Thursday, August 13, 2009



In the wake of the Chicago media’s sensationalizing the use of political influence (i.e., “clout”) to get students admitted to the city’s selective magnet schools, a suddenly hot story in the wake of the Chicago media’s sensationalizing the use of clout to get students admitted to the U of I (See my seminal 6/9/09 post “WE ARE LOYAL TO YOU, ILLINOIS…” and my at least as seminal 8/9/09 post “…WE'RE ORANGE AND BLUE, ILLINOIS, WE'LL BACK YOU SO STAND 'GAINST THE BEST IN THE LAND…”.),
the Chicago Sun-Times reports in this (i.e., Thursday, 8/13’s) morning’s edition that Alderman Ricardo Munoz of the west side 22nd Ward acknowledges that he made phone call to the principal of Whitney Young High School, one of the city of Chicago’s outstanding magnet schools, asking that his daughter be admitted to that highly competitive school. Further, Alderman Munoz, suddenly one of my favorites as a consequence of displaying that increasingly rare trait on the City Council, courage (Where are Paddy Bauler and Vito Marzullo when the nation so needs men of their testicularity?), goes on to say that he makes “at least 10 to 15” calls every school year seeking admission for children of his constituents. Alderman Munoz explains:

I wanted my daughter to attend Whitney Young. The curriculum is great…Parents are gonna do whatever they can (for their children), but I do it for community kids, also.

Alderman Munoz goes on to add that he doesn’t try to get unqualified kids into magnet schools:

I usually meet with the parents to make sure I’m not pushing someone who doesn’t meet the criteria. I don’t want to set up a kid for failure.”

Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I believe the alderman, mostly because the statement is so credible. Just as there are far more kids qualified for admission to, say, Harvard, Yale, or the U of I, than there is room in those schools’ classes, there are far more kids qualified for Chicago’s magnet schools than can possibly be accommodated at those schools. We are not talking about getting dolts into schools for scholars; we are talking about giving a qualified kid all the help he can get toward his goal of getting a great education.

Another alderman, not blessed with Alderman Munoz’s courage and thus unwilling to speak for the record, intoned

Parents interested in seeing that their kids get a good education will go to extreme lengths. There are always people who call saying ‘Can you help?’”

Citing that a letter from a member of Congress is necessary to get into West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy, this alderman asks

Are we saying it’s okay for members of Congress to help, but the state rep, the state senator and the alderman are not supposed to?”
Great point. Do-gooders and goo-goos might respond with a limp “Well, that’s different.” But they would be at a loss for explaining precisely why that’s different.

A few more thoughts come to mind in the wake of these developments:

--The level of shock at the discovery that clout is used to get kids into a good public school in my home town should approximate the level of shock of a piano player at a bawdy house who discovers that all those guys weren’t coming to the place just to hear him tickle the ivories. We are talking about Chicago, not Minneapolis.

--If I were an alderman (a thankless, but generally quite remunerative perch from which to perform public service), would I make such phone calls for constituents or for one of my kids? Damn right I would. (Would Alderman Eamon DeValera Collins, the protagonist in my upcoming soon to be seminal novel of “Chicago” politics, make such calls? He’d call the principal into his office, pronto, and “reason” with the guy. Release date is getting closer!) Such calls, I think legitimately, come under the heading of constituent service, certainly in Chicago. As the late and legendary Mike Royko quoted an apocryphal but doubtless representative Chicago constituent, “Hey, Alderman! If ya can’t fix your own traffic tickets, how ya’ gonna to fix mine?” The alderman is the public official closest to his or her constituents; he’s the first guy (or woman) the average Chicagoan thinks about or goes to when he or she has a problem.

But wouldn’t a kid who gained admission to Young, Payton, or North Side with the help of a call from a diligent alderman deny admission to an otherwise qualified kid who was represented by a more self-righteous, or perhaps just slovenly, alderman? Maybe. But one of the prerequisites for success in life, one of life’s qualifications, if you will, is the ability and the willingness to take some initiative. Say we have two kids, both qualified academically for one of the magnets. One kid is smart, savvy, and aggressive enough, and/or his parents are smart, savvy, and aggressive enough, to call her alderman for help in gaining school admission and another kid is either naïve or lethargic and figures that his academic qualifications will, and certainly should, get him admitted to the school of his choice. Which one should get the nod? Oh, c’mon, be honest. Okay, if you can’t admit that the first student should get into, say, Payton, which one has the better chance at getting along well in life? Who is more “qualified” for life, if not for school?

High minded aldermen, too “ethical,” or hebetudinous, to help out their constituents, end up getting pats on the back from the editorial boards of the Tribune and the Sun-Times, most of whose members live in the suburbs or in the trendy and high minded 42nd or 43rd wards anyway. Aldermen who are willing to help out their constituents gain whatever help they can navigating life in a sometimes challenging big city get reelected. Aldermen who are honest about such service, like Alderman Munoz, are to be commended for their service, their honesty, and their courage.

No comments: