Fox-WVON Chicago Mayoral Forum
Last night was the first televised forum to include all six Chicago Mayoral candidates, sponsored by WFLD-Fox, the Chicago Urban League and Harriet's Daughters. The hour long forum, hosted by Kennedy-King College on Chicago's south side, was aired live at 9:30 pm on Chicago's local Fox station and on WVON radio. A fair number of questions were asked, but the most important ones were omitted: when is Gery Chico going to stop jabbing and start punching? When will he act strategically to give himself a chance to win this race?
Yesterday's Chicago Tribune poll
With the release of the Tribune poll yesterday and the ABC 7 poll the day before, the manifest weight of the polling evidence is that Rahm Emanuel is closing in, if not already at, the 50% needed on Feb. 22 to avoid a run-off. Chico, at 19% and climbing in both polls, is the most likely candidate to force a run-off. Further, the Tribune poll has Emanuel beating Chico in the African-American community 49% to 7%. Moseley-Braun is likely to continue hemorrhaging votes, having fallen to 20% in the black community, and 10% over-all. Chico, of course, should continue to seek votes among all segments of the City, but the African-American community presents the greatest opportunity for improvement.
Education, a defining issue in the Mayoral Race?
So, if you are Gery Chico, you should take a good, fresh look at what you need to do to boost your margin among Black voters. First, remember that in a run-off system, the key is not winning votes that would go to Braun, but winning (a) black votes that are now going to Emanuel, (b) the share of undecided black votes (18%) that might otherwise go to Emanuel and (c) Hispanic and white votes that are now going to Emanuel. Second, on what issue important to the African-American community is there some daylight between Emanuel and Chico?
The obvious answer is education. The Chicago Public School ("CPS") system is failing to perform for the great majority of its students, and the majority of those students are African-American. The parents of those students want school choice, whether it is in the form of charters or school vouchers.
Chico and Emanuel on school vouchers
Chico supports school vouchers, at least for the students in the bottom decile of performing schools and perhaps for other low performing schools. That position was embodied in the legislation that Senator James Meeks, popular pastor of the 20,000 member Salem Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago, passed through the State Senate, but not the House. Meeks dropped out of the Mayor's race, deferring to Moseley-Braun as the consensus Black candidate. Would he re-consider in favor of Chico?
Rahm Emanuel opposes school vouchers, without exception. He took that position when he ran for Congress and he has not altered it since.
There is a large school choice community in and around the Chicago area. Could they and would they assist Chico at this late date in the campaign? Andy McKenna, Jr., former State GOP Chairman and former Co-Chair of Meeks' Mayoral Finance Committee, is apparently a school choice guy and civic minded. Would he support Chico? Or, does Republican support hurt Democrats more than it helps at this stage of the game?
Emanuel and Chico on Charter Schools
Emanuel does support charter schools, as does Chico. However, Chico can lay claim to starting the ball rolling with them when he was working with CEO Paul Vallas on school reform from 1995-2001 as CPS Board President. Moreover, Chico can argue he is more willing than Emanuel to criticize the tapering off of CPS performance during the last five years under CEOs Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman, and to push much more intensively for Charters.
Yes, CPS has expanded Charter School-Choice to about 8% of the CPS students. That's about 30,000 students. As WLS 890 AM radio host Dan Proft argues, what about the other 370,000 CPS students, the great majority of whom are African-American or Hispanic. Shouldn't they be able to exit failing schools in the same way magnet school students or kids of high income parents can? Shouldn't they all be able to use the money that is currently being spent on them to attend the school of their choice?
Chico's missed opportunity to throw a punch at the Forum
Forum moderator Robin Robinson of Fox followed up nicely on her questioning of Moseley-Braun, asking her what to do about schools that fail year after year? Moseley-Braun, a strong opponent of school choice, said failing schools have more to do with poverty [of the students' parents?].
Although the forum rules didn't specifically allow for it, Chico should have jumped in at this point and said, "But, that is the soft bigotry of low expectations. We shouldn't relegate poor kids to poor schools."
Ironically, it was Chico's turn for a question right after the failing school question, but the topic had changed to "curbing violence on city streets." [The candidates were given different questions within the same general topic]. Chico did throw a left jab at Emanuel, arguing that Rahm Emanuel never really experienced violence, having grown up on the North Shore. Chico, on the other hand, said he grew up in the City's Back of the Yards working class neighborhood.
A Chico $15,000 Value Proposition for voters?
But, Gery Chico missed an opportunity. If you want to back Emanuel up four or five points, you need some punches, not jabs. You need a [Dan Proft] value proposition, e.g., what does the voter get for voting for you? If your kid is in a failing school, you get a school voucher worth $15,000 per kid per year [the average amount currently spent per kid per year in CPS] to use at the school of your choice. Or, you get to go to a charter school. That's a school choice value proposition. If Chico does all that, and he does it well, Emanuel will not beat Chico in the Black community 49% to 7%. It might be 42% to 14%. And, that might be all the improvement Chico needs to force a run-off.
Further, the school choice argument also might help Chico with the white vote, which Chico is losing 55% to 25% to Emanuel (according to the Tribune poll) and surely would help him with the Latino vote (which Chico is winning 38% to 34% to Emanuel). But, Chico needs to throw some punches, not jabs. With eleven campaign days left, it is time to get strategic. It is time to tell the voters why who is Mayor matters to them.
Is there a dime's worth of difference between the top two candidates on education? Can Gery Chico argue it is $15,000? Can Chico argue it is the difference between being stuck in a failing school and having an opportunity to escape to a school that works? Well, can he?