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Jonah Edelman’s blunt talk freaks out almost everybody

Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I told subscribers about this on Monday, but it broke bigtime over the weekend on an education-related blog published by Fred Klonsky. Here’s the Sun-Times story

Unions and legislators who worked on Illinois’ landmark education reform legislation are upset with an advocate who bragged in Aspen last week that he snookered them into accepting drastic cuts in teacher union’s rights.

“There was a palpable sense of concern if not shock on the part of the teachers’ unions of Illinois that Speaker [of the House Mike] Madigan had changed allegiance and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way that pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier,” Jonah Edelman, chair of Oregon-based Stand for Children, said in Colorado last week.

“They essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed — everything we had fought for in Colorado,” Edelman said in Aspen.

* The Tribune’s lede was quite good

An education activist’s blunt tale of wooing House Speaker Michael Madigan and outfoxing teachers unions created a stir Tuesday by violating a cardinal rule of Statehouse power plays — what happens under the dome stays under the dome.

* Edelman’s speech is now transcribed online. From his remarks…

The Illinois Federation of Teachers, still inexplicably, went to war with Speaker Madigan [over the pension reform bill]…

The union could have – well, probably should have – thanked Madigan for not going further. Instead, they decided that the $2 million they had been giving him reliably for election campaigns – they would take that away … that they would refuse to endorse any Democrat who voted for that legislation, even those that had been loyal supporters for years. They went to the AFL-CIO trying to get them to do the same. So, a major breach. […]

My position was we had to be involved to show our capabilities, to build some clout. … While there were a lot of folks, I think, who thought the Republicans were going to take over in Illinois, our analysis was that Madigan would still be speaker. … That wasn’t what I think a lot of our colleagues wanted to hear.

So our analysis was he’s still going to be in power, and as such the raw politics were that we should tilt toward him, and so we interviewed 36 candidates in targeted races.

I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting because of Bruce Rauner’s leadership … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. That was really a show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work. [Emphasis added]

* One of the other bones of contention was what Edelman said about the CTU’s inability to strike

Chicago Teachers Union officials say they can meet the 75 percent vote required under a new education reform law should they choose to strike.

Union officials were responding to controversial comments made by Stand for Children’s national director Jonah Edelman in a youtube video that has surfaced of a talk he gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 28. Edelman described his group’s strategy for getting approval of Illinois Senate Bill 7, which he said would effectively end the union’s chance of striking. […]

The bill, which also makes it more difficult to get tenure and streamlines the process for firing bad teachers, requires that 75 percent of the Chicago Teacher Union’s eligible voting membership—not just a majority of members–authorize a strike.

On Tuesday, CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown said the union can meet the 75 percent requirement. She said teachers would understand that not voting would essentially mean a “no” vote, and would “vote accordingly.”

* But the CTU’s past performance was looked at by Catalyst

In 2003, the last time the union had a strike vote, 15,965 out of 33,000, or 48 percent of eligible members, voted. Before that, in 1991, nearly 60 percent of teachers participated in a strike vote. In both cases, teachers authorized the strike, but an agreement was reached before it took place.

In the 1980s, during which five strikes took place, the numbers of teachers who participated in the votes was low. In 1987, about 15 percent voted and, in 1985, about 14 percent. But in those years, more than 90 percent of teachers who participated voted to authorize a strike, and union leaders said they had overwhelming support, according to newspaper accounts.

Still, union leaders dispute Edelman’s basic premise that they will never be able to get a strike authorized.

CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown says she was told by someone with historical knowledge that, in different years, CPS locked the schools to prevent voting from taking place, forcing teachers to go downtown to vote. This created artificially low participation, she adds.

The union will need 75 percent of all eligible members to vote for a strike. It looks pretty darned difficult to me. Then again, the CTU didn’t have to get that sort of turnout in the past. They could structure a strike vote to really anger and fire up their membership.

* Back to the transcript

After the election we went back to Madigan, and I confirmed – reviewed the proposal that we had already discussed and I confirmed the support. He said he was supportive. The next day he created an Education Reform Commission and his political director called to ask for our suggestions who should be on it. And so in Aurora, Ill., in December, out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal. In addition, we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a state public affairs firm. We had tens of thousands of supporters. … We raised $3 million for our political action committee. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees.

