What Will it Take to Lose the Blues in Chicago

by Erin Geary

March 10, 2023

And now there are two.

For those not paying attention, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson are vying for mayor of our toddlin’ town. Paul Vallas has the endorsement of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), though he is not receiving campaign donations from the union itself. He, also, just received former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s backing on Wednesday. Brandon Johnson, on the other hand, has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and another CTU favorite, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The lines are being drawn and before the April 4 runoff, politicians, unions, and CEOs are being divvied up like school kids picked for dodgeball teams.

Having watched Wednesday’s debate, there are obvious differences between the two candidates. Brandon Johnson focused his attentions more on his biography and attempts to connect with voters. Paul Vallas used each of his 45 second responses to answer questions with facts and figures to tie them to his plans as mayor.

Johnson spent much of his time trying to hammer home that Paul Vallas, a lifelong Democrat, has the support of Republican donors like Ken Griffin. But quite honestly, that could actually work in Paul Vallas’s favor. It shows that Vallas is garnering endorsements from both sides of the aisle.

Some may appreciate Vallas’s knowledge of facts and figures but are turned off by his lack of the warm and fuzzy, personal story approach. But this isn’t a race for student body president. This election is immensely important, and voters’ decisions should equally be serious minded.

Beyond public safety, education is a linchpin in this election. Johnson lives in the Austin neighborhood and keeps sharing his tales of being a CPS teacher and parent. However, he taught at magnet schools and has children attending Kenwood Academy. As a supporter of school choice, I applaud Johnson for choosing to teach and put his own children in the best educational positions. But hiding behind the semantics of those schools being CPS schools without context is misleading.

For a man trying to portray Vallas as a closeted MAGA supporter out to destroy public schools through school choice, Johnson’s argument is weak at best. Magnet schools are a form of school choice.

Though an overhaul of CPS is due, Johnson’s ties to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are concerning. Before becoming a Cook County Board Commissioner, he was a paid, CTU organizer working under now deceased CTU President Karen Lewis and then Jesse Sharkey. Johnson was a pivotal leader in the teacher strikes of 2012 and 2019.

Not surprisingly, the current president of CTU Stacy Davis Gates also happens to be the executive vice-president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers. She has skillfully wielded her positions by handsomely donating millions to Johnson’s campaign. The unholy alliance between Gates and Johnson will not benefit CPS students. But, remember, children don’t vote.

In Wednesday’s debate, Johnson was asked about this conflict of interest and said he would resign from his current positions. We’ll have to see if this is enough to convince voters that he will focus on bettering CPS and student outcomes rather than continue to promote CTU causes.

I do agree with Johnson’s wholistic approach to education. Undeniably, there are many outside factors that put CPS children at disadvantages before they’ve even started school including: poverty, gangs, single parent households, language barriers, generational illiteracy, etc.

You can’t merely “fix” public education separately without equally focusing on other failing Chicago bureaucracies. All are inextricably intertwined and have shepherded our inner city youths toward a perpetual cycle of hopelessness and, in many cases, lawlessness.

Yet when Johnson was asked about his ideas for improving schools, he first placed blame on Covid. Then he focused some attention on the need for black history curriculum in addition to a “well-rounded curriculum.” I would love to know which schools in CPS don’t teach black history.

Our schools have been failing for decades, yet we keep pouring money into our broken system because of the CTU and its contract demands, causing even deeper budgetary issues. This wasn’t something Johnson was concerned about when he advocated for strikes. I understand the concept that happy teachers bring their contentment into a classroom, but striking for eleven days isn’t the best way to show your students that you care.

It’s no secret that CPS students’ basic reading and math skills are abysmal. During the debate Vallas noted that only 6% of black students in CPS are proficient in math and only 11% are proficient in reading. Vallas would like to reopen closed schools to the community, return funding to local schools, and add “supplemental educational support” because of learning regression due to Covid school closures. However, CPS is having a difficult time retaining teachers. Who will be providing the extra support these children need?

Willie Wilson’s endorsement of Vallas on March 8 was due in large part because of Vallas’s track record as CEO of CPS and his future vision for the schools.

