The Policy Shop: Dunces and double standards in Chicago City Hall

The Policy Shop: Dunces and double standards in Chicago City Hall

This episode of The Policy Shop is by Mailee Smith, senior director of labor policy and staff attorney.

Chicago’s current political culture has sprung from the heart of the radical Chicago Teachers Union. CTU leaders got their lobbyist elected mayor, meaning their beliefs are dominating both the city’s and schools’ direction.

But a number of recent actions by those leaders forged by the CTU leave a person wondering: “Why listen to what they say, when it fails to match what they do?”

Ticket to ride. Since Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inauguration in May 2023, his motorcade has accumulated eight speeding tickets and six red-light tickets. Only two have been paid, and there’s still $1,640 due on the remaining 12 citations, according to Freedom of Information Act requests to the Chicago Department of Finance.

Johnson has more moving violations in less than a year as mayor than former mayors Lori Lightfoot and Rahm Emanuel accumulated in their respective four-year terms, according to CWB Chicago.

Johnson and the city still expect you to pay your tickets. Chicago’s 2024 budget depends on $348 million from fines and fees such as speeding tickets. When introducing the budget, Johnson said fines fall hardest on low-income families.

Before becoming mayor, Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times in a candidate questionnaire that, “Lowering the speed limit is a cash grab, and has not proven effective in making our streets any safer.”

So he refuses to be a victim of a cash grab he now owns?

Five of Johnson’s tickets were because of the 6-10 mile-per-hour over the speed limit threshold instituted by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. When former mayor Emanuel’s motorcade accumulated a bevy of red light and speeding tickets, he paid them himself.

Accounting for transparency. The Chicago Teachers Union is required by its own internal rules to provide an audit of its finances every year, but it has failed to do so for at least four years.

The fiscal move it did make was to raise members’ dues – by 13%, to over $1,400, for its 2024 fiscal year. That move came as the union spent only 17% on representing teachers – its core mission – and the lowest amount since they’ve been required to disclose spending to the federal government.

Those who have dared to question CTU’s finances have been targeted with insults and slurred as racist by its president, Stacy Davis Gates.

It’s not a good look for the union: refusing to abide by its own rules, keeping its own members in the dark on union finances and then driving up their dues to pay for whatever the union’s leaders have been doing with the money for at least four years.

One thing they have been doing with union funds is playing politics. CTU funneled nearly $2.3 million to Johnson’s mayoral campaign, some from member dues without consulting the members themselves as the union’s rules require. CTU’s actions leading up to the election upset many members and led to the filing of an unfair labor practice complaint against the union.

Hypocrisy has a cost: nearly 500 education employees stopped affiliating with the union in the past year.

Presidential privilege. Davis Gates’ first year as CTU president has been tainted by deficit spending, decreased spending on members, personally cheating Indiana schools out of taxes owed to them, failing to pay her city utilities while exhorting others to pay their fair share and sending her son to a private school while denying that choice to low-income families. She may deserve the grand prize for “do as I say, not as I do.”

Davis Gates was exposed for putting her own son in private school while insisting scholarships be taken away that enabled low-income children to attend private schools their families could not otherwise afford. In fact, Davis Gates made killing the “Invest in Kids” program a political priority for the union.

Then it was revealed she had denied tax funding to Indiana public schools for years by taking an Indiana property tax deduction reserved for owners who actually occupy their homes. She should have been paying four times more in property taxes. The county removed the deduction and billed her for back taxes and a penalty, but she missed the Dec. 8 payment deadline.

Davis Gates owes Chicago nearly $5,600 for utilities on her Illinois home – more than three years of unpaid fees – and again missed payment deadlines to which she had agreed. She makes at least $289,000 a year, yet regularly pushes for “wealthy” taxpayers to pay their “fair share.”

Truth or consequences. Actions speak louder than words, so what happens to your credibility when you do bad things and try to tell others what to do? If Davis Gates wants to tell Chicagoans how to spend their money, she’d better get her personal and union fiscal houses in order. If Johnson wants voters March 19 to hand him $100 million from higher taxes to address homelessness, he’d be in a stronger position if he paid the city what he owes it or used the money he already has for housing relief.

No one wants to follow leaders unable to distinguish between their rhetoric and their conduct.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!