* Tribune

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Tuesday that the speaker had an early meeting with the group and, believing that it would be likely to back GOP candidates, “urged them to look at balance” by supporting Democrats. Brown also said it was common practice for Madigan’s issues staff to “reach out to groups all the time” about legislation.

* The IEA, IFT and CTU released a joint statement yesterday on Edelman’s comments

By falsely claiming to have manipulated people engaged in honest negotiations, Stand for Children’s leader jeopardizes the ability of education stakeholders to work collaboratively in the future. That can make it harder to improve education quality for children. That’s wrong.

What’s worse is that these false claims clearly show an organizational agenda that has nothing to do with helping kids learn.

Jonah Edelman’s mischaracterization of the SB7 negotiations will not change our commitment to do what is right for kids and to make sure the adults are treated fairly.

However, his openness about Stand for Children’s tactics and agenda will make it very difficult for any education advocate or politician to interact with the organization in the future.

* Transcript

So in the intervening time, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor … and he strongly supports our proposal. Jim [apparently Crown] … talked about the talking point that we made up and he [Emanuel] repeated about a thousand times, probably, on the campaign trail about the Houston kids going to school four years more than the Chicago kids. That was another shoe that dropped, and it really put a lot of pressure on the unions, particularly on the Chicago Teachers Union because they didn’t support it.

* Tribune

Emanuel spokeswoman Chris Mather said the campaign came up with the Houston comparison on its own. She also said the mayor “worked with the CTU to pass the legislation to provide better education for children.”

* Edelman apologized over the weekend

I deeply regret that I had an “us vs. them” tone. That tone contradicts my deeply held view that key aspects of the current education system are the problem, not teachers’ unions, and that the us vs. them far too often prevents real dialogue that results in better solutions like Senate Bill 7. […]

I’m disappointed in myself for the way I framed the Senate Bill 7 story – a framing that does not reflect the good-faith and substantive negotiations that drove this process on all sides. […]

I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long, productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred without them. […]

I was wrong to make assumptions or comments about the unions’ political strategy. […]

I know from conversations with [IEA and IFT leaders] that Illinois’ union leaders are deeply committed to teaching and learning, that they have exhibited that consistently in the past, and that they exhibited that commitment in spades throughout the negotiations on a series of Senate Bill 7 provisions that will improve teaching and learning.

I want to apologize specifically to [leaders and staff of IEA, IFT and CTU] who represented their membership and negotiated creatively and seriously to help craft a bill that addressed tough issues in a fair and thoughtful way.

* But the IEA was not impressed

Edelman’s apology for misrepresenting the negotiations with unions did not explain other comments made in Aspen suggesting that his organization attempted to purchase political influence.

Edelman’s threats to lawmakers who didn’t go along with his anti-union proposal last year were noted by, among others, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who presided over the SB7 negotiations.

At the IEA Lobby Day last May, Lightford called out Edelman for engaging in ”Pay to Play” politics.

* Lightford video

* Jonah Edelman’s full remarks at the Aspen Institute are here

* You can see most of the “juicy bits” here


  1. - anon - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 9:59 am:

    this guy really comes across poorly, but Mary Anderson will be a great addition to Stand’s team. She is a solid performer and a dedicated individual. She will right the ship.

  2. - Bill - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:11 am:

    So what bigmouth Jonah is saying is Madigan can be bought for a measley $650K. It looks like the unions have been overpaying all these years. This can’t make Little Mike, who likes to play Mr. Clean, very happy. A lot of people know he is a sellout but most, to this point, have been to smart or to afraid to say so. Nice goin’ Jonah. You’re done in Illinois.
    Wait until Rahm cuts the teachers pay while making them work longer days and more weeks. They won’t have problem getting 75% or more yes votes for a strike.

  3. - dave - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:23 am:

    **That tone contradicts my deeply held view that key aspects of the current education system are the problem, not teachers’ unions**

    LOL. No, Jonah, you actually confirmed what many of us already knew about your “deeply held view(s).” For you it was and is all about busting the teachers’ unions. And your prepared speech made that very clear.