Wilson stated, “These kids graduating from these schools right now can’t even read or write. Can’t even tie their shoes. That’s a serious concern of mine…If they can’t do that now, and every year there seems to be a strike, how are you gonna improve that? What else is gonna happen if the CTU gets even more power?” (Chicago Sun-Times). I really appreciate Willie’s candor because he gets it.

Does either candidate really understand the schools like Willie? Because what struck me was that neither candidate stated the obvious. There are Chicago schools both within and outside CPS that are doing well, and it would be helpful to bring principals and teachers from failing schools to see what is working. Regardless of how a school is labeled (e.g. public, parochial, private, magnet, charter) those that are producing educated students should be used as models.

CPS needs to get its act together, but, instead, has consistently prioritized its relationship with CTU members over parents and children. Better contracts for teachers and a larger budget has not created positive educational results, which is why Vallas is pushing for school choice.

We have the fourth largest school system in the country with enrollments on a downward trend each year. CPS has been grossly mismanaged. Then came the ridiculously poor decision to close CPS schools for well over a year during Covid, which underscored students’ beliefs that education was no longer important. This has lead to the high truancy rates and the even greater educational regression seen today. How to get students to return to school will be a challenge for the new mayor.

The problems are fixable but will not be seen overnight, which means another few years of searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

For Chicago to run like a well-oiled machine, law and order needs to return with more police officers not less. Our children need to be enrolled in effective schools of their parents’ choosing. Eventually, these students will become valued employees/employers instead of shooting and looting. And these remedies, in turn, will attract large and small businesses that will invest even in our low-income communities.

Everybody wins—except the Chicago Teachers Union. But Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas claim they are going to be their own men and do what’s right for Chicagoans. Thus, the CTU and the FOP shouldn’t be factors, right? Wait and see.

There’s not much time to decide who really has the experience and fortitude to get the arduous job done. Make the wrong choice, and we’ll become the city that Billy Sunday should shut down.


Comments 52

  1. John i know you are recovering and I can appreciate that. However —- I paid for columns from you. Not all these others. While I don’t mind it here and there— it is becoming a daily occurrence. I do not pay to listen to you on a podcast. In this day and age I’m sure you can find a way to write your columns. Disappointed to say the least. Makes me regret my $50

    1. I understand your disappointment from not seeing John’s words in print. I also have missed seeing his insights and perspectives. However, I appreciate good journalism from any source, and I have, for the most part, enjoyed reading what John’s contributors have had to say.
      I expect that I share with you wishes for his speedy recovery and return to gracing these pages.

      Enjoy the snow!

    2. Catherine,

      The good news is, when John is back in play, you have a great Moutza to write.

      At the same time, some readers may blow it on you.

    3. Realism, Chicago, realism.

      Most of us who subscribe to JKN do so because he keeps providing the most realistic, tough-minded perspective on Chicago. He helps those of us who still love Chicago at least see a path out of the disaster created by its political and educational schemers.

      Sure, Ms. Fry, Kass’ health is about as poor as Chicago’s right now, but those who care about Chicago still have a choice. Want to rely on news institutions that have gone bad as the city has gone bad? Or should we be realistic and make the choice to stay with JKN until the great man returns to full strength. I bet he’ll do that, but for now I’ll stick with JKN because it’s the only realistic news choice available.

      In the spirit of toddlin’ tough-mindedness that informs JKN, I did notice what seems to me a weakness in this guest column. The writer pulls the punch on this election, which urgently requires electing Vallas and keeping the teachers unions from running Chicago further into the ditch. That’s just realistic.

      1. “Most of us who subscribe to JKN do so because he keeps providing the most realistic, tough-minded perspective on Chicago.” Actually that’s the kind of reporting that’s MISSING from John’s columns, replaced with national leaning hit pieces on Biden, thinly veiled praise for the most extremist figures on the right and the occasional ‘Soros’ reference. A few dashes of selective outrage and January 6th denialism. I came for Chicago, not Newsmax light.

        1. If it was not for John’s columns on national issues, we might never hear about them, because John’s old station, the now very far left Chicago Tribune, does not report on them, nor does the totally useless Sun-Times, even more left than the Trib.

          John and his associates rightly peg Joe Biden, the Jurassic and useless one, and the rest of Washington DC, including Mitt Romney, Lizzy Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Chuck U Shumer and Nancy Pelosi as the reason the USA is on a downward spiral.

