I Choose to Look Beyond the Superficial
by Erin Geary
March 29, 2023
We are a week away from an election that will decide the future of Chicago, and I found myself drawn to a WTTW transcript of a recent interview with Jason DeSanto, a Northwestern University senior lecturer and debate strategist. Jason was asked about why race may still dictate how a person will vote in this runoff election.
Jason replied, “…I think there’s a tendency in human nature to identify with people who appear to have experiences similar to us, and it may boil down to that.”
And in 2023, this statement is a testament to the ignorance of the average voter. Identity politics is a recipe for disaster that splits us rather than unites us. I have never voted for candidates based on religion, color, race, sex, etc. Clearly that makes me a sexist and a racist, except that I am a white woman who spends her time volunteering for Project H.O.O.D.
I can already hear the muffled gasps from some women who feel betrayed by my lack of female empowerment and inclusivity. But I don’t believe in voting for someone because it may be historic. I make my choices based on what candidates actually say and their past performances. In other words, I identify as a male voter.
There are reasons why allegiance to arbitrary causes do not cloud my judgement. I have learned a great deal through the wisdom of those who came before me and my own personal ups and downs.
I was raised in a household with a mother who believed strongly in education being the leveler between race and social classes. She grew up in Berwyn, and her family was poor. Her father was an amputee immigrant from Czechoslovakia who spoke broken English, couldn’t get a decent job due to his disability, and took the only job available to him—delivering Bohemian newspapers. Times were harsh, and their city-sized lot became a farm where they grew their own vegetables. They also raised chickens and rabbits and learned, as every farmer knows, never to name any of them.
My mother’s older sister, Mary, was told to drop out of high school in order to get a job. Mary complied. But when my mother’s time came to quit school, she resisted and was often at odds with her father. She debated the merits of education as the way out of poverty. He countered, usually with a strong slap, saying that she needed to do her part by dropping out and getting a job. Mom persevered.
My grandparents never checked her grades, nor did they look at her stellar report cards. I’m not even sure they attended her high school graduation.
This means that she was driven by an innate sense that if she did not graduate, her prospects would dwindle. She seized opportunities when her environment dictated otherwise and did not wait for a government handout. Once she graduated, she quickly found a job working in a bank at the Merchandise Mart.
It was then, and only then, that she started receiving the respect of her father. For he saw that without her high school diploma she never would have gotten beyond a menial job. My mother became the trailblazer for her two younger siblings.
Her valuing of education, both formally and self-propelled by curiosity, was passed down to me and my sisters before she died of cancer in her late 40s.
My eventual decision to become a teacher was anything but a straight road. To be honest, the death of my mother my junior year of college left me unmoored. But we were raised with a strong work ethic, meaning you didn’t wait around for the right job to fall in your lap. Thus, a lack of financial stability after college graduation led me to getting a full-time job at Crate and Barrel. It’s not where I longed to be, but it paid the bills and I learned a lot.
Though I was doing alright, my father sensed a restlessness in me. He presented me with a help wanted ad for Midway Airlines whose growth spurred the need for flight attendants and, soon after my interview, I landed the job. It was an enjoyable adventure until Midway Airlines went bankrupt.
It was the first and only time I sat on an unemployment line, and I hated it. There was nothing more degrading, which I guess was the point. My saving grace was that flight attendants only worked 3-4 days a week, and I had already been working as a substitute teacher at Gage Park High School for extra money on days off. I enjoyed substituting and thought teaching should be my next move.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, CPS was desperate for teachers. Upon the advice of my step-mother, I enrolled in the Chicago Teachers Consortium and attended Chicago State University for certification. Once I received my K-9 certificate, I never looked back.
Those of you who have read my previous columns know that in my 30 year career, I taught children in grades ranging from kindergarten through college within CPS, suburban public and suburban Catholic schools, and at St. Xavier University. I taught with and without unions and understand the pros and cons of each side of the coin.
Add to my life’s resumé being a wife and mother and two time cancer survivor, as well as having a myriad of other illnesses and hospitalizations over the years, and my twisty-turny journey has made me an independent-minded woman who does not suffer fools gladly.
