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Rahm Emanuel's apparent moral ambiguity: Chick-fil-A vs. Louis Farrakhan

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unhappy with the president of Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain expanding in Chicago with a planned restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood. It has one existing store in the city.

His chagrin involves Dan Cathy, the company president, voicing support for the "biblical definition" of marriage as between a man and woman. He said, "I think we're inviting God's judgment when we shake our fist at hime, you know,[saying], 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.' And I pray on God's mercy on ur generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try and redefine what marriage is all about."

One alderman seeks to stop the Logan Square expansion and the mayor appears sympathetic. "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values."

Such moral qualms apparently don't come into play in assessing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his long history of anti-Semitic declarations. Farrakhan is assisting in trying to curb violence in several neighborhoods, dispatching subordinates known as the Fruit of Islam in at least a symbolic show of non-violent force.

The mayor is just happy to have as many community figures productively assist the anti-crime effort. So the "Chicago values" that leave him openly derisive toward a business that might create some jobs apparently don't similarly impact Farrakhan's involvement with reducing crime.

In bashing the chicken executive, he obviously enters a tricky area. A moral, ethical and social responsibility audit of companies could well raise lots of questions, whether it's shipping work overseas, dodging taxes or top officials holding particular social and cultural views on matters like gay marriage. He's smart and knows that.

As for what constitute "Chicago values," he could flesh those out in another forum and try to go beyond the caricature of tough, no-nonsense, Midwest truth-tellers. It's a pretty diverse metropolitan area, with saints and sinners and fragmented opinions and practices.

One would like to think there are core notions binding us, at least beyond wanting streets plowed of snow, obsession with the Bears, political apathy, obesity, not reading newspapers and distrust of folks on either coast. Maybe not.

But chiding Mr. Chick-fil-A while taking a pass with Farrakhan is a minor curiosity, smacking of a certain expedience (getting anybody's help in those hoods), even spinelessness (a politically ambitious elected official fretting over pissing off Farrakhan's constituency), and at minimum a smidgen of hypocrisy.

Says Jeff Seglin, an ethicist and public policy expert at Harvard's Kennedy School,"It's difficult to how there's not an inconsistency."

Each matter, he suggests, involves "someone wanting to have a relationship to the city with a leader who espouses views that cast a group in a negative light. You could make an argument that any citizen is allowed to freely speak his mind. But as a civic leader, Emanuel's responses do seem inconsistent---tolerant on one hand and not tolerant on the other."







The Chicago schools deal: The Missile's modest achievement, the union's self-deception

A major compromise was reached Tuesday in rancorous, ongoing talks on a still-to-be-finalized new deal for Chicago teachers. Here's what may be most salient:

1) There will be a somewhat longer instructional day for students. 2) Existing elementary teachers will not work any longer and, in theory, can walk into a building when students arrive and exit as students depart. 3) Under hiring provisions for new positions, principals cannot simply go out and find the very best person to teach their kids---a fact underscored in an online briefing for principals Wednesday morning.

For sure, the Chicago Teachers Union and Karen Lewis, it's Ivy League-educated leader whose tenure has been bumpy, is crowing; in large part over most of her members maintaining the status quo in a woefully underperforming system. Hers is a Pyrrhic victory for kids and parents.

In an awful economy and with a shrinking and deficit-ridden system, the union has for now preserved the jobs of current teachers and kept their work day the same, though the deal is no protection against virtually-assured, future downsizing of the system. And it claims that 477 teachers who previously lost their jobs will be hired back to justify the slightly longer day and not get an ounce more of work out of existing elementary school teachers (a few minutes for high school teachers). The contention is problematic.

By most calculations, the teachers have the shortest work day of those in any major system and are well-compensated by comparison to others. Should great teachers earn a ton more than they do now? Yes. The pay levels for the very best is a little-appreciated national scandal. But existing salary scales and resulting apples-to-apples comparison natiownwide are such that a deal which preserves the Chicago status quo as far as hours verges on the shocking.

A lot of workers in various industries, who are working a lot harder for the same, even less, compensation than years ago, would be envious. Just ask the journalists who cover, say, Ms. Lewis and our public schools.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the heat-seeking Missile of mayors, did procure something like 46 minutes more of daily instructional time for my soon-to-be Chicago Public Schools third grader. That's good and it's progress. But he probably overplayed his hand with an unbridled quest for a far longer day and in the end, displayed what was known to anybody who's followed his career: he knows how to count votes.

