Saturday, May 15, 2004

Updated: May 15, 2004, 2:20 pm; Blogging Blago, et al.

From Zorn to Gidwitz to Jack Ryan to Barack Obama to Blago to Lisa: Power to the People.

How many times can Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the "People's Lawyer," as she said she wanted to be known, turn her head and pretend that she just doesn't see. The answer my friend, if not below, is Blowing in the Wind.

"Barely one out of every three kids reads at grade level in the Chicago Public Schools," Mayor Daley, May, 2001. Three years later, three years after Vallas has been given the boot, does anybody think that number is much improved. Daley traded one tall CEO for another. That's the extent of it. And Lisa, the People's Lawyer, is doing what about improving the Civil Right to a quality education? Read on and find out.

[Comments on Blago, Lisa, Vallas, Speaker Mike, Skoien and Garrett are added to this latest revision of this Blog Blago entry].

Eric Zorn criticizes Ron Gidwitz; Berkowitz comments on Zorn's comments, and Blagojevich, Vallas, Kirk, Judy Baar, Corinne Wood, Rahm Emanuel, Luis Gutierrez, Pat O'Malley, Biggert, Schoenberg and, oh so many more, are mentioned.

Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn, although perhaps a bit of a school voucher-phobe, in a May 13 entry in his blog, very nicely links to and quotes from our “Public Affairs,” show with Ron Gidwitz, which is airing this Monday night, May 17th, through-out the City of Chicago on Cable Ch. 21 [CANTV]. As to Zorn's comments, See, excerpt, directly below, from Eric Zorn’s blog See, also, our May 13 and May 11 blog entries, below, for more about our show with Illinois State Board of Education Member and businessman Ron Gidwitz. ******************************************************************



Persistent school voucher-phile Jeff Berkowitz elicited an endorsement of his cause from former state school board chair Ronald Gidwitz during a recent taping of this cable-TV talk program "Public Affairs."

Berkowitz: So, you choose to exit the public schools. I don't criticize that. In fact, I think you are exercising a rational consumer choice. But now, Ron Gidwitz, wouldn't you like to give other parents who may not have the means that you have-- give them the $9,000 [voucher], put it in this backpack, and strap the backpack on each kid in the public schools, the parents will decide if they want to exit the public school and go to a private school. Give them that school choice. Here is the backpack.

Gidwitz: I'll take it.

ERIC ZORN comments:
This isn't terribly surprising. Gidwitz, the former Helene Curtis Industries Inc. CEO, is a high-profile Republican. Still, you'd hope that a member of the state board of education would be a stronger backer of public schools.

Zorn is wrong when he asserts Gidwitz’s straightforward endorsement of school vouchers was not terribly surprising. Zorn thinks Gidwitz's support of school vouchers is predictable because Gidwitz is a high profile Republican. I wish that were the case, Eric.

Being a “high profile” Republican implies, more often than not, that the pol is a voucher-phobe, or at least not a voucher enthusiast. For example, Jim Ryan was the “high-profile,” Republican candidate for Governor for 2002—and he didn’t endorse school vouchers. On the contrary, Jim Ryan said he favored charter schools but said his education plan did not include school vouchers. Corinne Wood, a primary opponent of Jim Ryan’s, was a little more open to the concept of school vouchers, and she said she would be willing to support some pilot voucher programs, but she was far from a straightforward voucher endorser. Patrick O’Malley, a former State Senator and another gubernatorial primary opponent of Jim Ryan's in 2002, was and is an unequivocal voucher supporter, but one out of three hardly suggests identifying all high profile Rs as voucher endorsers. Former Gov. George Ryan did not favor school vouchers—but, as we learned, it did not matter too much what George said in terms of signifying what he believed or would ultimately do.

Looking more broadly, so to speak-- as far as I can determine, Illinois GOP’s high profile chairman and Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka has not endorsed school vouchers. Nor has high profile North Shore State Rep. Beth Coulson (R- Glenview; 17th Dist.). Indeed, State Rep. Coulson is almost violently opposed to school vouchers. As is high profile North Shore Congressman Mark Kirk (R- Highland Park, 10th Cong. Dist). To be fair, Kirk did vote for school vouchers for Washington, DC, but he has declined to say he would endorse vouchers for Chicago, IL, or even for the failing schools in the inner city of Chicago and certainly not for the North Shore. I don’t think Cong. Judy Biggert (R- Hinsdale) supports school vouchers, even for Washington, DC.

On the other hand, Republican Congressmen Crane, Hyde, Weller, Shimkus, Manzullo and Hastert probably do endorse vouchers, but other than Crane, I am not really sure. Certainly none of those folks is out there championing school vouchers, school choice in the way that Republican U. S. Senate Candidate Jack Ryan does-- with Jack labelling school choice- school vouchers as the Civil Rights issue of the 21st Century. This, of course, sets up an interesting fall debate, as Democratic U. S. Senate Candidate Barack Obama proudly describes himself as a Civil Rights lawyer, but Barack unequivocally rejects school choice- school vouchers [although Barack does favor school choice in the form of charter schools].

Back to Eric Zorn. Zorn could point to the fact that all seven R candidates in the last R U. S. Senate primary supported school vouchers, but most, with the exception of Jack Ryan and Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, do not fall in the category of high profile Rs, and having all R primary candidates support school vouchers is, sadly, the exception, not the rule. For example, look at the high profile school voucher opponent, R Arlen Specter, who recently edged out R challenger (and school voucher supporter) Pat Toomey for the U. S. Senate R Nomination in Pennsylvania. In a “strategic political move” that may come back to bite him, President Bush supported Specter, who has little, if anything in common with Bush. Bush, by the way, purports to be a school voucher supporter, but he has probably done more to damage the school voucher movement than to enhance it.

Of course, in sharp contrast to the above ideological diversity within the R party on vouchers, is the monolithic Democratic Party opposition to the slightest hint of school vouchers. All seven Democratic candidates in the last Democratic U. S. Senate primary violently opposed school vouchers, including high profile Ds Obama, Hynes, Chico, and Pappas. Of course, they were joined by the lower profile D senate candidates Hull [low profile, but big spender], Washington and Skinner.

Other high profile local Ds who are opposed to school vouchers are Carol Moseley-Braun, Senator Dick Durbin, U. S. Reps. Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Luis Gutierrez, Rahm Emanuel, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky; high profile North Shore State Senators Jeff Schoenberg (D- Evanston) and Susan Garrett (D- Lake Forest) [and, BTW, New Cook County GOP Chairman Gary Skoien can't seem to find a Republican to run against Garrett, who only won last time 56 to 44 over incumbent Kathy Parker; wait a second, isn't that one of the reasons given for why Maureen Murphy was dumped from the Cook County GOP Chairman position last month-- she didn't find enough good candidates and she didn't pay enough attention to the North and Northwest suburbs, and now Gary Skoien doesn't have an opponent for Lake Forester Susan Garrett- or does he?]

And, almost last, but certainly not least, our Honorable Hot Rod Governor, the guy who is standing up to Mayor Daley on a Chicago casino [well, how long the stand lasts we shall see] was joined by his primary oponents Paul Vallas and Roland Burris in opposing school vouchers. Hot Rod sends his daughter to a private school, but he opposes others, who didn't marry as well as the Governor did, having the opportunity to have a school voucher to exercise a similar choice. Now, that would seem to be hypocrisy that the mainstream media might want to comment on. Think again. I mean, there are plenty of stories about Blago's daurghter going to a private school. But, not a one that suggests that Blago is being hypocritical by using his wealth to choose a private school for a daughter, while standing in opposition to giving minority kids of low income parents a similar choice. Some populist is Blago. Gimme a break.

Paul Vallas, who deserves enormous respect(albeit not for his views on vouchers), through-out and as late as the last month of his six year stint as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools said he was “neutral,” on school vouchers. However, on becoming a candidate for Governor, Vallas declared he was unequivocally opposed to school vouchers. This gubernatorial candidacy conversion, along with the virtually monolithic Democratic national opposition to school vouchers (A few exceptions, e.g., Senator Joe Lieberman) demonstrates the enormous power wielded by teachers’ unions in the Democratic Party [One out of every seven delegates to the Democratic National Convention is a current or former teacher and a member of the national teachers' union, the NEA?]. So, if the argument that the Democratic Party is a fully owned subsidiary of the National Education Association was Eric Zorn’s point, I agree!

Oh yes, as Sirott likes to say, "One more thing," on Paul Vallas. At least with respect to some of their own kids, Vallas told me in an interview that his wife and he opted out of the public schools and sent them to religious academies. Yet, as a gubernatorial candidate, he didn't want to give kids of low income parents an opporutnity to opt out of a failing public school and attend a private school, non-sectarian or otherwise. Of course, with an income of $160,000 to $175,000 per year, Paul Vallas could afford to do so without a school voucher-- but the low income parents could not. How's that for fairness and looking out for the little guy. And, which mainstream media outlet do you know who carried that story?

