By Charles Preston
Mayoral candidate Troy LaRaviere has been a thorn in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backside. The former principal of Blaine Elementary has long criticized the Emanuel administration for ineffectiveness in educational policy and lambasted the leadership of former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett – a now convicted felon serving 4 1/2 years for driving millions of dollars in principal training contracts to SUPES Academy, her former employer.
LaRaviere is widely-known as the man who stuck his neck out to expose Byrd–Bennett’s corruption, consistently challenges Mayor Emanuel’s support of charter schools, and advocates fiercely for special education. In 2016, LaRaviere resigned from his position at Blaine Elementary School amidst CPS’s allegations of insubordination and engaging in political activity while on the clock. Many believed CPS’s charges against LaRaviere acted as direct retaliation for his courageous activism.
Now the current President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, LaRaviere spoke to the Chicago Defender about his campaign to become Chicago’s next mayor.
Chicago Defender: Take me back to your growing up in Chicago and describe your relationship to the city.
Troy LaRaviere: Sure. My mom was a White woman from the North Side. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, she came to 43rd street for the blues clubs. She got pregnant and her mother told her that she needed to give the child up for adoption or leave. So, she left. She was a high school dropout, homeless, and lived in poverty for years. She pretty much lived off the kindness of friends, a network of Black women– who took care of her and her kids. She spent a lot of time in Bronzeville.
By the time I was born, she lived in Englewood. I grew up around 68th and Justine–Peoria, Back of the Yards, 58th and King Drive, and 43rd and Vernon. I also spent a little time in Chatham, on 82nd and Ingleside.
CD: Why run for mayor? What pushed you, a former principal, to get involved in politics?
TL: I didn’t only speak out against the CEO or CPS. I understood that CPS didn’t govern itself. Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Forest Claypool didn’t have any power. Janice Jackson didn’t have any power. These are spokespeople. The office pulling the strings belonged to the mayor. It was clear. If I wanted to make sure young people got the resources they needed, then I needed to target the mayor’s office.
At some point, you have to decide if you want to do more than just point at a problem. There are four main problems with our public officials: irresponsible management of public money; incompetent management of public institutions; corruption–our elected officials are bought and sold, at a drop of a dime they would sacrifice public good for personal gain; and finally, racism and segregation.
What do we need to solve those four ills? I’m looking at myself and my record proves me capable of solving them.
CD: There is a big field of candidates and I’m curious what separates you. Would you define yourself as a progressive?
CD: Right. A lot of the candidates in the race do as well. So, comparatively speaking, what makes Troy LaRaviere unique?
TL: Well, those four things. Who has a record of responsible management of public money in this field? Who has a record of actually improving public institutions in this field? Who has a record of anti-corruption? I define corruption as sacrificing the public good for personal gain. I’m the only candidate in the field who has a record of sacrificing personal gain for the public good. People talk that talk. There is only one candidate in this field who has walked the walk.
Go back to 2015 and look in the Washington Post. Look in the Chicago Sun-Times. You will see one principal risking his career to call out Barbara Byrd-Bennet’s contract and the filthy conditions our kids were living in. Their education to me was more important than keeping a job.
I don’t know of any candidate in the race who says that they are going to flip that downtown-neighborhood relationship. We’re going to be spending billions in the neighborhood and let downtown take care of itself with the massive amount of private capital they already have.
CD: If elected, what new initiatives are you looking to establish?
TL: Well, that’s one of them – flipping that TIF relationship. We will spend downtown’s billions on neighborhood job growth, economic development, Mom-and-Pop stores.
I just announced a plan to hire 10,000 teachers in Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Public School district is the most understaffed public school district in Illinois. We’re ranked 857th out of 858 school districts in the state. The average Illinois school with 600 students has 59 staff members.
You know how many staff 600 students in CPS school have?
CD: Not a clue.
TL: Thirty-seven. That’s 22 missing people. That’s a counselor, a social worker, a nurse, someone who can reduce trauma, psychologist, five classroom teachers to reduce class size, a drama teacher…
CD: So two things that have been really pressing to the Black community over the last few years are gentrification and policing. What initiatives do you propose in regards to policing and displacement?
TL: I’m the only candidate with a plan to make this one city through ending racism and segregation. This city was segregated on purpose and it won’t be desegregated unless it’s on purpose. We have to involve every neighborhood to establish an economic development plan for itself that the city would support.
Policing is an extension of government and we must name the brutality. The system is targeting Black communities for revenue. It’s not just an individual police officer we’re dealing with. We don’t need 1,000 new cops. Police man hours are used to over police Black communities, so we need to conceive a new way of policing.
CD: Do you feel any pressure from the competition you face in this race? Are the big-names running for mayor another obstacle?
TL: I still have to define myself and make it clear who I am. When Rahm was in, that felt easier. When people jump in, who call themselves progressives, and can fool people into believing they’re progressive, it makes it a little bit more urgent to define myself and make it clear that that’s not progressive.
That’s exactly what I’m getting at. Almost every candidate is a Democrat. I think this mayoral race will define what Chicagoans see as progressive. But a serious discussion is warranted because we don’t know what “progressive” means anymore when all the candidates define themselves like that.
The people who pass themselves off as progressive use social issues to do so, like “I’m pro-gay marriage.” Rahm can claim to be progressive on that. “I favor to end cash-bail” is another one.
These are issues that don’t cost their wealthy campaign donors, and people who support the Democratic party, a dime.
But when you start talking about making the wealthy pay their fair share, or creating a real-estate transfer tax on properties over $1 million, I doubt you will hear Toni Preckwinkle and mainstream Democrats support that. Joe Berrios, Cook County Assessor, over assessed the property values of Black people and working class people, and under-assessed the property values of downtown wealthy residential neighborhoods.
Toni Preckwinkle refused to withdraw her support of this man. He was basically draining wealth from poor Black and Brown folks in Chicago, so that wealthy folk can keep winning. She refused! Her loyalty to the Democratic Party is stronger than her loyalty to working Black and Brown people of Chicago.
They say I bit the hand that fed me. No, I bit the hand that was stealing from the hand that feeds me. My loyalty is to taxpayers. There is no one in this race that can say that.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Defender.