          You must relish the chaos brought to the fair city of Chicago by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, Lori Lightweight, Kim Foxx, Tony Preckwinkle and Tim Evans. All bought by George Soros, the convicted money launderer and finance arm of the DNC. He along with Sam Bankman Fried, SBF, have gone along way to destroying Chicago and America.

          1. Name the one Senator who voted along party lines more than any one of his colleagues during his tenure in the House. Air National Guard veteran Adam Kinzinger. Yet for brainwashed far right MAGA enthusiasts, he is enemy number one. Why? Because he’s not conservative? His record indicates otherwise. Is it because he wouldn’t kiss the ring of a narcissistic tyrant who is hell bent on destroying what conservatism means? Bingo. But please, chase you’re conspiracy theories, scream ‘WOKE’ into the void, stay up nights worried about drag queens breaking into your home. The rest of us will focus on what matters. Say, did you see that jobs report today? Not if you are watching Fox…

    4. Moutza on that comment about John’s absence. In this day ad age let’s be grateful for world class medical care and the eminent return of John to his calling. I miss John’s writing, too, but never regret my $50 for good writing whether it comes from John or someone else. Be patient and let’s all wish John a strong recovery and speedy return. His voice is often a lane wolf among the pack, much as Don Wade’s was when he was still with us.

    5. Wow. You sure are demanding of John. Yeah he’s recovering, not from the flu or anything like that. Bypass, shoulder surgery, and a stroke. Takes A LOT of time to recover. Be patient. John will be back.

    6. I am stunned, Catherine, by your callousness toward John. He has devoted an entire career to keeping people informed about Chicago through wit and wisdom. There is no one like him, and I can understand your disappointment.

      However, he has been through hell. It is obvious, through the grace of God, you have not experienced major health issues. Count your blessings.

      Do you really think John wants to be far from the work he loves? Writing is his passion. Jiminy Crickets, give John a break. Trust me, he’s not basking in the sun in Bali. Pray for his recovery.

      I know I will definitely be praying for you.

    7. 50 bucks?
      Is that all?
      You must be getting in-state tuition.
      He charges me $500 (and worth every f’ing penny).

      One final questions: “Who lit the whining lamp”?

    8. What part of John almost died and has had major surgeries recently don’t you understand? Geez! I appreciate anything that is posted here. $50 a year is less than pennies!

    9. Oh, Catherine Fry, I feel terribly sorry for you. Your lack of empathy and understanding for someone who has undergone major surgery and requires a long rehabilitation period is truly astounding.
      When I was ill, it wasn’t possible to “find a way to write” thank you notes, let alone a serious news column. Maybe you should put your subscription on “pause”. Many of us appreciate the fact that John is providing other thought provoking articles of interest.
      –John Kass, I appreciate all you are doing with johnkassnews and pray that you will recover fully. Until then, I will NEVER regret my $50.

    10. Omg seriously? $50 a year is so much for you? The man had a stroke and quadruple by-pass, he needs to take time to recover properly so that he CAN come back and write. The contributors are doing a wonderful job, with very interesting and informative articles. Consider being more compassionate and reasonable. Have a nice day ~

    11. Really Catherine…major surgery…really? I promise you Kass is chomping at the bit to get back on the horse. How about a little empathy? Very soon his read in between the lines wit will return as well as his in your face facts. Maybe you just don’t sign up for a second go around. I’ve enjoyed the “Guest Columnist’s” immensely. Different perspectives allow you to make better choices. He could have just taken a leave of absence and that was that…BUT… the man is John Kass and he will never leave us hanging. Heal up John, as you can see you are sorely missed!

    12. Alex, I’ll take jackass comments for $600.

      Jeez – you start with “John I know you re recovering and i appreciate that.” That’s a lie. You have zero empathy. He’s not recovering from a cold or the flu for God’s sakes…He’s going thru rotator cuff surgery, heart bypass and a stroke and you’re inconvenienced? I’ll tell you what, send me your address and I’ll refund your $50 bucks if you promise to go away forever. Your parents would be so proud of you….

