The [Thursday] Papers
The CPS clout list scandal just keeps giving. Hey, I go where the material takes me.
"A VIP list maintained by Chicago Public Schools included admissions requests by Patrick Daley Thompson, Mayor Richard Daley's nephew, on behalf of a longtime supporter of the family's political organization, the Tribune has confirmed."
And the familiar narrative arc of every Chicago Way episode once again takes shape. Same names, different scandal.
"On Tuesday, Mayor Richard Daley denied any role in the VIP lists, which were kept by orders of then-schools chief Arne Duncan, who is now U.S. education secretary. However, the Tribune has verified six instances in which the mayor's staff or his nephew intervened for students."
I bet the mayor had no idea what his staff members or nephew were up to. Again. Time for another one of those talks, Mr. Mayor!
"Daley spokeswoman Jacqueline Heard said Wednesday the mayor never would have denied involvement if he knew about the lobbying efforts."
Of course, Daley might not have known the specifics, but he's certainly offered the broadest possible wink-and-nod; it's not as if he's thundered in no uncertain terms that this sort of thing ought not go on in his administration.
In fact, Daley continues to defend the CPS clout list. So why would he have to deny undue influence if he doesn't believe anything wrong was going on?
"Do you really believe the mayor would say that unequivocally if he didn't believe it was true?" said Heard.
Why should today be different than any other day, Jackie?
"That leads you to believe that the mayor didn't have knowledge that any of these people were making calls."
But again: There wouldn't have been anything wrong with it if he did, right? I mean, if he doesn't think anything was wrong with the lobbying, what would have been wrong for him to know about it?
"Logs indicate Thompson contacted then-CPS schools chief Duncan in April 2008 in the hopes of securing two spots at Whitney Young Magnet High School for the daughters of a ward loyalist. The girls' father, a high-ranking city supervisor, has donated about $2,500 to the Daley family's 11th Ward Democratic Organization in the past decade."
So the mayor's nephew called the CEO of the public schools to get two daughters of a city supervisor and longtime family political friend into a highly selective school that they apparently were unable to get into on their own. Nothing wrong with that!
"The father's name also appears on another once-secret government log. He was listed as the sponsor of three people who sought city jobs for their political work, according to a clout list once kept in the mayor's office that was entered into evidence during the 2006 federal trial of Daley's former patronage chief, Robert Sorich."
Hey, if a father can't get jobs for illegal patronage workers who are just like sons to him, who can he get jobs for?
"The man has worked as a voter registrar in the ward and lives on the same street as Thompson, who now owns the Bridgeport bungalow where his grandfather, Mayor Richard J. Daley, once lived."
Haven't we seen this movie before?
"Heard denied Thompson intervened because he wanted to reward an 11th Ward foot soldier, and noted the children were not accepted into their top choice."
Even with a little juice behind them the kids' parents were shooting way too high.
"It had nothing to do with the political connections," she said. "It was because he was a longtime friend."
A) And the difference is?
B) A longtime friend who happened to be a city supervisor, ward organization donor, and voter registrar.
"The logs obtained by the Tribune indicate the students were denied a place at Whitney Young because their scores were too low. Instead they were enrolled at Lincoln Park High School, which is not a selective-enrollment school but has several highly regarded magnet programs."
"Lincoln Park principal Bessie Karvelas said she was never pressured by the district's central office to accept anyone. On the log, Lincoln Park often serves as a landing spot for politically connected children who have been rejected by selective-enrollment schools."
Lincoln Park High - dumping ground to the stars.
"Nobody said, 'I want you to take this student,'" she said.
A) They just kind of stared at me.
B) Nobody told me I had to take the students whose names were never forwarded to me through connections either.
"Thompson did not return calls seeking comment."
He was mortified that his relative lack of clout would be exposed in public. How could he show his face at cocktail parties again? Lincoln Park High School?! Patrick!
"The names of at least two other zoning lawyers at Thompson's firm, DLA Piper, appear on the list, as well.
"In 2006, one lawyer requested a child's admission to a program that was full. The student was later placed into a coveted magnet school after CPS officials encouraged the Piper attorney to write a letter to the principal, according to the logs. The attorney has worked on several major civic endeavors in Chicago and also represented the Chicago Cubs when they were owned by Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune.
"Two years later, Daley education aide Tawa Jogunosimi made a request on behalf of another Piper attorney who was seeking a child's admission to Augustus H. Burley School, a magnet elementary that focuses on writing and literature. The student was No. 5 on the wait list at the time and was later accepted."
Being a Daley education aide certainly gave no advantage to the Piper attorney's kid. It was just constituent service!
"Jogunosimi also made requests on behalf of a new city hire, according to the 2008 list. The employee's two children were placed in highly desirable schools."
