Welcome to Issue #25 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as an analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members the information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
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Lightfoot Defeated: Elected School Board Headed to Pritzker’s Desk
Chicago has a path toward an elected school board. Presently, the Chicago Board of Education is the only school board anywhere in Illinois appointed by the mayor. Chicago has never had an elected school board at any point in its history.
On June 1, House Bill 2908 passed the Illinois Senate by a 36-15-8 vote. Two weeks later, it passed the Illinois House by a 70-41 vote, and is now on its way to Governor Pritzker’s desk. On Thursday, June 17, Pritzker said he intends to sign it in spite of Mayor Lightfoot’s objections. Under the bill, the school board will transition to a hybrid model of 10 elected and 11 appointed members by 2025. In 2027, the new fully elected model goes into effect.
During the 2024 election, officials will split the city into 10 electoral districts; there will be 20 districts in time for the 2026 election. One candidate would run at-large for board president. The board’s elected members will serve four-year terms.
“A 20-member board ensures that every corner of the city has the ability to elect someone that they know, who has worked in their community, has been involved in [local school councils] and has been involved in PTAs and has been involved in community groups and neighborhood groups and their participation matters more than their money,” bill sponsor and state Sen. Rob Martwick said during a committee hearing.
Lightfoot is not happy with losing over the school board. While she supported a fully elected school board on the campaign trail, she has since advocated for a hybrid model.
Lightfoot stated in a press conference that the bill ignored the will of the people. “It’s interesting that this is supposed to be about democracy, but what happened in Springfield had nothing to do with democracy. But democracy, mark my word, will prevail,” she said. Lightfoot neglected to say why electing Chicago’s school board, rather than the mayor appointing her supporters, has “nothing to do with democracy.”
However, Lightfoot did insinuate at a June 14 press conference that the elected board risked overrepresenting the northside of Chicago—even though Sec. 34-4 of the bill requires that a resident not only lives in the geographically divided electoral district they would represent but that they’ve also lived there for at least one year.
In the past, Lightfoot has said that an elected school board would make it difficult to appoint a new top administrator for CPS, as CEO Janice Jackson is set to step down after her contract ends. At that same press conference on June 14, Lightfoot introduced José Torres as interim CEO. Torres was a CPS regional superintendent from 2006 to 2008.
The Chicago Teachers Union has weighed in: “Our union formally calls for a process in which CPS families and school communities are public and active participants in hiring the incoming CPS CEO, who will be tasked with working in partnership with all stakeholders in bringing stability to our district.”
While Lightfoot claims to be concerned about democracy, she has had many opportunities to give teachers, students, and parents a voice—and hasn’t done it.
Before the summer began, thousands of Lightfoot administration emails were leaked by Distributed Denial of Secrets. The revelations from the emails are many. One of the more recent discoveries was Lightfoot’s attempt to blame judges for gun violence, even though her administration knew it had no information to prove it.
Lightfoot and CPD have asserted that judges who are too lax on letting people free after an arrest are the reason for upticks in violence. In some of these leaked emails, Former Deputy mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee pointed out to her colleagues in the Lightfoot administration that there was no data to support this charge. Lightfoot, Superintendent David Brown, former Director of Communications for the city Michael Crowley, and the Chicago Tribune itself, on its own accord, nonetheless tried to find ways to push this narrative under false pretenses.
The discoveries of the Lightfoot administration’s break with reality didn’t stop there. During her mayoral campaign, Lightfoot never hesitated to condemn the torture campaign under former police commander Jon Burge. She referred to him as a “notorious” person who had been “torturing murder suspects for years”—for which he was convicted of perjury in 2010—followed by Burge’s rant in 2015 that he found it “hard to believe that the city’s political leadership could even contemplate giving ‘reparations’ to human vermin.”
City Council didn’t approve those reparations until May of 2015 after nearly 30 years of advocacy. Now, as mayor, Lightfoot’s Law Department has refused to admit patterns of abuse and torture in five different lawsuits.
