Happy Saturday!

This week brought the city’s biggest political announcement of 2017 so far, as well as more terrible, not-so-good news for Chicago Public Schools.

The Torture of CPS Parents

In Roman times, the rack was supposedly applied to the suspected assassins of Emperor Nero. In medieval England, it was used on prisoners in the Tower of London.

In modern Chicago, the rack is used too, but as a mental torture on Chicago Public School parents, who steadily watch their state and city governments pull just a bit more every day, gradually wrenching the system apart, causing them to wonder if there will be a full school year in 2017.

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel let some pressure off the rack, when he announced he will ensure Chicago Public Schools will stay open for the rest of this school year, even if the city, not the state, has to pay for it.

At stake is a CPS funding hole of tens of millions of dollars the school system says it needs to keep doors open past June 1, for the last three weeks of the school year. Gov. Bruce Rauner says he won’t sign a bill to pay for it, and the Democratic-controlled state legislature doesn’t have enough votes to sustain his veto.

And so the rack goes: click-click!

Part of the agony is that CPS has refused to release an exact accounting of how much is needed. Maybe as much as $215 million, maybe $124 million is needed. It depends on what you count. It’s hard to be sure.

Emanuel’s move to release pressure came Friday afternoon, after Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama handed down a crushing blow to the Chicago Public Schools’ suit against the State of Illinois, which claimed the state discriminated against Chicago in how it distributed funding to CPS. Valderrama refused the city’s request for a preliminary injunction against the state and found CPS had not identified any specific mechanisms that caused discrimination.

In other words, the courts aren’t going to step in in time.

Unless the Illinois General Assembly passes a funding bill for CPS with enough votes to sustain Gov. Bruce Rauner’s expected veto, Chicago is going to have to pay for it.

Chicka-click-click!

And so, reading the tea leaves, Mayor Emanuel announced that one way or another, Chicago citizens will pay the difference. Exactly how, Mayor Emanuel wasn’t saying. But last week aldermen had plenty of suggestions, from TIF money to left over Skyway sale funds, to creating a new head tax.

Gov. Rauner has got to be loving this. He stared down Emanuel, and made Chicago pick up the check, setting a precedent for Chicago to get less state money. That’s a real victory he can take back to every voter outside of Chicago.

But the CPS still has structural funding problems. It’s far more likely than not we’ll have to deal with this problem again next year.

Start cranking it up! Chick-chick-clink!

 

What Now For Kurt Summers?

City Treasurer Kurt Summers’ announcement Wednesday morning had all the elements of a political cliffhanger. The month before, he told his supporters in an email that he was considering running for governor, then followed up with messages asking for their contributions. His quarterly campaign finance reports, released last week, showed expenditures for $31,550 for polling. He made a few contributions to statewide Democratic organizations. The Democratic field lacked an African-American candidate, giving Summers a credible path to winning the Democratic nomination.

Maybe this guy was really going to do it!

But then he didn’t.

Instead, Summers took to the podium, announced his non-candidacy, and brought out candidate J.B. Pritzker to give him a full-throated endorsement.

Deciding to run for higher office is a deep, personal decision. In my past life as a political consultant, I walked through the choices with people deciding to run or not, and watched them agonize over the choice. For those of us on the outside–the watchers, cheerleaders, what-have-you–we can never know what goes through their minds and hearts. Instead, we’re left with the what-might-have-beens.

New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s fueled up plane on the tarmac, ready to take him to New Hampshire in 1991 is probably the strongest image in my mind. But there’s the might-have-been candidacy of Tom Dart for Mayor in 2011 or Lisa Madigan for Governor in 2010 (which lingers now). What could have happened?

Never mind all that. Because Kurt Summers is still a visible politician with a great resume: Chief of Staff to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, strong private sector finance experience, and now a solid record of improving Chicago’s money management. He’s sharp and has interesting insights on improving Chicago’s economic growth as we heard in our podcast interview last December..

So if not governor, then, what?

Democratic consultants and politicians I spoke to this week were surprised he chose not to run. “What does he have to lose? You run, it goes well, you win. It doesn’t, you endorse someone else and gain a higher name ID along the way,” said one politico who wished to remain anonymous.

Many of Summers’ backers are also Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backers, like Michael Sachs, who gave Summers’ his private sector finance gig. So it would be a big challenge to run against Emanuel for mayor in 2019.

Illinois has two Democratic U.S. Senators, and the next Senate election isn’t until 2020, and it seems unlikely Dick Durbin would step down then. Even so, three years is a long wait in political time.

“Maybe he can just wait his turn? He’s certainly not in a position to run against Emanuel,” said another Democratic wag.

So, how long is Summers willing to wait?

 

Note: This article originally misstated that the Democratic field lacked a “minority candidate” that is incorrect. Indian-American Ald. Ameya Pawar is a Democratic candidate.