New strategy for longtime residents: move away and then apply for a city job.
"The lists also indicate that in 2008, John Dunn, then Daley's chief lobbyist, requested help for the child of one of his employees."
It just gets better, folks. Wait for it . . .
"The student wanted to attend either Lane Technical High School or Prosser Career Academy. The student didn't get into either school. According to the log, the Prosser principal was contacted and said the school already was '60 students over' and that an alderman already had five students on the waiting list.
An alderman already had five students on the waiting list!
"He would love to help but there is not much he can do," according to the log.
"Officials highlighted Dunn's case as an example of how the system did not exert undue influence or help politically connected people land students at top schools."
See, sometimes an alderman has more clout than one of the mayor's guys!
"For every person who has the affiliations with City Hall who is on the list, I can name you 10 with deeper affiliations who are not," Heard said.
Yes. And every one of them has kids who are already grown!
Oh, I'm not done yet folks.
"A spokesman for the Department of Education said Tuesday that the log was a record of those who asked for help, and that neither Mr. Duncan nor the aide who maintained the list, David Pickens, ever pressured principals to accept a child. Rather, he said, the creation of the list was an effort to reduce pressure on principals."
Because in Chicago, the way to reduce pressure on those asked to make political considerations is to make a list of political sponsors and their requests, not to tell the political sponsors to take a flying leap.
"'Arne Duncan asked David Pickens to respond to all of these requests, some of which came from him, some from lots of other people, as a way to try to manage a process that was putting a lot of pressure on principals,' said Peter Cunningham, who handled communications for Mr. Duncan in Chicago and is now assistant secretary of the Department of Education."
So there was pressure being put on principals. Duncan was just trying to, you know, ease the pressure.
"This was an attempt to buffer principals from all the outside pressure, to get our arms around something that was burdensome to them," Cunningham said. "It was always up to the principal to make the decision. Arne never ever picked up the phone."
Yes. Read on.
"The log noted 'AD' as the person requesting help for 10 students, and as a co-requester about 40 times, according to The Tribune. Mr. Duncan's mother and wife also appeared to have requested help for students."
But Arne never picked up the phone! He just texted.
"The fact that his name might be next to some of these names doesn't mean he was trying to get the kid in a school," Mr. Cunningham said. "He was only asking after someone said, 'Hi, Arne, is there any way to get into this school?'"
So . . . someone asks Duncan if he can help slide a kid into a school. Instead of Duncan saying, you know, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene, Duncan says he'll put in a request with his initials on it - but he wasn't trying to get the kid into the school! He was just asking. You know. Is there any way.
"Mr. Cunningham said he did not believe principals would have felt any special pressure because Mr. Duncan was the source of the inquiry."
One . . . two . . . three . . . I was just trying to see how long you could go without breaking into a belly laugh. If this is the sort of thing these people actually believe, they have no business running the Department of Education. In fact, they have no business holding high school diplomas.
"We were always very clear with them that it was up to the principal to make the decision," he said.
Very clear. Like when Col. Jessep ordered the Code Red.
"Some of those reported to be on the list confirmed Mr. Cunningham's assessment. Steve Brown, a spokesman for Representative Michael J. Madigan, the speaker of the State House and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, acknowledged that Mr. Madigan had, indeed, 'from time to time gotten requests from constituents and passed them along.'
"From there, Mr. Brown said, it was entirely up to school officials. 'They make the decision,' he said. 'There's absolutely nothing untoward.'"
Principals getting queries from Arne Duncan's office originating from Michael Madigan should have known that the decision was entirely up to them!
Of course, if the decision was entirely up to them, why did Madigan and Duncan pass along the names?
"[Brown] said he was unaware of precisely how many such requests Mr. Madigan might have made, or whether the students had been let into the schools they wanted."
Huh. You'd think if it was constituent service they'd want to know if they had, um, served their constituents.
"Among those on the list was former Senator Carol Moseley Braun. A spokesman for Ms. Braun said she had no comment."
Why comment if you've done nothing wrong?
"Mr. Duncan created a formal appeals process in 2008, and when he left to join the Obama administration, his successor, Ron Huberman, created a system to stop the gaming of the system."
So the system was being gamed. According to Duncan's successor.
The truth, at last.
See also these dissections of the dissembling this week:
- The [Tuesday] Papers: "Rather than fix a process that even the city's elite couldn't figure out, Duncan kept a list."
- The [Wednesday] Papers: "Let's keep the list secret so only those in-the-know can get their names on it. Maybe put velvet ropes around it."
St. Patty's Pizza
- Our very own Patty Hunter in the latest installment of At Your Service
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The Beachwood Tip Line: At your service.
Posted on March 25, 2010
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