Forrest Claypool messed with the wrong alderman | Politics | Chicago Reader

Forrest Claypool messed with the wrong alderman 

The brownnosing Chicago Public Schools CEO gets “dunked on” after questioning the honesty of tough-as-nails Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza.

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click to enlarge CPS CEO Forrest Claypool essentially called Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza a liar during a closed-door meeting about school finances. - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES; BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • CPS CEO Forrest Claypool essentially called Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza a liar during a closed-door meeting about school finances.
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the recent closed-door City Hall meeting in which Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool pretty much called Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza a liar.

If nothing else, Claypool's response to Garza's questions on classroom overcrowding tells us all what the mayor's handpicked school boss expects from aldermen. You know—shut up and stand in line. Sort of what Donald Trump wants black athletes to do.

Before I dig into the details, let me point out that this Claypool controversy is different from the other Claypool controversy that came to light last week thanks to the Sun-Times.

In that Claypool controversy, Sun-Times reporters Lauren FitzPatrick and Dan Mihalopoulos revealed Claypool had gone through six lawyers before he found one willing to rule that it wasn't a conflict of interest to hire lawyers from the firm he once worked for.

In contrast, President Nixon only had to go through two lawyers before he found one willing to fire the Watergate special prosecutor back in 1973. Worse than Nixon—hey, maybe that's a slogan Rahm can use to lure Amazon to town. That and several hundred million dollars in handouts.

Back to the Garza-Claypool showdown. On hand for the closed-door September 14 meeting with Claypool were nine aldermen of the more or less independent persuasion, including Garza, John Arena, George Cardenas, Ricardo Muñoz, and Scott Waguespack.

Claypool was there to answer questions about school finances. Despite the recent state school funding agreement, it's not clear CPS has enough money to get through the year without more cuts.

According to several accounts I heard, the ruckus began after Muñoz asked Claypool if state aid would help cover last year's cuts. Claypool said there weren't that many cuts. Garza called bullshit. Schools in her ward, she said, lost about 20 teaching positions, and there are classes with at least 40 students. (CPS set the maximum class size at 28 for kindergarten and first, second, and third grades; classrooms for grades four through eight are supposed to have no more than 31 students.)

"That's when Claypool said, 'That's not true, I don't believe you,' " says Garza, whose account was backed by Waguespack.

Everyone in the room was shocked to hear a mayoral appointee essentially call an alderman a liar. It violates the general order of things for an alderman to be so blatantly disrespected, even by an aide who's close to the mayor. (Claypool and Rahm have been friends since their days as aides on Senator Paul Simon's 1984 campaign.)

"I was so pissed. I wanted to go south-side on him. I really did," Garza says. "I wanted to tell him to go f—well, you know what I wanted to tell him."

Instead she tried to take the high road. "I said, 'Excuse me. Not true? What? Would I make this up? Come to my ward—I'll show you,' " Garza says.

After that, the meeting sort of fell apart, Garza says. "Alderman Cardenas said, 'You need to visit the schools.' And Muñoz walked out. And I walked out. 'Cause he wasn't giving us any information."

In the aftermath, most aldermen—at least the ones I talked to—agree that Claypool would never talk so disrespectfully to a male alderman. Or an alderman who, like Claypool, comes from a more affluent north-side ward.

In contrast, Garza's southeast-side ward just across the border from Indiana is largely made up of poor and and working-class people who don't have a lot of clout at City Hall. Especially these days.

Also, there's a good chance Claypool and Emanuel will be asking the City Council to eventually approve a tax hike to fund CPS. That means the aldermen can expect to hear from angry constituents about rising property tax bills. When voters want to blow off steam about rising taxes, they don't call appointees like Claypool. They call their local alderman.

"Claypool's going to ask us to take the hard vote and he's calling me a liar?" Garza says. "He's so arrogant."

As word of the exchange spread, people rushed to Garza's defense. Martin Ritter of the Chicago Teachers Union tweeted: "Finished Ozarks on Netflix. Pretty good."

My bad—wrong tweet from Marty. He actually tweeted: "Hey, @claypoolcps, don't mess with @ssadlowskigarza. You will get dunked on bruh."

Soon 24th Ward alderman Michael Scott tweeted the hashtag "#dunkedonbruh."

Many aldermen probably wish Garza had gone "south-side" on Claypool. In the high school cafeteria-like setting that is City Hall, Garza's way more popular than Claypool, who's like the annoying apple polisher who sucks up to the teacher by telling her she looks lovely in her new dress. His brownnosing capabilities may explain why Mayors Daley and Emanuel appointed him to positions of power.

Having called around to schools in the area, Garza says she stands by her comment to Claypool. She says there are two classes with at least 40 students and many others with more than 30. All in all, it's a lot more students per classroom than at, oh, Francis Parker, the private school in Lincoln Park where Claypool sends one of his three children.

Claypool didn't respond to a request for comment. But I think the only way to really settle this beef is for him to get out of his downtown office and tour the classrooms of the southeast side with Garza. I mean, Forrest, if you're gonna call Garza out, you've got to back it up.

Then, for goodness' sake, start treating kids on the southeast side as if they go to Francis Parker.   v

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