    13. Oh My!!! Please allow John to recuperate after his surgery and cardiovascular issues. I find these other author’s writings very interesting and vital to our knowledge. This article was extremely informative and written in a politically neutral manner.
      Go on and leave. John has many, many devout readers that will remain loyal to him. Recover well John. Prayers and positive thoughts always 🙂

    14. Seems to me what we all need now is just a little LOVE. For each other and for those of us who have hit a rough spot in the road of life. I believe that if Johnny Two Rods was capable of writing his columns he would do so. By having other capable writers sit in for him he is providing us with a quality product in lieu of his own. Thus far I have read nothing that disappoints me.

      We all need to say some prayers for not only John but also his long suffering Sicilian wife who is no doubt pouring out her life taking care of him and helping him to recover. I can just imagine how often the words of the wedding ceremony come into her mind; “”Til death do us part”. Keep both eyes open John.

      Steve Baranyk

    15. Wow, you must really be hard-bitten! Let’s see you produce something meaningful after shoulder surgery, bypass surgery, and a stroke. John is marked by the quality writers who step up to help him. In fact, if he came to me and said he could use another $50.00 to tide him over I would send it immediately. He is a pearl of great price.

    16. Don’t you think John is itching to come back? I have no problem with the pinch-hitters who have stepped up to help John.
      Thanks to all for your efforts.

  2. Thanks for drawing the lines so clearly. And thanks for helping out with fine writing while John recuperates. My subscription is well worth the money. Lots of great writers and reporters.

    1. I too think the writer knew her stuff. I live in Florida and used to live and work in Chicago. I subscribed to John Kass because of his grit and those of his guest writers. Get well John because we appreciate you.

  3. Wow – Catherine. Harsh – John has had major health issues. I’m sure if he could write his column he would.
    Instead of complaining say some prayers for a full recovery .
    God Bless you John.

  4. We pay to read John’s words because he has the gift of being able to write thoughtful, insightful and, at times, humorous columns. This takes time and thought. Mr. Kass experienced a lifetime of medical issues in a very short time. His focus should be 100% on his recovery. He has every right to take time off to do that. $50 isn’t even a dinner out. I’m willing to read the guest columns while we wait and pray for his full recovery and return to making sense of this crazy world we live in.

    1. As a many-year reader of John’s wonderful columns, I totally agree with Rich Schurr’s comments. As I’m sure John would acknowledge, in a still-free society, Catherine Fry is entitled to have her opinion, as mis-informed as it is…the substantial metabolic energy requirements placed on the human body by major surgery are very significant and sapping. Please take time to heal well and rest John, so that the Lion of Truth comes roaring back ! In the meantime, I enjoy reading the guest columnists’ perspectives…in closing, I would like to second Catherine’s nomination for the Moutza award !

  5. Great article Erin. While I am no longer an official Chicagoan and unable to vote in the Chicago election, what happens in Chicago directly affects us as we are in a neighboring suburb. When crime goes up on Chicago, it goes up here too. I hope that Chicago residents use their votes wisely. Unfortunately with the very low turnout for the primary, I am really skeptical.
    In regards to Catherine’s comment above, I wholeheartedly disagree. I enjoy the “ guest columnists” and appreciate their willingness to step up and share with the rest of us. I’ve been a Kass reader for decades, and when he decided to start this new venture of his, there was zero hesitation on my part. Best 50.00 a year I’ve spent.Heck, his baked potato recipe I got from one of his articles a few years back is worth the price of admission on its own. Get well John, and to all the guest contributors, please keep up the good work.

  6. One thing that would help the schools would be to bring back Head Start and also have a program for the parents at the same time to teach them how coparent these little people. It is a continuing shame that we have parents who are not doing their jobs and children who are being left uneducated in a world which is quickly advancing in technology and education demands.

  7. Preckwinkle and CTU support Johnson? Nuff said. LL beat the crap outta Preckwinkle, she won 49 Wards I think. If Paul Vallas can avoid giving an angry, racist sound bite, if he can keep positive, smaller and maintain a sound managerial bearing and remain in control, he will be the next Mayor.

    God Bless Willie Wilson, who is putting the children of Chicago first. He pulled 9%, and Paul V will get 80% of that due to Willie’s endorsement. He will also get a sizeable about of Independents as well, and a nice chunk of Chuy’s vote too. I even think some of LL’s virtue signal voters will peel off and vote for Paul Vallas.

