jenner Academy of Arts and Lincoln Park High School. Dunkin has a B.A. from Morehouse College in Atlanta, and a M.A. in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago.

The Anchor Award was given to Tara Sharron Stamps, a teacher at Jenner Academy and the daughter of Marion Nzinga Stamps, a community activist. Stamps said she remembers her mother with admiration and wants to carry on her work. Stamps was a fiery speaker at the hearings on the closing of Jenner and Maniere elementary schools. Stamps is also a director with her own theater group, In the Company of Sister.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union focused on the need for everyone to vote and be active politically. She told the crowd that when we get to the place where we feel comfortable with not voting, problems will follow. Some people, she said, say they dont want to vote because they dont want to serve on jury duty. But if you dont vote, she added, you dont have a voice if you disagree.

Working like the teacher she was prior to her election as union president in 2010, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis provided the audience with a visual aid. Above, Lewis is holding up a copy of the "Blue Form" that union members working in the schools can sign to increase or begin their monthly payroll deductions to the PAC (Political Action) fund. By law, the union cannot spend members' dues on political action so the PAC fund has to be as robust as possible to support the union's lobbying efforts. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Lewis said that once the CTU House of Delegates changed how much money goes into the political action committee, we can begin to change how money affects the fifth floor of City Hall, where the mayor's office sits, and how its occupants respond to the CTU and the people of the city. Lewis said we should educate voters and the people we send to Springfield to represent us.

That is what makes lobbying so important. Lewis, said. Holding up the card that authorizes payroll deduction for Political Action Committee (PAC) funds, Lewis said she is encouraging each person to pledge to give $5, $10, $20, $50, or $100 per month for the Teachers Union PAC. For years, the main PAC deduction was $2 per month, but a vote of the House of Delegates in September raised that to $5. But Lewis pointed out that members can pledge more to the voluntary fund. Lewis said she is going to pledge $50. If you are a CTU member currently working in the schools, she said, you can have that amount taken out of your paycheck. If you are not -- or are retired -- you can write other and pledge whatever you can afford, paying it by check.

The lobbying and legislative action of the Chicago Teachers Union is led by the union officers and by the union's two registered lobbyists, Stacy David Gates and Kurt Hilgendorg. Above, Davis Gates and Hilgendorf flank Karen Lewis at the podium during LEAD. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.After Lewiss speech, attendees watched a movie featuring several legislators, teachers, and parents, including Monique Davis, who cast the lone vote in the Illinois House of Representatives against SB-7, the notorious union busting legislation aimed at preventing the Chicago Teachers Union from striking. At the time, Davis said she never votes for union busting laws.

Among other awards bestowed during the evening:

Rosemary Vega accepted the Twilight Award, honoring community advocates to Bickerdike Housing.

Retiree delegate and Substance reporter Jean Schwab received an award. In the background is Regina O'Conner, who chairs the union's legislative committee. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Gloria Mhoon and Jean Schwab (this reporter) received Pioneer Awards honoring retiree activists. Mhoon has been very active in attending hearings, meetings, lobby days, and other events since retiring from Crane High School. Schwab, a retiree delegate for CTU, has also attended many events and written extensively for Substance.

The LEAD dinner began during the New Deal era as the "Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner" of the Chicago Teachers Union, and has taken place annually (with a rare exception) during the week before Election Day since. But rarely has the turnout been as large or the enthusiasm for political action among the union's members been this great, according to veteran teachers and novices alike.

During 2013 LEAD, the CTU also unveiled its legislative platform and launched a five-point campaign to reshape the political landscape just as it has reshaped discussions on education.

We must continue to rewrite the narrative and reclaim our destiny," Karen Lewis had been quoted as saying in an earlier press release from the CTU, "even in an environment that is becoming increasingly unsympathetic to public school educators and professionals," she continued, "LEAD is the chance for our rank and file membersthe strength of our unionto hold their legislators accountable and let them know how the decisions they make impact classrooms and the future of Chicagos students and schools.



October 27, 2013 at 10:30 PM

By: John Kugler

great report

Seems like lame stream media ignored this event. Congrats on your award Jean you deserve it for all the advocacy you do for public education issues.

October 28, 2013 at 10:44 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Jesse Jackson Sr.

I had heard the expression "pipeline from school to prison" and thought it meant that students were not prepared for jobs and so on but Jackson really summed up the real problem and I appreciate that. I am grateful for all the comments I've been given about this article. There were several revelations at the dinner. It was worth attending. Thanks John.

October 28, 2013 at 5:28 PM

By: Jay Rehak

Great reporting on a Great Event

Well written, Jean. Incredibly well attended event. I thought the crowd accurately responded to each of the speakers. Governor Quinn got support, but it wasn't overwhelming. Toni Preckwinkle got a great ovation ( I didn't know she's a former CTU member and teacher) , and when Mayor 1%'s picture went on the overhead screen, loud booing filled the room. I think the CTU's political power was enhanced by the evening's end.

October 30, 2013 at 11:54 AM

By: Jean Schwab


Thanks, Jay


October 27, 2017 at 9:44 PM

By: Monique Davis

The Lead Dinner Evening

What a wonderful dinner of dinner and the calling the names It was wonderful to see some of the teachers, legislators, election leaders. The great part was the wonderful new legislators and those I had not seen in such a long time. As we consider the needed education of our children , and the support how others come forward to give the needed assistance. Get the names of those who arrived and you will be so happy.Pictures, and words made it a wonderful evening.\Monique Davis

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