One of these lawsuits involved torture victim James Gibson, who was incarcerated for 29 years until his wrongful conviction was decided and he was freed. The Lightfoot administration denied that there was enough documentation to establish the use of torture in Gibson’s case, even though the state of Illinois determined that there was in 2015, eventually resulting in the state appellate court vacating his conviction in 2019. He carries a certificate of innocence, which expunged his criminal record. In other lawsuits, Lightfoot’s administration denied the use of routine coercion and threats and described the truth told by witnesses and victims as “fairy tales.”
Police torture survivors and their families received authorization from the city of Chicago for a memorial dedicated to honor the victims of the torture program, but six years later, the city has not fulfilled its promise to build one. A design was selected in 2019, but survivors say that the clinic established for them is short on resources, while the wait for the memorial continues.
Celiz Meza, the Corporation Counsel for the city’s Law Department, has neither answered questions from the press regarding the Lightfoot administration’s denials of widespread CPD torture nor has the department issued its own statements. Neither has Lori Lightfoot.
Rounding Up Local Updates
— In a study that reviewed 20 years of the committee’s actions, the Chicago Justice Project denounced the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety as lazy with legislation and a “rubber stamp” for mayoral appointees.
The study found that only 15% of committee agenda items during that time “had anything to do with the Chicago Police Department.” The Chicago Justice Project called out four areas where the committee fell dismally short: search warrant reform; the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) civilian police oversight ordinance backed by the Black, Hispanic, Progressive, and Socialist caucuses; a database for police misconduct complaints; and ordinances that provide facts to alders about police misconduct settlements.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, scoffed at the Justice Project’s study—even in the face of a year of multiple canceled meetings for the committee to vote on police oversight.
— On June 18, the ECPS ordinance went up for a vote in the Public Safety Committee. An eleventh-hour compromise, however, surprised some alders and organizers alike. The change was significant: it dropped the binding referendum in the ordinance that “would allow voters to empower the commission to hire and fire the Police Superintendent, set the police budget and negotiate contracts with police unions.”
The last-minute removal was described as tactical in hopes of securing votes, with the intent being to reintroduce the referendum back into the ordinance when fewer votes would be necessary to amend it. But even with multiple alders pledging to vote for the ordinance with the referendum removed, those same alders rescinded their pledges to vote Yea, failing to bring the ordinance to a vote. A motion to reschedule a vote on the ordinance for Monday also failed. It will now continue to reside in the committee until further notice.
— A new omnibus bill known as SB 825 would change the title of “alderman” to “alderperson” in all official statutory references, move the 2022 primary election from March 15 to June 28, and designate November 8, 2022, as a state holiday. Illinois made the 2020 election a state holiday.
Although the designation of Election Day as a state holiday is relatively significant, it is not a permanent fixture and only sets Illinois alongside ten other states and Puerto Rico that currently recognize Election Day as a state holiday. The bill also gives candidates running for state positions until January 2022 to gather signatures on petitions. HB 3922 designates another holiday at the state level: Juneteenth National Freedom Day (June 19th). Unlike Election Day, Juneteenth National Freedom Day was passed without expiration.
President Biden designated Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 18 after the House of Representatives voted for it 415-14 a day earlier.
— A bill known as SB 2122 that passed the Illinois House in a unanimous vote would make confessions made by minors in police custody inadmissible to prevent coercion and deception of minors by police. The bill’s history is rooted in the story of the Englewood Four—four Black teenagers coerced into confessing a brutal crime that they didn’t commit.
A police officer told one of the falsely accused that he knew the teen didn’t commit the crime—but went on to tell the other defendants in the case that he did. The teenagers weren’t exonerated until 20 years later. The other side of the story is painfully familiar. While the settlement awarded $24 million to the victims, no police officer or anyone else has been held accountable for the false accusations.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Brent Glass, Patty Johnson, Sean Kase, Charlotte Kissinger, and Alan Maass. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email email@example.com.