Whether it was cutting the so-called budget reconciliation deal as President Obama's chief of staff---that was the historic agreement that brought us the president's health care legislation---or other bigtime accords as an aide to President Clinton and as a congressman, he knows when he's got leverage and when not.

And just as he unavoidably had to throw some folks under the bus on the health care deal, here he realized that the public reflexively associated working longer hours with better pay. So he cut a deal on the longer day, knowing the public won't understand most of the details, and thus can claim victory. One bargaining benefit for him now arises from the union's self-inflicted wound of keeping the instructional status quo for current teachers: it can't now make a convincing case for anything beyond a token pay hike.

Emanuel, the expert voter counter, didn't have the de facto votes to do what he wanted to do and, arguably, what should be done as a matter of good public policy even at a time of economic austerity. He spent a lot of political capital on a fight over an alluring, even if not empirically-proven notion---the link between performance and a longer day. He's left with a seemingly uninspiring CPS hierarchy forced to deal with the messiness of quickly implementing thorny specifics before many schools open in mid-August.

  A stack of unresolved questions were thrown the way of various CPS apparatchiks during the morning Webinar for principals, which I did listen to. As principals sent in questions and comments, even the uninitiated like myself could perceive the implementation's difficulty and the principals' mid-summer frustrations. They're like baseball managers, down by three runs with one out in the ninth inning and not many guys left on the bench.

"Many teachers have been given art approvals but they are not the most qualified art teacher," wrote one, the point being there may be mediocre art teachers on the list he's got to choose from. There were lots of other queries and declarations underscoring how the devil will be in the details of implementation. Especially if you had vacation plans, you don't want to be a Chicago principal this August.

 They must revise previously-submitted battleplans for what they assumed was a longer day of instruction taught by existing staff. They have until Monday to identify a new position they want; in theory to be used only on teaching topics "ancillary" to the core curriculum the mayor has argued for, meaning not math or reading, but the likes of art, music, physical education and foreign languages.

Between Aug. 4 and Aug. 6, CPS will identify ("validate") which of the "displaced" union teachers can apply for new positions. On the same Aug. 6, the identities of approved applicants will be disclosed to principals. The principals then have a very compressed period ("a very finite period," said one CPS Webinar participant) to interview candidates.

The gamesmanship will then begin, especially given the reality that there may be many on the displaced list who are not inspiring job candidates. Several principals with whom I spoke said that it will surely not be a terribly strong pool, even when they acknowledged both that some excellent younger (low-tenured) teachers have been previously let go and that the they had benefited from hiring some displaced teachers.

 Suburban systems have already completed hiring for the new year. Some really good teachers, let go by CPS for reasons including budget necessities, have found work elsewhere. One North Side elementary principal, who conceded that he's previously had luck with one or two displaced teachers, voiced the suspicion that, "The pickings will be really slim" on the new list.

Some principals may either put in for a position for which they don't think there are many qualified applicants or wait as long as they can before making a decision. That's because their hands are tied if they seek a position and three or more displaced teachers, approved for the list by CPS, seek it. They have to pick one of them.

If they picked a mediocrity, and that person doesn't work out, they essentially have to can them after the year's first semester. Even if that happens, they are confronted with the tricky challenge of hiring a replacement in the middle of the year and further disrupting students' lives.

Waiting as long as possible to now hire from the roster of displaced teachers might mean an individual principal's list of applicants shrinks to two or less as some initial job seekers find work at another school. The principal can then go out and look for the best person he or she can find elsewhere, then cross their fingers.

Cross your fingers for a simple reason: This deal isn't about finding ways to markedly improve actual classroom instruction. It's about fiddling, albeit with the best of intentions, with structure. When it comes to the union victory with the 477 displaced teachers, it's not seemingly dealing with a crying need to sharply improve teacher quality and, thus, student performance. Therein lies much of the union's own self-deception.

The only bigger tragedy may be how, once again, few really good teachers will wind up at the worst and most-needy schools, where the talented really should be paid steep premiums.

