Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley touts that one his highest accomplishments was the role he has played in bettering the Chicago Public School System. Those accomplishments include his personal choices for members of The Chicago Board Of Education, as well as his choices for CEO of the system. While that may be a high moment for Daley and his legacy, it is a low moment for those of us who know that he achieved to make personal appointments at the expense of the legacy and work of Chicago's first Black Mayor Harold Washington. There were many who worked with Washington for years to achieve the point that decisions made on school board appointments, contracting, and CEO were designed by Washington to be made with the direct input from those at the local level, and Daley didn't like it and dismantled Washington's legacy of direct grassroots inclusion in the educational decision making process for the management and operations of Chicago's Public Schools.
In addition to Harold Washington's legacy, it also dismantled the legacy of Eugene Sawyer as Chicago Mayor who succeeded Harold Washington AND saw through Harold's legislation and the empowerment of people, whose reform and legislation brought together the grassroots community, business, and corporate leaders after Mayor Washington appointed James Deanes as head of the then Parent Community Council and The Education Summits when former Education Secretary William Bennett angered Washington when Bennett publicly called Chicago Schools the worst in the country. There is certainly more to this story of how Harold legacy involved his answer to a School strike and over 1,200 people showing up at a public meeting demanding that Harold Washington get personally involved and do something to make education better.
As one of the local organizers of the grassroots educational and civil rights organization's local educational empowerment agenda led by the late Lu Palmer, Vernon Jarrett, Marion Stamps, George Riddick and others -- a movement that Harold Washington championed as a State Representative, State Senator, U.S. Congressman, and Mayor of Chicago, to finally get Chicago schools to be governed from the local level up and not top down was finally realized in Harold's administration and Harold Washington also said he envisioned local people in their own communities having the power and make, and live by their own polices. It started with the election of local school councils, sub district and Harold's new Chicago School Board Nominating Commission where I, along with people like James Deanes and others served and I became a Vice-Chair, where WE had the power make Mayor Daley choose candidates from the community for School Board members and we were able to establish "education-based professional" requirements for the position of "General Superintendent" For Chicago Public Schools, versus the non educators that Daley has chosen over the years.
All these long fought for accomplishments of Mayor Washington, Daley openly told us through his Mayoral appointment to The Commission and directly when nhe summoned us to City Hall, that he did NOT like being held accountable to grassroots input that Harold fought for, in favor of his own personal decision making, and followed through, so while this local empowerment achievement was one of Harold Washington's biggest accomplishments from a grassroots perspective -- notwithstanding the other accomplishments by Daley -- he followed through on - the local school and grassroots empowerment that Harold fought for and won -- WAS totally dismantled by Daley when he lobbied The Illinois State Legislature to eliminate The Chicago School Board Nominating Commission, along our former power by state law to force the Mayor to have to choose Chicago School Board members with local input and "Education-Based" qualifications to be a "General Superintendent" of Chicago Public Schools
and not a Chief Executive Officer.
As I told another reporter earlier that they should not view all criticism of Mayor Daley as personal, but political. People can respect Mayor Daley and all he has represented for his 21 years as Chicago's Mayor but for political pundits and mainstream media to keep interviewing and projecting only those people who are documenting the Daley legacy -- I have the right and the authority as veteran activist and journalist to point out the fact that what I have mentioned in this instance is how a high moment for Daley's legacy came at the expense of one of Harold Washington's. There are still some of us around that are committed to preserving the Harold Washington legacy as well.
One of the last grassroots meetings I attended with Mayor Washington, he said to stay focused on always educating people with the right information, and I thought that this was one of those times to step up and preserve Mayor Washington' legacy while we are commemorating Daley's. Boy, can we who were in those meeting with Harold remember him saying that his new School Reform legislation would last because he would be Mayor for the next 20 years? Congrats to Mayor Daley for his 21 years, but I cannot celebrate them all at the expense of The Harold Washington years.