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Mayor Emanuel takes to airwaves to tout his education plans


Updated: October 22, 2012 6:19AM

As soon as the teacher strike ended, Mayor Rahm Emanuel took to the airwaves, appearing confident, in a TV ad bankrolled by the same group that’s bashed unions in radio spots.

The 30-second spot, which began airing Wednesday on Chicago’s major networks, shows Emanuel touting his signature education plan, Rebecca Nieves Huffman, a spokeswoman for Education Reform Now Advocacy, said.

“We reached out to him and said, ‘We’d really like for you to do this.’ He was the one who was really the best to communicate to Chicagoans what kids got out of this contract,” she said.

The commercial was shot after the Board of Education and Chicago Teachers Union announced Sept. 14, they’d agreed on a contract framework. It was finished, Huffman said, in time for a vote of union delegates Sunday widely anticipated to end the strike that ran on until Tuesday. She refused to say how much the buy cost;CBS-2 Chicago pegged it at $1 million.

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 African-American 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 mayor’s communications director Sarah Hamilton said Emanuel was asked to “talk about some of the wins for children, and he agreed,” Hamilton said.

The commercials starring Emanuel have the look and feel of a victory lap by the mayor.

But that was not his intent, Hamilton said.

“I don’t think it’s chest-pounding. It’s more talking about what the kids get.”

Nor does the large media buy preclude a better relationship going forward between the mayor and CTU President Karen Lewis, Hamilton said.

“[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, who has not yet called Lewis, Hamilton said.

Lewis said Thursday she had not yet heard from Emanuel, nor had she seen the 30-second spot.

“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.”

Vitale, however, sent her a “nice text” after Tuesday’s vote, she told the Sun-Times Wednesday.

Conciliatory, private messages post-strike are typical, Robert Bruno, an educational labor professor at the University of Illinois, said. 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.”

“Primarily it looks like the mayor is trying to position himself with public education instead of being focused on rebuilding the relationship with the teachers union.”

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi

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