This week on CAN TV's Chicago Newsroom, host Ken Davis and the panelists discuss the crowded race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr, the proposed five-year moratorium on school closings and some very interesting developments in local journalism. Here's Ken's description.
It's hard to keep track of how many candidates are currently in the 2nd District race, because people are declaring and dropping out almost every hour. Rich Miller (Capitol Fax) says Donne Trotter has the edge, because he's close to having enough votes for the Cook County Dems' endorsement, according to WBEZ's political reporter Alex Keefe. He's looking forward to their mid-month meeting.
"December 15 is going to be really important in this race", he says, "because if you remember the last special election we had in Illinois which was the race to fill Rahm Emanuel's old seat up in the Fifth District - I remember going to a debate, there were seventeen people on the stage - and the party couldn't slate a candidate. Hopefully they'll be able to winnow the field a little bit."
But what of Jesse Jackson Jr, who has resigned the seat? "It won't take too much for Jesse Jackson to rebuild whatever reputation he needs to move on to his next chapter," asserts Fernando Diaz, Managing Editor of Hoy Newspaper. "He's clearly not going back to Washington. But I don't think he's done. It's just matter of what will he end up facing in terms of prosecution or actual charges. Or jail time. If the real issue here is that he was using campaign funds for home improvements, that's just galactically stupid."
Rebecca Harris (Catalyst) also joins us. The big issue this week is school closings. Barbara Byrd-Bennet seems to have won a big victory in the Legislature with her plan to get all the school closings done at once, and then wait five years for the next round. But closing schools is complex, Harris says. It's more than just finding schools that are half empty.
"It's not just a population loss problem. It's a population shift problem in that the African-American neighborhoods have been losing population , whereas in the Latino neighborhoods the population has been booming and in many cases the schools are overcrowded. So part of the reason they've been having to open new schools has been to alleviate overcrowding in some neighborhoods."
It's not just population loss or movement, though. Some of the "empty seats" have come about because charters and alternative schools have taken away students from the traditional schools. And just closing a school might not make much of a difference.
"It could be if they closed a hundred schools," Harris says, they'd save "50 to 80 million dollars, which, when you're looking at a billion dollar budget deficit, that comes to seem like a paltry amount."
"All of these populations shift and they will continue to shift", Diaz adds. "So whatever school closings happen now might not be effective five years from now, or 10 years from now when the communities have moved into other neighborhoods. If you look at Pilsen right now, Little Village, Humboldt Park -- they are changing rapidly. There's a lot fewer kids today in Pilsen than there were 10 years a ago. A lot fewer.
We also kick around the latest happenings in Chicago journalism -- the debut of DNAInfo, the likely sale of the Tribune, the almost inexplicable decision by the Sun-Times publisher to play the death of his friend/mentor/benefactor as page-one news, and the continuing role of wealthy benefactors as the people who are funding professional journalism.