Clearly no alternative to austerity

March 12, 2015

SINCE HIS election back in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has clearly angered sections of working-class Chicago with his attacks on the public sector and tax subsidies for the rich.

The story of Emanuel's closure of 50 public schools, his shutdown of multiple health clinics, the fierce attack on the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), his corporate welfare giveaways through the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, and his general disdain for the 99 Percent has been recorded far and wide. He is clearly a disaster for working people, and as Chicago public school teacher myself, I take great joy in seeing Rahm scramble after the most recent election, where he was forced into a runoff in April.

On the other hand, I have no illusions about his "progressive" challenger and longtime Democratic Party politician Jesús "Chuy" García. García has held three different elected offices under the Democrat banner over the past 30 years. He was first elected as a City Council member back in 1986, then as an Illinois state senator in the early 1990s, and most recently as a Cook County commissioner, a position he still holds today as he challenges Emanuel for the mayor's seat. This background clearly shapes García's thinking.

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In a recent interview for Crain's Chicago Business, Chuy García calls the Civic Committee of Commercial Club a "visionary organization." No one should forget that this "visionary organization" drafted the Renaissance 2010 program that explicitly called for the closing of schools and opening of new charters as a way to push privatization. The Crain's article goes on to state:

García comes across as sincere. And I don't think he harbors a deep antipathy to business as such. He opposes some of the most egregious soak-the-rich proposals others have floated, like a commuter tax or a levy on trades at Chicago futures exchanges.

With such a record, I was somewhat perplexed on how much time the most recent article about the Chicago mayoral race ("An alternative to Mayor 1 Percent?") spent pondering the chances of a Chuy García win, Rahm's absurd fundraising ability among his rich friends and the race to see who could win the African American vote in Chicago over the next five weeks to put them over the top.

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What we should focus on is García's past record, what his campaign is--and is not--saying and the policies he plans to pursue if elected. Moreover, any lip service to this idea that there are some "corporate" Democrats distorts our argument that a third party must be built independently of any Republicans and all Democrats, including those who pose as progressive.

THE ARTICLE did clearly lay out some of the major issues with García's campaign. His call for 1,000 more cops, silence about the Homan Square torture site, support for a two-tiered pension system, a noncommittal attitude to a financial transaction tax and lack of environmental justice demands are all quite revealing. Disappointingly, this is just the start.

García had no problem supporting a property tax hike back in 1986 as a City Council member to make up for a budget shortfall. I do not see any reason why he wouldn't do the same thing once in office to cover the current pension shortfalls. In a recent article for the Chicago Reporter, Curtis Black talks about Chuy's role as floor leader for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, writing:

Toni Preckwinkle had to keep a campaign promise to reduce the sales tax. She laid off hundreds of county workers and closed hundreds of additional vacant positions. She also proposed a pension reform bill (it stalled in Springfield) that unions said was worse than Emanuel's.

The County Board didn't vote on Preckwinkle's pension plan, but on the other hand, García didn't speak out against it. That was one factor in his failure to win support from AFSCME in the recent mayoral election.

It seems to me that Chuy's vision of fiscal responsibility comes with job cuts for workers and no demand for the rich to pay their fair share. Our current pension shortfalls must squarely be blamed on pro-corporate polices and should be replenished by higher corporate taxes. There ought to be absolutely no talk of shared sacrifice or "tough decisions" from any workers. We have sacrificed enough already.

Furthermore, back in October, a Chicago Tribune article shed some light on García's thoughts about school closings. The article reads:

Pressed on why some under-enrolled schools should not have been closed to save money and make the system more efficient, García responded, "I'm not arguing that none of those schools should be closed or consolidated. I think the process was flawed. It demonstrated an insensitivity." García would not commit to reopening some closed schools.

That is an astonishing comment from a CTU-backed candidate when the current CTU leadership has done everything in its power to oppose any school closings for the past decade.

All the evidence points to García being a nicer, less abrasive face to similar austerity policies pursued in Chicago the past decade. In fact, one of the reasons both candidates are jockeying over the Black vote, which turned out in historically low numbers a few weeks ago, is because neither has a solution to turn back the policies that have disproportionally harmed the South and West Sides.

Just as the CTU had to strike against austerity budget measures years ago under the last "progressive Democrat," former Mayor Harold Washington (someone people have compared to García), it is clear that the CTU should be preparing for the possibility of another strike amid the current contract negotiations, no matter who wins the mayoral seat on April 7. There should be no illusions that any Democratic Party politician will further our fight for educational justice here in Chicago.
Anthony Cappetta, Chicago

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