A head on the wall
Monday, Mar 3, 2014 - Posted by Rich Miller
* I’ve been telling subscribers about these developments for weeks…
The future of pension politics in Chicago is playing out in an elongated statehouse district that runs from the Gold Coast to South Chicago, home to some of the richest and poorest folks in the city.
Here, first-term Rep. Christian Mitchell, a fast-rising, 27-year-old Democrat who voted for the statewide pension overhaul last year, is facing a tougher-than-expected primary challenge. Community organizer Jhatayn “Jay” Travis is backed to the hilt by the Chicago Teachers Union, which fears the Legislature will reduce its members’ retirement benefits so that the Emanuel administration won’t have to make a required $696 million pension contribution this year, more than triple last year’s payment.
Teachers unions at the city, state and national level are mobilizing scores of volunteers and have secured more than $300,000 to potentially spend on behalf of Ms. Travis’ campaign, even if winning appears to be a long shot. Meanwhile, on the Northwest Side, the union is mounting a less costly bid to unseat Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios, daughter of Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios.
The effort signals a bold shift in strategy for the CTU, which for years has doled out donations in a mostly even-handed fashion. Now, the union is targeting Democratic incumbents perceived to be vulnerable in the March 18 primary. The union’s message: CTU support should not be taken for granted.
The idea is to put a big trophy head on the wall and (even if they don’t win) scare other Chicago legislators out of voting for Chicago pension reform.
The CTU’s independent expenditure PAC broke the seal on campaign contributions this past Friday. So now Mitchell can receive lots more contributions from Speaker Madigan’s operation.
And, by the way, Will Guzzardi has greatly ramped up his fundraising from unions to challenge Rep. Berrios. Guzzardi reported raising close to a hundred grand the other day, mostly from unions.
* Meanwhile, the Chicago Reader has been whacking away at Rep. Mitchell for weeks. The latest…
Born and raised in Chicago—and a graduate of Kenwood High—Travis is a formidable candidate largely because of her years as executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. Among other things, she negotiated a community benefits agreement with the city’s Olympics backers.
In this case, Travis and KOCO were early and impassioned fighters against school closings and for an elected school board.
On October 10, as Travis was gathering signatures for her nominating petitions, Mitchell officially signed on as cosponsor to the elected school board proposal.
So now it has three sponsors but remains lodged in the rules committee. At this rate, it may be a law by the next century.
The candidates have different explanations for why Mitchell changed his position on an elected school board.
Travis says—well, you can imagine what she says. “It was quite interesting when, on the week I circulated petitions, Representative Mitchell signed on as a sponsor,” she says. “I think he signed on because he wanted to be able to send out that flyer, even if it’s misleading.”
Not so, says Mitchell. He insists that Travis’s candidacy had nothing to do with his ongoing evolution on the school board. He says it’s just another coincidence that he’s signing on to the measure now that the heavy fighting with the mayor over the cuts and closings is over.
Mitchell says he was originally for a “hybrid board” with five mayoral appointees and four elected members. “What moved me toward a full elected school board is talking to constituents.”
* Not mentioned so far by the Reader is one of the wildest opposition research reports I’ve ever seen, which was leaked in January and alleges that Mitchell’s opponent was involved in a bizarre cult. Here are the documents…
* Executive Summary
* Full report
* The Travis campaign response at the time…
We are currently seeking legal council to address the libelous, scurrilous, erroneous, statements shared with me earlier. Jay Travis is not and has never been a member of a cult or a party to abuse of any kind. For the past twenty years, Jay Travis has been and remains a champion of her community.
We will make every effort to identify the source of this pathetic attempt to draw attention away from the real issues of this race; gutting pensions, closing schools, and being in lock step with those in direct opposition to the needs of the people of the 26th district. That is why Representative Mitchell wants to spread erroneous information about Kwanzaa organizations, because he knows he can not stand on his record.