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Fact check: Emanuel, Brizard, Pritzker

UPDATED – “We will have to come together as one” to solve Chicago’s school problems, said mayor-to-be Rahm Emanuel.

Then he announced the selection of a new schools chief who got a 95 percent disapproval vote from teachers at his current post. Catalyst cites sources in Rochester who say schools chief Jean Claude Brizard talks about collaboration but operates as an autocrat.

The rhetoric continues to outpace the reality: Emanuel praised Brizard for raising the graduation rate in Rochester schools. In fact, though, the 12 percent increase claimed by Brizard occurred before he took his post, according to his predecessor.

Chicago News Cooperative reports that Rochester’s graduation rate has actually declined over four years. A Rochester reporter notes that Brizard seems to confuse graduation rates with absolute numbers – not a good sign in a top executive, whether he’s spinning or not. (PURE points out the Tribune seems to have the same problem.)

On Emanuel’s part, his false claim continues a reign of error, with repeated misstatements regarding performance and graduation rates at charter schools.

Brizard is a product of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent training program, which has recently placed trainees at the top of schools systems in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Denver.  (Eli Broad donated $25,000 to Emanuel’s campaign, Ramsin Canon points out.) Broad trainees have also been run out of several towns, according to a new guide from Parents Across America:

“A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay-for-performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.”

[Eric Zorn offers corroboration from several Rochester parents, who say Brizard “lacks people skills,” “didn’t listen to parents and doesn’t like being challenged,” is “arrogant and autocratic.”]

“Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent.”

Broad has published a guide to closing schools; Brizard closed half the city’s high schools without consulting communities. Broad came up with the idea of the “parent trigger,” which Emanuel has praised.  Its philosophy of management is to “invest in disruption,” to promote instability in a system in order to generate “innovation.”

Exciting times ahead.

Brizard clashed not only with teachers and parents but with Rochester’s board of education, which unfortunately for him was elected by Rochester voters. He won’t have that problem in Chicago.

Perhaps Emanuel’s most noteworthy appointment to the board of education is Penny Pritzker, scion of the Hyatt hotel family that’s currently under pressure from religious and community leaders for mistreating its workers.

It’s worth recalling Pritzker’s recent notoriety as a subprime lender, which was probably a factor in her withdrawal from consideration as President Obama’s commerce secretary, after chairing his campaign’s finance committee. After the Pritzkers took over Superior Bank, she headed the board as they plunged into the subprime mortgage market, which eventually swamped the bank.  And under her lead, the bank played signal role in developing the mortage-backed securitization instruments which eventually swamped the nation’s economy.

These securities were call “innovations” at the time.

David Moberg’s 2002 piece has the best overview of Superior’s collapse, which he says was “tainted with all the hallmarks of a mini-Enron scandal.” Accounting tricks were used to turn growing losses into steady profits, allowing dividends to continue to flow to the banks owners.  Maybe Pritzker can help “fix” the CPS budget.

When she was getting bad press a couple years ago, her lawyer said the bank did subprime lending but not the “predatory” kind. According to Moberg, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition accused the bank of “engaging in a variety of predatory practices.”

It’s particularly worth recalling because, as the Tribune recently reported (thanks to PURE for the link), Penny Pritzker is now founding a private equity firm that will focus on buying distressed property.

It’s nice to have money.

In other management feats, Pritzker chaired the Olympic Village subcommittee in the city’s ill-fated bid for the 2016 games.  She bears some responsibility for the $100 million debt incurred in that disaster, which Emanuel is going to have to start paying off in a couple of years.

Pritzker is a major backer of Stand For Children, which pushed union-busting legislation in Springfield. While serving on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, she split from the president by opposing card-check labor reform he backed. Add Hyatt to the mix and her anti-union record is complete.

It’s highly unlikely that these people will “bring us together as one.”

Big plans for Michael Reese

Again Mayor Daley touts a “world-class technology park” on the nearly vacant site of Michael Reese Hospital.

As Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago said here in September, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?”

Not just handy lab buildings, either – the most significant collection in the nation of buildings whose design was guided by Walter Gropius, one of the major architects of the 20th century.  Blair Kamin called the demolition at the hands of Daley and Toni Preckwinkle “cultural vandalism.”

Lynn Becker recently pointed out that the 2009 demolition of Reese and the 1989 demolition of Block 37 – which included the landmark 1872 McCarthy Building, John Peter Altgeld’s 1892 Unity Building, the 1921 United Artists Theatre designed by Holabird and Roche, and the 1928 art deco Hillman Building with the venerable Stop & Shop gourmet emporium – are the “twin bookends” of Daley’s reign.

There was big talk of big plans back then too, but not until 16 years later was anything built, and what we got was a “sad, ‘better-something-than-nothing'” compromise on the original visions.

And much like Reese’s labs, the Stop & Shop would have suited today’s new Loop-dwellers, and the United Artists Theatre “would have provided a much-needed smaller capacity venue for the mayor’s revived Randolph Street district,” Becker points out.

Along the way he gives a fascinating view of the arc of Daley’s career, from “Dirty Little Richie” to the conciliator of his early mayoralty — till “the nasty habits of his youth returned: the bullying, the intolerance of dissent, the constant ridiculing of any ideas other than his own, the incoherent, angry rants.”

Says Becker: “The mayor’s most willful initiatives were often his most embarrassing blunders.”  Put Reese in that category.

Michael Reese buildings threatened

Despite 24-hour security, two remaining buildings at the historic Michael Reese Hospital campus are being stripped by scavengers, who have taken all copper and aluminum and much of the iron, along with radiators and air ducts, according to the Hyde Park Herald (September 22).

Now, with a cleanup fund nearly exhausted, radioactive chemicals have been discovered on the site.

Reporting on a meeting with residents of the nearby Prairie Shores development on September 16, the Herald says Ald. Toni Preckwinkle “appeared receptive to neighbors’ calls to tear down the remaining buildings,” though she “declined to state explicitly that she was considering” demolition.

Last year Preckwinkle and the city agreed to preserve the Old Main Hospital Building, a prairie-school structure built in 1907, as preservationists fought demolition of over two dozen buildings designed by and with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Demolition proceeded, even as the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council endorsed the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the 1907 building, one Gropius building remains, the seven-story Singer Pavillion.  The rest of the site is completely bare, including lush landcapes created by world-renowned designers, now stripped away.

The city bought the campus last year for $86 million – with $32 million rebated to pay for cleanup – expecting to sell it to developers who would build an Olympic Village there (see last year’s Newstips report).  It now appears nothing is to be done with the 37-acre site.

Mayor Daley recently floated the idea of developing a biotechnology center there, but it has generated little enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.

Fine questioned the city’s commitment to preserving the remaining buildings and challenged the quality of security there.  “Taxpayers are paying for security and they’re not getting it,” he said.  “It reeks to high heaven.  They’re using this to justify their own cultural vandalism.”

What are the lessons of the Reese debacle?  “First, that haste makes waste,” Fine said.  “Second, that arrogant, unilateral urban planning serves no purpose.  Third, that the people who have been elected to watch out for the City of Chicago’s financial interests have failed miserably.”

Hospitals are a major focus for preservationists at the moment, Fine said.  They’re keeping an eye on plans to redevelop the old Cook County Hospital building as medical offices.  And they’re gearing up an effort to save the “old” Prentice Women’s Hospital, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s; Northwestern University wants to tear it down to make room for a new research center.

Metropolis Magazine has a report on Prentice.  Blair Kamin reports it will be included in an October 9 Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of Goldberg buildings called “Architecture in the Round.”

[Correction:  Northwestern University and Bertrand Goldberg were misidentified in an earlier version.]

Dennis Brutus

dennis-brutus-1-sized South African poet and  activist Dennis Brutus, who  broke rocks with Nelson  Mandela on Robbins Island,  died in Capetown at the age  of 85 on December 26.

