RAHMWATCH: Chicago's mayor dispatched more than 20 press releases during the week his schools 'CEO' pleaded guilty to federal felony charges ... and more loomed... BUT!... 'Chicago has a 292-mile bikeway network in all 50 wards...' was one important data Rahm shared with the world in October 2015...

Rahm Emanuel's work to manipulate the media agenda in Chicago began as soon as he took office in 2011. Above, Beth Swanson, center, stands with propaganda flacks from the "Mayor's Press Office." The photo above was taken during a press briefing following a COMPSTAT -- CPS dog-and-pony show at Police Headquarters in December 2011. The COMPSTAT-CPS event marked the only time that police and public school officials ever held a COMPSTAT CPS -- despite the fact that the mayor and Police Chief Gerry McCarthy claimed at the time that the event was being held every month to reduce crime in Chicago's public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The headlines should have been LET'S CHANGE THE SUBJECT! (yes, in all caps, Rahm screaming at the press). From his days working for former Mayor Richard M. Daley through his days working for former President Bill Clinton to his days as chief of staff at the White House under Barack Obama, Chicago's current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has been practiced in the dubious art of "managing the news cycle."

And so during the weeks of one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of the nation's third largest public school system, Rahm Emanuel poured out an endless stream of press releases from the "Mayor's Press Office." To anyone paying attention, it was clear he was trying to change the subject.

Between October 1, 2015 and October 18, 2015, Rahm Emanuel had his propagandists send out at least 32 press releases about various important things going on in Chicago. The press releases ranged in topic from more openings of playlots (while the city's regular parks become swamps during baseball and soccer seasons so the average Chicago child can't really play in a park paid for by Chicago taxpayers) to the number of miles Rahm -- as if personally -- has added to the city's bicycle trails, paths, streets, and (although not mentioned) maybe even alleys.

More than 30 press releases -- about two per day, including Saturdays and Sundays.

During October 2015, Chicago's "Mayor's Press Office" even provided the press with photographs (done by a City of Chicago worker) showing Chicago's happy mayor at a joyous event for which the mayor was being thanked. Above, Rahm Emanuel went out of his way to find the city's whitest public school as the setting for an announcement that he had added (personally, it was implied) more space to the Ebinger Elementary School on the city's far far northwest side. Emanuel has deliberately avoided most of the city's Black and Latino communities since he closed 50 of the city's real elementary schools in 2013 (one month before Barbara Byrd Bennett put through the no-bid SUPES contract), apparently fearful that his media entourage will be greeted by irate protesters. The above photo was provided in a press packet by the "Mayor's Press Office." And during the week when Rahm Emanuel's former hand-picked "Chief Executive Officer" (for the public schools; he also hand-picked the person running City Colleges, who, by the way, knows nothing about education, coming to the college scene from corporate Chicago) pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, as both daily newspapers reported, Emanuel was spending public funds trying to block the public's access to public records connecting Emanuel and his staff to the scandal.

Early on, Emanuel tried to claim he and his staff knew and said nothing about the SUPES deal, the $20.5 million no-bid principal training contracts spearheaded by Barbra Byrd Bennett (and her staff and friends). That claim slowly collapsed as news people had to take the mayor to court to get the mayor to comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). (As of October 19, the mayor hadn't issued any press release telling the public how much he was spending on lawyers to try and block access to public information, let alone how much all those propaganda press releases cost).

Some of the examples from the bin from October 2015 were more droll than others:

In one of his many press releases and media events, Emanuel announced to the world that the City of Chicago has created an urban network of bicycle-friendly stuff... The following directly quotes one of Emanuel's press releases during the second week of October 2015:

"Chicago now has a 292-mile bikeway network in all 50 wards, consisting of the following:

94 miles of bike lanes

83.5 miles of buffer protected bike lanes

46 miles of off-street trails

48.75 miles of marked shared lanes

19.5 miles of barrier protected bike lanes

1.5 miles of neighborhood greenways..."

Despite hosting more than two dozen media events, Rahm continues to refuse to answer questions from the media. In each of the press releases he sends out at public expense, the note ends: "There will be no media availability."

Three years before she was chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be his liaison with Chicago Public Schools, Beth Swanson was budget chief at CPS, as the above photograph (taken during the Board of Education's August 2008 meeting shows). Swanson's qualifications to be budget chief were an undergraduate degree in literature and the all-important MA in "Public Policy" from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. And Chicago's mayor is certainly not going to make public records of his conversations with Barbara Byrd Bennett over her privatization corruption public if he can use city lawyers to stop the public from getting the "transparency" he claimed is one of his city priorities. TRIBUNE REPORT ON THE LATEST STALLING AGAINST THE FOIA:

Feds eye CPS records on education group backed by state's, city's elites

By Hal Dardick and Juan Perez Jr.

Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2015

Federal corruption investigators looking into a $20.5 million no-bid contract at Chicago Public Schools also have asked for any records related to an elite nonprofit education group that has long been at the center of city school reform efforts the first indication that the public relations problem could extend beyond Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration.

The Chicago Public Education Fund is closely aligned with the education initiatives of both Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who once chaired the nonprofit, as well as some of the city's most prominent power brokers and philanthropists.

