To the Editor:
While Illinois families face tremendous challenges at both the state and municipal levels, the results of Chicago’s February 24, 2015 nonpartisan election offer inspiration, and accountability. In an unprecedented jolt to Chicago’s political establishment, Chicago voters forced a runoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. While this election has captured the nation’s attention as a referendum on establishment Democrats (whose campaigns are bankrolled by corporate interests) and progressives, it is also clearly a referendum on the policies championed by both Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner. A coalition of community organizers, labor unions and working families — who have worked for more than a decade to promote equitable education opportunities, oppose school closings and who have worked tirelessly for affordable housing and living wages — has unified to demand change at the highest level of city government. The demand for change has also gained momentum at the ward level, as there are 18 aldermanic runoff elections in which winners will have been decided on April 7 by the time this is published. Fed up with tone-deaf elected officials who are, in many cases, more concerned with the interests of their corporate backers or where they would like to ascend politically, Chicagoans are shifting the political landscape of our great city; and not a moment too soon.
As I stood with nearly 1,000 people to oppose Rauner’s proposed budget cuts in Springfield on March 11, I reflected on the challenges facing working families, and the significance of the current political moment. Rauner chose to make his first actions as governor an executive order to impose “right to work” rules on public employees (a move that has thus far been blocked by Attorney General Lisa Madigan) and budgets cuts that impact the state’s most vulnerable citizens. After taking no action to extend the temporary tax increase, the governor proposed inhumane cuts to programs impacting low-income families and senior citizens. (Note: While I believe that the real solution to the revenue challenges impacting the state budget requires amending the Illinois constitution to implement a graduated tax, I think that it was irresponsible to allow the temporary increase to expire before a long term solution was achieved.) While nearly 70 percent of voters indicated their support for an increase in the minimum wage during the November election, legislation has not been recently passed to actually raise the minimum wage in the state. Additionally, though voters in 37 wards overwhelmingly voted in support of an elected, representative school board for Chicago’s school district, legislation has not been passed to address this critical issue. Both Emanuel and Rauner oppose an elected school board for Chicago residents, despite the conflict of interests and failed policies imposed by the mayor’s appointed school board.
The legislative decisions that are made at both the municipal and state level profoundly impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods and should work in tandem to ensure that education, safety, housing and employment needs of families are effectively addressed. Instead of working collaboratively to improve the quality of life for residents, Emanuel and Rauner have supported legislation that slashed retirement benefits of elderly retirees, opposed democratic governance through their support of an appointed school board for CPS, and supported actions to reduce the ability of labor unions to organize.
Despite these challenges, I am not discouraged. We have sent a clear message. There are consequences for the devastating impacts of the mayor’s decisions to close a historic number of schools and mental health clinics while filling his campaign coffers with millions of dollars from politically-connected donors. I am inspired by the tenacity, enthusiasm and strategic actions that led to the runoff election. Regardless of the outcome of the mayoral race on April 7, or the numerous runoffs, Chicago voters have sent a clear message. We are prepared to organize for new political leadership — leadership that is responsive to the needs of working families.