Monthly Review has an  obituary. A collection of  Brutus’s poetry and essays, Protest and Poetry,  was published by  Haymarket  Books of Chicago.

Brutus was a stalwart of the  local anti-apartheid  movement while he was on the faculty at Northwestern University in the 1970s and ’80s.   In South Africa, he had first been banned as a teacher, for teaching his students that they were not inferior; then he became a journalist, and soon received an order making it a crime for him to write for any paper. He said he never took his poetry seriously until the government served him with an order making it a crime to publish his poems.  He continued under a pen name.

In a sense he was also a forerunner of No Games Chicago, since the crime he for which he was imprisoned was organizing against South Africa’s inclusion in the Olympics.  He was arrested by South African secret police in 1963 at a meeeting with South Africa’s Olympic committee, where he went to present the case for including blacks on the nation’s team.  It was primarily due to Brutus that South Africa was kicked out of the games in 1964 and 1968, and out of the Olympic movement in 1970.

At the Progressive, Matt Rothschild has an incisive post on the conjunction of Brutus’s death with the opening of the film Invictus, which also deals with sport and apartheid, but reduces the anti-apartheid movement to one great man, Nelson Mandela; he also notes Brutus’s criticism of Mandela’s turn to neoliberalism.

A year ago Brutus scandalized the South African Sports Hall of Fame by showing up at a lavish ceremony only to refuse induction “alongside those who flourished under racist sport” while “so many talented black athletes were excluded from sports opportunities.”  Cheering Brutus’s stance last January, Dave Zirin also noted the history of racism in U.S. baseball and a hall of fame where its proponents and beneficiaries are enshrined.

(This week at the Nation, Zirin offers a fascinating eulogy for Daily Worker sports columnist Walter “Red” Rodney, who died December 22 at the age of 98, noting his place in “the central role of the radical press in agitating for the integration of Major League Baseball.”)

Preckwinkle and Reese

With the demise of Chicago 2016, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle is now the only public voice demanding wholesale demolition of Walter Gropius’s Reese Modern campus, as the Chicago Journal’s latest piece indicates.

She’s taking this position despite widespread support for preservation among her constituents.  And not just architecture buffs and preservationists:  At a ward meeting on the Olympic Village in August, many residents of Lake Meadows and Prairie Shores sported “Save Michael Reese” stickers.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition points out that Preckwinkle was momentarily stumped when asked by Chicago Talks “what her constituents would like to see on the site.”  She replied: “We’re not there yet.  I would presume we’ll have a planning process as we go forward that will involve community residents.”

Notes the coalition, that community involvement will presumably occur after demolition is complete.

Preckwinkle may also be the only person who doesn’t believe Walter Gropius designed any buildings at Reese, as she told WTTW last month.  The Gropius coalition has said she’s rebuffed repeated offers to share their research with her.

What now?

Go Green.  A “renaissance of ideas” fueled by the Olympics bid “giv[es] the city the opportunity to build a world-class, environmentally sustainable city” — a goal “that can pay both economic and environmental dividends,” Center for Neighborhood Technology said in a statement following the host city decision Friday.

CNT called for revitalizing and expanding local and regional public transit systems, reducing energy consumption in the built environment and the transportation sector, promoting green infrastructure practices around water conservation and neighborhood sustainability, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and “infusing transparency and accountability into every step of the process.”

“The ‘green’ in this vision is both environmental and economic. Restoring the level of transit service to what it was a century ago can reduce the cost of living for working families by 10 to 20 percent, making up much of what’s been lost in the recession, while cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Building infrastructure in communities will restore fuller employment, much as the recovery did after the Great Depression.

“Let’s come together in a way that no other region has—but that every region must—to meet our economic and environmental challenges. Now is our chance to get the basics down: efficient transportation, natural resource conservation, affordable housing, local employment, and connections that affirm our place in the nation and the world.”

The full statement is at cnt.org.