The union contention that all those 477 displaced teachers will now be guaranteed work is probably not accurate, given some likely mismatch between applicants' talent and principals' needs. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how shrewd principals potentially game the system to avoid hiring teachers to only teach those "ancillary," non-core areas, and to focus focus more on pressing, in some cases core, needs.

Then, of course, there's the matter of where in the world the system finds as much as $50 million to pay for the new positions.

The same North Side elementary principal offered me his own cost-cutting gambit, in the process underscoring the cultural tensions found in a sprawling government bureaucracy, even if they are ancillary to the mayor's serious-minded confrontation with a profound and vexing education challenge:

"Get rid of much of the middle management and the 'networks' [of supervisors] we have to deal with. They mostly just forward us emails from the central office and have only inspired a climate of mistrust. It would be great to know many of them were no longer around."


Is a heralded mayor getting a pass from the press over crime in Chicago?

Crime in Chicago is a hot story, especially for assignment editors in New York. Press inquiries are flooding the city, especially after a page one story in the New York Times, now more than ever a cheat sheet for insecure and under-resourced media operations.

There is a painful spike in homicides, despite an overall drop in other crimes. It's too early to assess how significant it truly is and whether there's a bonafide, longer-term trend. But, for now, mayhem in the Windy City is a handy hook and easy story, especially if the focus is on victims, overworked hospital emergency rooms and the perhaps facile explanation that's generally taken at face value, namely that it's all the fault of gangs.

The CBS Evening News has now weighed in with two pieces within a week. The first came on July 5. Then came another on Monday. One need not be a pedantic academic criminologist to have find both lacking. A bevy of important factors, including an awful public schools system, insufficient social support services for neighborhoods, insufficient prosecution of gun offenses and debatable reallocation of police, go unmentioned.

And, in all the stories so far, the city's political hierarchy gets a de facto pass. That was true, too, with a Monday CBS package in which anchor Scott Pelley interviewed Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel has had an impressive first year, inheriting a raft of problems, notably financial, and has brought a needed energy and generally unsentimental analysis of what was left behind by Richard M. Daley, his longtime predecessor. He may feel like a one-man Army Corps of Engineers poking around a giant, sludge-laden version of the Bates Motel in "Psycho," finding skeletons hanging everwhere.

But the Pelley interview was confounding, even startling. In particular, there was this exchange:

Pelley: When seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was killed last month, caught in the crossfire, you said, "It's not about crime. It's about values" What did you mean?

Emanuel: We've got two gang bangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley. Don't touch the children of the City of Chicago. Dont get near them. And it is about values. As I said then, Scott, who raised you? How were you raised? And I don't buy this case where people say they don't have values. They do have values. They have the wrong values. Don't come near the kids---don't touch them."

Where does one start with a response that comes off as if uttered by a judgmental, upper middle-class suburban product who doesn't quite get life in the city? For starters, those gang bangers are all too often kids themselves, certainly in the minds of most psychologists and pediatricians. At minimum, they were just like those victimized youth just a very short time ago.

By casting blame on them, he fails to recognize the extent to which they, too, are victims; of broken homes, dangerous neighborhoods and a public school system that is a mess. The maintenance of the values the mayor apparently holds dear can be a bit complicated when dad is in prison and mom is peddling drugs.

A leader of a big city might have a better understanding of the underlying conditions in which a teen may face a choice between being a victim or being in a gang, rather than blaming the "values" these young people have supposedly chosen for themselves and proceeding to cast virtually all blame on them. What's his own power to try to change the situation?

He is, after all, in charge these days, especially of a schools system he aggressively oversees in valiant pursuit of a turnaround amid dispiriting absenteeism and dropout rates. Nearly incoherently, he told Pelley that we adults will take care of problems like violence so that "You [students] think about your studies," seemingly losing sight of how the violence around them can make it woefully difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn.

Listen to this public radio report and learn of the 9 students at Harper High School who were killed by gun violence with another 28 shot. Good luck in thinking about your studies, boys and girls.

So the ultimate suggestion is that the gang bangers' own moral failing is their decision to transact business in the open, in the presence of blameless and younger folk. It apparently expalins the mayor's suggestion Monday that they should take "their stuff" to the alley and not "touch" the city's children.