  4. - JBilla - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:25 am:

    “jam this proposal down their throats.” Sounds like this guy really thinks teachers are great. Wonder if he’s ever been in a classroom. Madigan does not come across well at all in this.

  5. - westside guy - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:32 am:

    WOW, he spoke in public on this issue, what happens in the dome stays in the dome, nobody will trust him again. He’s toast in Illinois.

  6. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:32 am:

    The fact that anyone would believe organizations like “Stand for Children” really care about the educational environment of said children would surprise me, this revelation does not. Their sole interest is busting unions and eliminating their influence in politics.

  7. - Coach - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:36 am:

    He committed a Kinsley gaffe: “a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say publicly because they believe it is politically harmful” (Wikipedia).

  8. - Jim - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:49 am:

    Edelman obviously is full of himself, but he’s not far off in terms of the effect of the broad-based effort to change the law. But he’s overlooking one major point — the time was right for big changes and the powers that be had realigned against the unions. The unions had to give, and they knew it, but not entirely because of the political maneuvering Edelman describes. Still, it is interesting to see how a key player describes the inside story.

  9. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:51 am:

    In a way edelman’s bluntness is refreshing. “What happens under the dome stays under the dome” does not allow for a fully-informed electorate. It makes one wonder what Rich Miller is doing in the carrtoon of him looking under the dome: is he trying to get something out or make sure it is staying put. The openness Edelman displayed, however intended, is quite instructional.

  10. - JN - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:53 am:

    “At the IEA Lobby Day last May, Lightford called out Edelman for engaging in Pay to Play politics.”

    This is especially entertaining, because compared to the teacher’s unions, his organization only had to pay half price to get the results they desired.

    “Pay Half To Play”

  11. - Loop Lady - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:57 am:

    This makes me admire Pope Madigan even less than I did before…is there any doubt as to his motives and disdain for regular working people like teachers in this state?

    I hope folks in his new district are paying attention to Rep. Miguel Madigans way of doing business…

  12. - reform - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 10:59 am:

    Jonah may have tilted toward Madigan, but Stand gave its record donation of $175,000 to a Republican, Ryan Higgins, who lost to Michelle Mussman in the 56th district.

  13. - Shore - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:01 am:

    He’s the son of the woman that gave Hillary Clinton her first job out of yale law which is interesting, marian edelman.

  14. - bored now - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:07 am:

    i listened to the juicy version, and it sounds like edelman’s analysis was sound. madigan is still god, the new ctu is underwhelming and it sounds like they had a plan of action that worked. if you think this makes “outsiders” less likely to come in and try to influence illinois, you weren’t paying attention. stand figured it out. and they got what they wanted. it wasn’t even that difficult…

  15. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:11 am:

    ===is he trying to get something out or make sure it is staying put.===

    If you were a subscriber, you’d know that I reported extensively on Stand’s Madigan gambit, etc. since September. The Trib may believe that’s the usual motto, but it’s actually the opposite of my motto. Subscribe yourself and find out.

    Also, notice the first sentence in this post.

  16. - TwoFeetThick - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:21 am:

    QOTD: In one word, describe Jonah Edelman’s future participating in anything under the Dome.


  17. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:34 am:

    Edelman’s Catch-22:

    1. He needs to operate covertly and downplay his role to be effective.

    2. He needs to brag openly and take credit to raise money.

    His mistake was believing that what’s said in Aspen stays in Aspen.

    Should have met with his donors privately.

    I don’t know that they are toast in Illinois…but insulting Rahm and Madigan certainly wasn’t good.

    But the bigger picture is they are trying to replicate their success in Illinois in numerous other states now and they won’t be able to write a check without a news story.

  18. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:40 am:

    Usually you have to wait for the Patrick Fitzgerald news conference to get stuff like this.