Empower communities.  By “empower[ing] the city’s diverse communities,” Chicago “can be a gold-medal city way before 2016,” said JCUA’s Jane Ramsey in a statement issued Friday.

“Like a coach reviewing the films of a big loss, Chicago must learn from its mistakes. A winning city can’t take for granted voices that demand community development, transparency, government accountability and oversight. A community of winners must engage all communities in realizing a vision of Chicago’s future.

“Instead of half-heartedly listening to its citizens in order to impress Olympic voters, Chicago must let the voices of all communities lead the way to a vibrant city, where all residents have access to housing, schools and jobs. That’s the Chicago that will gain the world’s respect.”  The full statement is at jcua.org.

Solidarity with Rio. “Now is the time to stand with the people of Rio,” writes Dave Zirin at Huffington Post Chicago (Zirin was probably first noted among local media here).

“It’s no secret why the IOC licked their lips at the thought of Brazil. Like China, Brazil is an emerging market yet to be fully ‘branded’ by global multinationals. They also have a police force that shoots first and asks questions never. Their President Lula, who comes from a radical union background, has clearly shown the decrepit, corrupt, IOC Mafiosi that he is willing to play ball.

“If history is any kind of a guide, the pain for Brazil’s working people is now on the immediate horizon. It’s our duty to do whatever we can to express solidarity with the favelas, the landless peasants, and the workers about to stare down the barrel of ‘Olympism.'”

Complaint: Olympic bid discriminates

Nine community activists have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice charging the Mayor, the Chicago Park District and Chicago 2016 with racial discrimination in the siting of Olympic venues.

The Chicago Olympic bid puts of the heaviest burden on three major parks in low-income African-American communities, denying residents use of the park over a period of years for venues that will be constructed and then torn down after the Olympics, they charge.  Only one venue is sited in a park in a predominantly white community — the tennis competition will take place on courts in Lincoln Park.

In Washington Park and elsewhere, Olympic spectators will be shuttled in and out of events, with virtually no economic benefit for surrounding communities.  Chicago 2016 developed the siting plans and the Chicago Park District approved them with no input from residents, according to the complaint.

“I think the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee has stolen parks in low-income African-American neighborhoods because they think we will just be quiet and take it, while white and more affluent neighborhoods wouldn’t tolerate it,” said Michael Johnson, who coaches a youth football team in Washington Park. 

Wealthier areas of the city “would never tolerate extensive shutdowns and construction,” said South Side activist Toni Stith.  Washington and Douglas Parks currently provide the only recreational resources in their respective communities.

While the Olympics have been promoted as a private enterprise requiring no public funding, “think of what they’d have to pay if they wanted to rent these parks for so many years at a fair rate,” said education advocate Don Moore.

Win or lose, Reese campus threatened

Demolition of the Michael Reese campus, including buildings designed by architect Walter Gropius, could commence immediately, regardless of whether Chicago wins its bid for the Olympics on Friday, said James Peters of Landmarks Illinois.

The group presented a plan to reuse several of the Gropius buildings in the redevelopment of the campus, but neither the city nor Chicago 2016 has given any response, he said.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition cited a report in The Architect’s Newspaper quoting Chicago 2016’s Cassandra Francis, director of the Olympic Village, saying, “We are actually not considering alternative plans because we have received very positive feedback for our plans from the [International] Olympic committee.  If we do get the games, there is no room for preservation.”

Peters said he’s seen no indication that there has been any evaluation of the feasibility of reusing the historic buildings.  Such an evaluation would not take much time, he said, and there are a number of developers in Chicago “who have experience at reuse and know how to make money at it.”  He points to the award-winning adaptive redevelopment of the South Water Market near UIC.

Preserving the Gropius buildings would enable developers to seek significant historic preservation tax credits, he said.

But planners “seem to have come into this with a cleared-site mentality,” he said.

The Gropius coalition reports that the campus’s laundry building has already been severely damaged.

Peters said there is a great deal of demolition equipment now on the campus.  Demolition contracts were awarded in July.



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