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MAILEE SMITH: Chicago, Don’t Go From Bad To Worse This Election Day

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Mailee Smith Director of labor policy and staff attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.
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Chicago’s mayoral primary doesn’t look good for Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The potential results also could bring a serious threat, even in the city with a patent on machine politics.

Polling shows Lightfoot neck and neck with U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia and the more moderate Paul Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO and city budget director. The newest numbers show Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson might make the runoff.

The reasons why Lightfoot is falling behind are pretty clear if you look at recent polling.

Crime (71%) and high taxes (27%) remain voters’ most important issues in the election by overwhelming numbers, according to a new poll conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of my organization, the Illinois Policy Institute. Out of the 800 registered Chicago voters polled, those who said they would leave Chicago if they could cited crime and taxes as their top reasons to go. (RELATED: PETER ROFF: Lori Lightfoot Might Come Back To Haunt Chicago)

Chicago is not the only large city dealing with these issues. But it’s the only one with an election right now. And another result from the poll should be a warning to voters in Chicago, as well as other U.S. cities, about groups being able to pick their opponent from among their buddies.

Only 1 in 3 voters was happy with Chicago Public Schools. When asked about school choice and Illinois’ only school choice program, Invest in Kids, nearly 2 in 3 were in favor. Chicago voters want an alternative to CPS because it has been failing the city’s children.

Nearly 80% of Chicago Public Schools 11th graders could not read or perform math at grade level, according to state data from 2022. Half of CPS 330,000 students are chronically absent. And about 90,000 students have left the district since 2010, which translates to a 20% drop as costs have risen 55%.

And ruling during this downward spiral is the newest boss of the Chicago Machine: The Chicago Teachers Union under the militant leadership of the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators. CTU under CORE’s leadership has put over $17 million from union coffers into politics. And they are heavily backing their organizer and lobbyist, Johnson, with over $2.3 million donated by CTU and its affiliates to try to put him in the mayor’s office.

Johnson’s candidacy is part of CTU’s plan to, as Lightfoot once put it, “take over running the city government.” And the next mayor will not only negotiate the union’s new contract in 2024, but oversee the transition from the current seven-member school board, which is appointed by the mayor, to a 21-member elected board by 2027.

If you are a CTU boss, would you rather “negotiate” with your guy? Or do you want to face Vallas, who was the city’s money man and as school district chief rankled CTU by championing school choice and now wants to offer parents “100% choice” in education.

Johnson’s campaign has national implications, as CTU’s model and political agenda have been spreading across the nation with the union taking credit for instigating teacher strikes from Arizona to West Virginia. If Chicago elects a government union organizer who would negotiate with his own government union, it could spur similar unions in other states to back their own candidates and try to accomplish the same goal – a poor prospect for democracy and taxpayers’ dollars.

Whichever candidate wins, the election’s results could send a signal to leaders in other major cities about the issues they should prioritize. It could also teach government unions elsewhere that the most lucrative contract is the one negotiated with a “tax guardian” who in reality is your crony.

Mailee Smith is staff attorney and senior director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicagobased think tank that promotes smaller government and free-market principles.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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