Then, Zorn levies his second major criticism of Ron Gidwitz, “you’d hope that a member of the state board of education would be a stronger backer of public schools.” This is the familiar refrain of all voucher-phobes: one must support the “public schools,” even to the detriment of the kids in the Public Schools. And, of course, by support, Zorn apparently means that politicians and public policy makers must make sure low income kids can't exit the failing public schools, but, of course, Vallas and Blago can, and the press won't say anything about that huge hypocrisy. Where is a populist when I need one?

Unlike Eric Zorn, I would hope that members of the Illinois State Board of Education would eschew the above concern for the teachers and staff in the public schools and instead be strong backers of the “kids in the public schools,” especially those kids whose parents don't have the income to get them out of those failing schools. And, I think Gidwitz meets that expectation. One, he states that kids in the inner city have learning disabilities and obstacles that require more, not less, spending and he has started a Foundation [] and grass roots organization that are focused on increasing spending on public schools. I would differ with him, here, in that I would target the increased public school spending by the state, if we are going to have such increases, solely on kids in “low income areas.” I don't think Englewood should be subsidizing the North Shore, Naperville, etc.

Two, and more importantly, Gidwitz wants to help the “kids” in the public schools NOW. In an effort to do so, he wants to give the parents of kids in failing public schools a similar, if not the same, choice that Gidwitz, Blagojevich and Vallas, as people of wealth, have and choose to exercise for their own kids. That is, give the parents of the kids in failing public schools the choice to leave the failing public school and to go to a private school that might actually figure out how to teach the kids to read, write and do math. To paraphrase the 60s radicals and John Lennon, "All we are saying is--give choice a chance."

For being consistent and not a hypocrite, for trying to help kids have a choice--indeed, the parents of the kids in the failing public schools can always stay in the failing public schools, if they choose to--Zorn raps Ron Gidwitz on the knuckles. Moreover, knowing the social circles that Ron Gidwitz moves in, his support for school vouchers can’t be a position that will result in warm embraces at the dinner parties he attends-- "Here, Ron, some more wine? Oh yes, very good of you, old boy, to come out for school choice on that 'Public Affairs,' show." Fat chance.

Ron Gidwitz deserves kudos, not criticism, for accepting the backpack and standing up for true school choice/ school vouchers. Indeed, the fact that Gidwitz did that as someone who is a former Chairman and a current member of the Illinois State Board of Education should make him more, not less, admirable to Eric Zorn.

Of course, if Blagojevich gets his way on his proposed education "reform" legislation, a comment like that from a State of Education Board Member or any statement or act that might be annoying to Hot Rod, could result in the Board of Education member being "Whacked right off the Board," at the Will of Rod, as they say. And, yet, Attorney General Lisa and Governor Rod are claiming to be all worried about the "mobbed up," casinos coming to Rosemont and Chicago, when the real "Whacking" is coming from Rod-- and Attorney General Lisa Madigan just looks the other way.

I mean, didn't Lisa say that she would be the People's lawyer, the advocate for all that was Just. As I said above, Jack Ryan asserts that school vouchers/ school choice is the Civil Rights issue of this century. Isn't it primarily minority kids who are stuck in failing public schools and who are unable to exit to performing private schools, as do the Blagojevich and Vallas kids?

Indeed, didn't Lisa Madigan, herself, attend the Latin School, a private elementary/secondary school? Didn't Speaker Mike and Shirley Roumagoux-Madigan exercise their own school choice by sending Lisa to the Latin School [BTW, Latin is a school that was attended by Nancy Reagan, as well]. Isn't the right to exit a failing public school a basic, civil right that Lisa Madigan should be out there championing and enforcing? Or, is that a right reserved only for the Madigans, Blagojeviches and Vallases? No populist is Lisa.

Instead of focusing on giving low income minorities the same right that Lisa Madigan had-- the right to exit a failing public school to get a quality education at a private school, Lisa fritters away her time doing Mayor Daley's bidding, bringing contracts, patronage, more political power and casino chips to the Mayor--as she rants about a "mobbed up," Rosemont[after she sat quietly by while Rosemont was selected as a finalist]. And for that, Eric Zorn throws Lisa flowers and kisses? The Daleys love the Madigans [Remember, Mayor Daley supported Lisa in the primary over his former Chief of Staff, John Schmidt]. The Madigans love the Daleys. They all used to love the Hynes. And the Blago-Mells like their share of the pie, too. It's all one big Happy Family. And Lisa is worried about the other Family? Right.

How many times can a man [woman] turn his [her] head and pretend that he [she] just doesn't see? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Jeff Berkowitz, the Host and Producer of "Public Affairs," can be reached at