  19. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 12:06 pm:

    ===they got what they wanted. it wasn’t even that difficult…

    No, the got the Chicago strike clause and they got some changes in teacher dismissal, but not anything near what they wanted. In fact, he doesn’t seem to understand the process to fire a tenured teacher with these reforms. It’s not 3-4 months and I doubt he understands the teacher evaluation system Illinois is trying to implement for next year.

  20. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 12:08 pm:

    ===So what bigmouth Jonah is saying is Madigan can be bought for a measley $650K. It looks like the unions have been overpaying all these years. This can’t make Little Mike, who likes to play Mr. Clean, very happy. A lot of people know he is a sellout but most, to this point, have been to smart or to afraid to say so.

    Do you really think Madigan sold out? Or did he use Stand to get exactly what he wanted–some policy changes and payback on the unions?

  21. - Sportsman - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 1:49 pm:

    IS this pay to play? Is pay to play illegal? Wouldn’t the U.S. Attorney be interested in this video if it is pay to play and pay to play is illegal?

  22. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 1:50 pm:

    I thought people went to the Aspen Ideas Fest to sip Prosecco on stone patios while sharing Deep Thoughts. This looks like a conference at any old Ramada Inn.

  23. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 2:07 pm:

    ===This looks like a conference at any old Ramada Inn. ===


    I had the same exact thought when I first saw the video.

  24. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 2:08 pm:

    Rookie mistake.

    My old boss used to love to quote Vince Lombardi: “Next time you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

  25. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 2:55 pm:

    Marian Edelman has long been nationally known and often praised for her life’s work on education and children’s welfare issues. She operates in the highest political circles. That her son is involved deeply in those same types of issues is not a surprise, nor is the fact that he is able to raise money and effectively use his connections to move “causes” a surprise. What is a surprise is that he has such a big mouth. (Although like a previous commenter I do find his original bluntness rather refreshing.)

  26. - jake - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 4:16 pm:

    What Edelman said was true, but the manner in which he said it was impolitic. He certainly did not manipulate Madigan or Cullerton. The unions created an opening by screwing over some of the Dem caucus members over the pension reform issue, which opened the way for the legislative leaders and Edelman to use each other, one to get support for his people and the other to get support for his education reform agenda. The outcome, on balance, was good. The education reforms are real.

  27. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 4:23 pm:

    From Stand for Children’s website: Statement of Organizational Values:

    “In a political arena dominated by parties and adult-focused special interest groups, we’re non-partisan and child-focused. We fearlessly challenge the status quo in pursuit of solutions that help children thrive.”

    “We communicate directly and with respect at all times, enabling us to be transparent, foster learning, and create long-lasting, accountable relationships.”

    It sounds like their strategy in Illinois was the exact opposite:

    Adapt to and take advantage of partisanship and the political status quo; obfuscate, keep your true intentions hidden, and operate from the shadows.

  28. - Snj - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 5:21 pm:

    Oh how the little doe-eyed children and the teary-eyed educators make for such great tools for the political photo ops.

    Winning the hearts and minds of the taxpayers to endorse more education cuts as the government tax revenue flows to corporate bailouts as a reward for eliminating workers — idling the workforce — eliminating the tax base.

    Like taking candy from a baby. Just march the school children in front of the media and talk about the virtues of education — then transfer the ill gotten wealth to the nations CEO’s.

  29. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 5:30 pm:

    There’s no such thing as a “private” forum in a public place anymore, unless you confiscate everyone’s electronics beforehand.

    I’m with YDD, act like you’ve been there before.

  30. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Jul 13, 11 @ 11:43 pm:

    ======This looks like a conference at any old Ramada Inn. ===


    —I had the same exact thought when I first saw the video.

    Exactly, you get to be a part of the elite and you still end up in a boring room with plastic cups.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Afternoon roundup
* Meanwhile… In Opposite Land
* State school superintendent warns CPS for fourth time over illegal student restraint
* Bears stuff
* Fun with numbers (and history)
* Giannoulias takes legal action against Coinbase
* Question of the day
* DCFS "On-the-Spot Hiring" event in Rockford drew double the expected crowd
* Open thread
* Isabel’s morning briefing
* * Live Coverage * Jimmy Weiss trial
* Live coverage
* Yesterday's stories

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