    If he truly wants to unite the city, Paul will use Willie Wilson to expand charitable giving and services for the homeless in the city. Willie’s name deserves to be prominent in a public/private foundation that will house, feed, and clothe the needy and provide jobs and job training. I also think young brothers like JaMaal Green should be brought in to the fold to help in these endevours and also to mentor kids and promote school and community safety.

    Vallas will get 54% of the vote and win maybe 30 to 35 Wards. CTU doesn’t even have the support of the plurality of their members anymore. People keep their mouths shut out of fear. They blocked the pay and bennies, but hate what is happening, and disagree with the political agenda of union leaders.

    Paul knows how to leverage Federal, State and City money to eat things done. He built dozens of new School building during his tenure at CPS. He can be creative and bring services to the community.

    Thank you Willie.

  8. You would have to hope that some CTU members have brain’s enough to see that Vallas is clearly the correct candidate. If he is elected it will be interesting to see how he would handle a CTU walkout.

  9. Great column, Erin. CPS is the fourth largest school system in the country. A lot of money is involved, wherever money is involved it is a business. As such, the Chicago schools’ business of education needs to be managed and accountable. For too long money and politics have been poured into a system where the children end up last. It is abusive that children can’t read, write or do math after 8 to 12 years with CPS. Paul Vallas knows the educational system, the bottom line of working a budget and being accountable. I believe he will bring amazing results to education and many other areas in the City of Chicago. I also hope he brings in Willie Wilson as an active part of his administration. Mr. Wilson has tremendous knowledge and experience.

    I enjoy the Guest Writers in John’s column. John has had recent life threatening health issues. Anyone who has had serious health issues, (as I have had), knows that recovery is half the battle – a very important part. Get well, John, but take it slow. In the meantime we can all continue to pray for him and his Family for a full recovery.

  10. I was inspired by the comments to subscribe to John’s column. John is a remarkable journalist and I can think of no better way to support him as he undergoes recovery. All the best John!

  11. Let the man recuperate: by pass surgery and 2 rotator cuff surgeries! What kind of senseless and uncaring person are you. If I was JK I’d return your measly $50 and say never darken my door again. Plus I too like to find different reporters opinions I did not know about.
    Finally, becareful complaining about someone else: what goes around comes around.

  12. I have found these Contributors that are helping John to be extremely insightful. Take your time and get well John, this isn’t an appendicitis attack you are getting over. I know that when you come back, you will be stronger and better. Just get well.

  13. Since Brandon already has two full time jobs with pensions I can hardly figure out how he’s gonna have time to be mayor if he wins! Brandon also says we need to address the root causes of crime. This would mean we have to find daddies for all of our young criminals. Then again who would want to marry the mothers of these fledgling thugs. And where will we find these future daddies and where will we house them? The community at large is already complaining about the housing the illegals in their neighborhoods so these are issues Brandon will have to solve. Now c’mon, he’s soon to be juggling THREE full time jobs. These issues are mere child’s play for such an achiever like Brandon. I’m sure he’s going to be earning every red cent of those three pensions he’s gonna be collecting.

    1. That’s a really wise comment, Enrique. Consider that without JKN, you (and I) would have no Chicago-based forum for speaking such truths needed by Chicago

  14. Indeed, this election will determine the trajectory of Chicago’s future…either it will be able to crawl back out of the sewer, or simply slide further into the toilet. Johnson, another “community organizer” like one of our past presidents, has no real life experience managing anything. He wants to send social workers to 911 calls so cops can deal with other more pressing crimes! Geez, what a clueless dolt. But then, so many socialists in our government today are clueless, like tripping Joe. Guess Johnson taking his cue from him. Doublespeak doesn’t work anymore, as the electorate has finally awakened to the crime and punishment of this dem run city. Time for a major shift away from catastrophic failures, to a breath of fresh air and successful management practices, for which Vallas has a track record. We can only hope!

  15. Erin Geary offers a sharp analysis of the debate between two wildly different candidates for mayor. I fear that the strangle hold on voters with political jobs and their families and the idiotic worship at the WOKE altar by the media could tip the balance in favor of Brandon Johnson ( Lightfoot Lite).

    The 19th Ward east of Western Avenue will reflect the point of view above. The need to retain power for positions with the skilled trades just may be bullet in Chicago’s ear. Game over.

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