It's as if a former chief of staff to the president of the United States had suggested that Iraq's ills could be solved by the Shias and Sunnis taking their stuff to Saddam Hussein's old underground bunkers.

Emanuel is the right guy for a tough job at the right moment but should know better. And bigtime reporters, like Pelley, should do their homework more diligently and inquire about, say, resources and what may be lacking for the police and city agencies which are mandated to provide a variety of family and other support services to impoverished neighborhoods. There is, after all, a guy in City Hall who's been getting the final call on cuts and, given a generally cowed City Council, getting his way.

What is the mayor actually doing, besides opining about "values" as if he were some disembodied voice from a faraway think tank?

Monday's CBS interview included his bringing up plans to close liquor stores and boarding up buildings where gang bangers hang in bad hoods. It fell short of convincing. He could have mentioned what he's doing effectively---or not doing---about the prodigious numbers of guns on the streets and a court system that takes a virtual pass in dealing with them. Real change might make what's going on in alleys not quite so perilous.

Values come in many forms. They also include taking responsibility. When it comes to crime in Chicago, the shrewd fellow at the top at least briefly came off Monday as if copping out.



Bang, bang: One way or another, Chicago will blow you away these days

Those who crave the diversity of urban life were like pigs in slop Sunday as they read the New York Times and Chicago Sun-Times.

First, the most influential daily detailed some of the social glories of being "Single in Chicago." It opened, "It's hard to decide, while sipping a citrine cocktail called Sex on the Roof, what to gawk at first: the go-go dancers in crimson panties or the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, Willis Tower, soaring like a giant glass beanstalk just beyond the windows. Either way, at Roof, the glossy club atop theWit hotel in Chicago, if you're single you can't lose: should a stranger faile to take your breath away, the skyline will."

There are many perils in dropping into any town for a quickie reporting jaunt and locals will deride the limited number of locales visited and a certain gee-whiz-these-Midwest-folks-are-friendly theme, with a New Yorker announcing that the chills she felt on an architectural boat tour had nothing to do with cold weather. "It was because the Windy City blew me away."

That's not all that is blowing folks away these days, and it's why Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his tourism aides just might not be aggressively passing this opus around. A sidebar on the plusses and minuses of traveling solo in Chicago includes this "not so good" matter: "Few avenues are bustling late at night. Take care: Homicides and shootings have increased over the last year."

Yup. Of course, the almost dominantly caucasian crowd tracked at the more upscale joints gravitated to by The Times need not fret. They, and the reporter, would have been reminded of that reality Sunday if they also picked up the Chicago Sun-Times' nearly 4,000-word report, "Chicago Under Fire."

 This piece was about a soaring murder ate, stunning gun violence and, most of all, the victims, who tend to be black and poor and to live far, far from theWit's rooftop bar and all those texting 20-somethings looking to score. But, taken together, they continue to bolster a quickly-forming image of a city out of control that could potentially be a political Achilles heel for a mayor whose first year in office has been an impressive one.

And, interestingly, both tales are about social networking.

Reporter Rosenbloom heralds a website called MeetUp via which local Chicagoans with similar interests can meet to play volleyball, drink or otherwise cavort. This is obviously in addition to just plunking oneself down at some beach or bar and playing things as they lay.

With murder, the Sun-Times noted the work of Andrew Papachristos, a Yale sociologist who's studied Chicago crime. Killings do occasionally occur in random fashion but generally the victims have ties to either the killer or to people associated with the killers."Seventy percent of the killings he studied occured within what Papchristos determined was a social network of only about 1,600 people---out of a population in those neighborhoods of about 80,000."

So gaity and mayhem can all be had via a smart phone supplemented by a credit card or a handgun. Cheery. That helps explain why the Chicago cops are spending more time studying Facebook pages.

And, on Monday, back from vacation, the mayor will announce a new anti-crime initiative of some sort with his smart but beleagurered New York-bred police chief. There have been many anti-crime initiatives announced this past year, with a frustrated jury of citizens still out when it comes to a whirling dervish chief executive and a complex issue for which he's generally avoided personal responsibility.

When his press conference is over, he could always head to the corner of a bar with great vistas, order a Sex on the Roof and nostalgically recall his days of being young and single in the city. At minimum, somebody will tell him they like his suit and tie. We are, after all, really friendly here.