Read enough of my Substack articles and you will see that I have strong opinions about a variety of subjects; but, they are guided by reading, conducting research and careful contemplation before forming a conclusion. And that is what I feel voters today are lacking. Most are too interested in soundbites rather than listening to what candidates are saying—or, more importantly, not saying.
And here is where Jason DeSanto and I differ. I don’t think people vote for those with similar experiences. Who can relate to being a CEO of Chicago Public Schools? Who can relate to being a union organizer and politician. Not many.
I have just laid out my life’s experiences, and one would think that the importance of education in my life and my belief that education is a way out of poverty should lead to an endorsement of Brandon Johnson. After all, he was a teacher and worked for the CTU. We should be kindred spirits.
Equally, I could boil down an endorsement of Paul Vallas to his family’s immigrant story and to the fact that we both attended Moraine Valley Community College. Those ties should bind, right?
Instead, I choose to look beyond the superficial, and it frustrates me that others don’t. This mayoral runoff election is close, and I can’t understand why. We have two Democratic candidates who should be viewed based on their merits and the leadership needed to turn the city around. This election is about the type of Chicago we want to exist, and the differences between each candidate are crystal clear.
You either want Chicago run by Paul Vallas who knows that crime is out of control and will hire more not less police officers, understands budgets and where to make cuts, and understands
that parents deserve to have the best educational choices for their kids to get out of generational poverty.
Or, you want a self-avowed socialist who will hire social workers to handle the jobs of police officers, has no concept of budgeting and needed cuts, wants to underfund the police, and sees no bright future for our school age children because school choice would apply pressure to the teachers’ unions that have given him millions for his campaign.
Clearly, Vallas will not be in the back pocket of teachers’ unions. That’s why the CTU and IFT are throwing everything but the kitchen sink into Brandon Johnson’s campaign. Johnson is one of them and will govern with unions in mind to the continued detriment of Chicago’s children. Remember that the Chicago Public School budget for 2023 is $9.4 BILLION. That is a considerable amount of money that has not created brighter minds or futures. Paul Vallas is eager to offer parents other options because their kids deserve that. It is ridiculous to keep throwing money at a broken system without any other choices available.
At the same time, compare Brandon Johnson’s platform with the desires of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. One of her office’s pet projects is to spend an initial $50
million on the Cook County Equity Fund. Proposals include expansion of funds toward affordable housing, the formation of a Behavioral Health Authority, and a focus on equitable taxation. This all sounds suspiciously familiar. It’s as if Toni has been whispering in Brandon’s ear. Vallas, on the other hand, realizes that we cannot keep taxing and spending our way through problems. Thoughtful budgeting is required.
Additionally, Governor Pritzker held a meeting with both candidates to push his considerable girth around. Pritzker claimed he would stay neutral, but that didn’t last long. For example, Pritzker took offense to Vallas’ stance on the Covid lockdowns and mandates. According to WTTW, “Pritzker said Chicago voters should elect a mayor who will listen to public health experts, not right-wing radio hosts, as first reported by HuffPost.” The fact that Johnson and Pritzker are working in tandem to try and peg Democrat Vallas as a MAGA wannabe is disingenuous and speaks volumes about the relationship Pritzker has already forged with Johnson.
Aren’t these unholy alliances what we are trying to break away from?
Truly consider all that is on the table, so this election does not come down to coloring in the oval for the person who “appears to have similar experiences to us.” Chicagoans cannot keep voting along racial lines and expecting different results. Make no mistake, of the two candidates, Paul Vallas will be his own man and has the vision to lead Chicago forward without being under the thumb of the CTU, Toni Preckwinkle, and Governor Pritzker.
Voters, choose the person to lead Chicago who will put our safety first, who has the backbone to stand up to over-controlling teachers’ unions, who will allow our parents options that work best for their children’s education, who will take a firm hand on our budgets and taxes, and who will stand with the working men and women of Chicago.
Paul Vallas sees Chicago’s potential. Brandon Johnson only sees his own.
Erin Geary is a writer, consultant, mother, wife, and volunteer. After thirty years of teaching, she left the profession to pursue her dream of writing. Her twice weekly articles on American culture and politics can be found at Commonfolk365.substack.com. She recently celebrated her first year writing and is thrilled to be a guest writer for John Kass.