Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday defended his decision to take, what some political observers view as a victory lap after the seven-day strike by Chicago teachers--by starring in commercials bankrolled by the same group that ripped the teachers before and during the strike.
Since the huge television buy was financed by Education Reform Now Advoacy, a group that the Chicago Teachers Union views as anti-union, the mayor was asked what message he was trying to send to Chicago teachers.
"First of all, it was a message to the city. A group asked me and I said yes because, what were some of the big things that were accomplished?...I wanted to explain to an entire city that went through an experience" precisely what was achieved, Emanuel said.
"One, our kids are no longer gonna be dead-last when it comes to time in school...That day is over.....For the kids who entered first-grade this year, by the time they graduate, they get 2.5 more years of education than they would have otherwise....Second, we're gonna continue to give parents choice....Third, now, principals have the ability to design their team, the ability to design their time, which means we have the ability to demand accountability in the system" while also establishing an evaluation system to make certain "the best teachers are in the classroom."
Education Reform Now Advocacy is part of Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, a private, pro-charter lobbying group founded by New York hedge fund advisers, many of whom also serve on boards of charter schools.
They've sponsored ads throughout the past year ¬- radio spots last summer featuring two women talking on a bus about the possible strike. And as soon as teachers walked out, they ran ads - consisting of Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune editorials - telling teachers to end it.
The commercials starring Emanuel have the look and feel of a victory lap, but City Hall has insisted that was not the mayor's intent, nor does the large media buy preclude a better relationship going forward between the mayor and CTU President Karen Lewis.
"[School Board President] David Vitale has been speaking with Karen Lewis regularly, and they're discussing a time when everyone can meet," including the mayor, Emanuel's communication's director Sarah Hamilton told the Sun-Times last week.
Asked about the mayor's commercial last week, Lewis couldn't resist a jab at Emanuel, with whom she has had a difficult relationship.
"Wouldn't it be nice if they spent the money on school and nurses and social workers?" she said Thursday.
Asked to characterize the ad, Lewis said, "I think it's Rahm. It says a lot about him."
Robert Bruno, an educational labor professor at the University of Illinois, has said conciliatory private messages are more typical after a strike than self-congratulatory commercials.
"That's really not normal," Bruno said. Typically after labor negotiations contentious enough to end in a strike, the parties "step back from the confrontation and they make plans for how they're going to live together."
If they go on TV, they normally do something "in a joint fashion, because that's what people want to hear."