CPS students ‘bully’ candidates

19 Jan

The four leading candidates for mayor took questions from a crowd of CPS students in a forum hosted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at WTTW Studios, moderated by Phil Ponce and Carol Marin. (Photo by Len Kody)

By Len Kody and Paige Wagenknecht

While most students enjoyed Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, over 250 Chicago public high school students fired questions at mayoral candidates Rahm Emanuel, Miguel del Valle, Gary Chico and Carol Moseley Braun, during their first televised debate, airing on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight.

Chicago Tonight’s host, Phil Ponce, and regular contributor, Carol Marin, moderated the event.

The audience of over 250 Chicago Public high school students, were members of the Mikva Challenge, a not-for-profit and nonpartisan group that targets low-income Chicago youths to get involved in public policy and politics. Their questions fueled discussions over safety, after school programs, students’ problems with insufficient public transportation and the need for improvement in Chicago Public School’s quality of education.

Before the forum began, the students where briefed by Ponce about how to behave on television.

“If you have gum, please take it out,” he told them.

The press covering the event weren’t allowed into the forum during taping. A closed-circuit video feed was piped into the Chicago Tonight set for reporters while the high school students had the candidates to themselves in a larger studio down the hall.

The press watched the forum via closed-circuit television while students grilled candidates in another room. (Photo by Len Kody)

 

About halfway through the forum, a girl from Gage Park High School brought a somber tone to what had been a pleasant atmosphere when she asked del Valle , “So many GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender]… teens have trouble facing… terrible harassment, bullying and also violence daily. As mayor, what would you do to make our school a much safer place to get an education?”

The general issue of school safety emerged as a dominant one during the forum. And the problem of bullying was something that nearly all the candidates could relate to personally.

Emanuel claimed he was teased for his small-size; del Valle for his race; Braun was belittled for what she labels “otherness.” Chico said his reputation for being a guy not to mess with came at a young age after he punched a boy for harassing his little brother.

Affected by their anxieties over the lure of gangs and drugs on Chicago streets, Braun, who is a product of CPS, apologized for the mounting dangers students endure on a daily basis.

“I’ve lived in Chicago all my life and I’ve never seen the neighborhoods in the shape they’re in now… I could walk to school without fear of being gunned down by someone doing a drive by shooting,” said Braun. “Our generation, our parents gave us a much safer world to live in, and you guys have to face things we never did, I feel guilty about this I feel bad that we’ve done this, or failed to do what we are supposed to do.”

Del Valle also remembers a safer Chicago, when the city’s youth were more “worried about bats, not 9mms,” and believes students’ ability to learn is compromised if safety is not ensured or enforced.

After the forum was over, the press were allowed back into the studio while the candidates waded into the crowd and for some one-on-one time with the students.

After the forum was over, Emanuel and the other candidates approached students individually for questions. (Photo by Len Kody)

 

Senior Jonathan Johnson from Lincoln Park High School, who asked Carol Moseley Braun about her solution to the 47 percent dropout rate in Chicago Public Schools, made up his mind about which candidate he is supporting: Rahm Emanuel.

“[Emanuel] seems to be really involved in Chicago,” Johnson told reporters, “it seems to be like he cares about what the people say. He’s actually in the neighborhoods, the train stations, talking to people. He’s really genuine—I like that.”

Listen to Johnathan Johnson from Lincoln Park High School talk about why he is supporting Rahm Emanuel.

The four front-runners in this mayoral race will have many more difficult constituencies to win over as election day draws nearer.


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