Although the course of the evolving investigation is still unclear, the scandal has focused on Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She once worked for the Wilmette-based SUPES Academy company that received the no-bid contract to train school principals. On Friday, school officials released the wide-ranging federal subpoenas as they announced Byrd-Bennett would take a leave of absence while the investigation was ongoing.

The training program was launched with seed money from the nonprofit education fund. The group is made up of a broad list of the Chicago area's most influential politicians and business leaders all of whom have made restructuring education a top civic priority over the past decade. Many have become key political supporters of Rauner, Emanuel or both.

By June 2011, Beth Swanson was attending meetings of the Chicago Board of Education lurking on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and refusing to answer any questions about the mayor's relationship to CPS during the crucial months the mayor was pushing for the "Longer School Day." By summer's end in 2011, Swanson was no longer sitting in the public seats during Board meeting to avoid being photographed. After leaving her job at City Hall, she began her new job as head of the anti-union and pro-privatization Joyce Foundation. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Indeed, Rauner himself was a board director and is currently a director emeritus. Last week, the governor's hand-picked board of education named Tony Smith the state's new superintendent of schools. Smith, who has spent most of his career in California, was appointed to the fund's board of directors last year and served on Rauner's transition team after the November election.

Launched in 2000, the group was first led by then-Chicago Tribune Publisher Scott Smith. Rauner joined the board the next year and later was its chairman before becoming an emeritus member of the board, along with future U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a former member of the Chicago school board; and current school board President David Vitale.

Others currently on the nonprofit board include Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, who has financially backed both Rauner and Emanuel's campaigns; Mellody Hobson of the powerful Ariel Investments; Helen Zell, wife of real estate magnate Sam Zell; Susan Crown, a principal of the Chicago firm of Henry Crown & Co.; and Beth Swanson, a former top education deputy to Emanuel.

Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said the governor has not been contacted by federal authorities. The administration declined to comment further on the investigation.

The subpoenas arrived at CPS as both Emanuel and Rauner have been at the forefront of controversial efforts to use private-sector expertise to reshape public education, an approach that's drawn sharp criticism from teachers unions. The federal probe also comes as the nation's third-largest school district teeters on the financial precipice.

CPS faces a funding shortfall equal to one-sixth of its budget, largely driven by required increases on teacher pension funding following years of failing to put in enough money to keep the funds solvent. In addition, the district is in the early stages of contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union, and the last time the two sides had to negotiate in 2012, there was a strike.

Byrd-Bennett, whom Emanuel calls "B Three" when they appear together at schools, stepped in to help resolve the strike as the mayor's first schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, fell out of favor at City Hall.

Now Byrd-Bennett has become a political liability for a mayor just as he needs a way out of a financial crisis without resorting to Rauner's suggestion of declaring bankruptcy. And it appears unlikely she will be on hand to work out a new pact with CTU leaders who failed to stop Emanuel's bid for a second term in backing challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey last week decried what he called "the culture of conflict of interest" at the school system.

With CPS anticipating a $1.1 billion shortfall next school year, Emanuel has pinned his hopes on a long-shot shift in Chicago school funding.

Emanuel wants the financially strapped state to use income tax revenue to pick up more than $700 million in pension payments now covered out of city property taxes, just as it picks up those payments for suburban and Downstate schools. Emanuel, who was out of town on vacation when Byrd-Bennett took her leave, said Wednesday that would close most of CPS' budget gap. Rauner has declared that a non-starter with the state's finances in disarray.

In between the strike and the subpoenas, Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett closed 49 schools and a high school program in a move the mayor said was necessary to deal with a rash of under-enrolled schools. The closures drew national attention, given Emanuel's affinity for charter schools and that most of the closures were in neighborhoods on the South and West sides and hit minority families harder.

Emanuel also drew criticism for what some have said was too big a focus on selective enrollment high schools to the exclusion of neighborhood schools. The situation became an embarrassment for Emanuel when he had to back off naming a planned North Side selective enrollment high school for President Barack Obama after South Side aldermen complained that a school honoring the first African-American president should be in that part of the city, where Obama got his political start.

On Friday, the mayor's office sought to portray Byrd-Bennett's decision to take a leave as being in the best interest of students. "Though there have been no formal allegations, the mayor has zero tolerance for any type of misconduct from public officials and welcomes today's decision to help ensure this issue does not distract from the incredibly important work happening in our neighborhood public schools," mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in a statement.

Asked why Emanuel's hand-picked school board did not reject the SUPES contract given that Byrd-Bennett had previously been employed there, Quinn responded in an email, "You would have to ask the board."

Quinn also said the administration had no involvement in negotiating the SUPES contract. She did not respond to a question about whether the mayor feels the residents of Chicago would have been better served by having a school board that approached the SUPES contract with a more skeptical eye.

Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th, Emanuel's City Council floor leader, said by taking a leave, Byrd-Bennett will allow the city to concentrate on the "huge financial problem" at CPS and the contract negotiations with the union.

"I don't think that anybody points a finger and says that she did anything wrong. There are a whole bunch of issues that are playing out right now, and the last thing you need or want is to have somebody to point at any investigation going on right now ... and use that to hurt us," O'Connor said. "Her taking a leave takes her out of the cross hairs and allows us to focus more directly on the problems at hand.


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