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A Politician and a Journalist Give Students an Insider's View on Chicago Issues

Published: February 23, 2012

Featured in ACM Notes
A politician and a journalist walked into a classroom.

No, that's not the opening line of a joke. But it certainly was the start of a fascinating afternoon for students on the ACM Chicago Program, who recently were treated to an insider's view of the "State of the City" provided by Alderman Joe Moore and journalist Ben Joravsky – two seasoned veterans of the Chicago political scene who also share an ACM connection.

A member of the City Council since 1991, Moore represents Chicago's 49th Ward, which takes in the racially and economically diverse Rogers Park neighborhood tucked along the lakefront in the city's northeast corner.

Joe Moore and Ben Joravsky

Alderman Joe Moore (left) and journalist Ben Joravsky at the ACM Chicago Program.

Photo courtesy of Evin Lantz

During the same span of time, Joravsky has been the "watchdog at City Hall," according to Chicago Program faculty member Mary Scott-Boria, who set up the session. "Anything that has to do with City Hall, he follows it," she said. "He's pretty much a thorn in the side of the city, so they don't like it when they see him coming."

The discussion was part of Core Course, the interdisciplinary introduction to the city that Scott-Boria team-teaches with Robyne Hart, director of the Chicago Program. The students also take a seminar in one of the program's three areas of focus – arts, entrepreneurship, and urban studies – engage in an internship, and complete an independent project.

In a blog post for the online Chicago Reader, the iconic alternative weekly newspaper where he’s been a staff writer for more than two decades, Joravsky provided the following recap of his session with Moore:

It wasn't positioned as a debate. More like two old guys answering questions about Chicago politics asked by a group of 20 or so college students from across the country brought together by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest….

But since Joe looks at Chicago politics one way, and I look at it another way, we pretty much disagree, though politely, on everything.

So that's how things turned into a debate.

As a "debate," the encounter provided a bit of heat, mostly in the form of friendly sparring as the two weighed in with their contrasting perspectives, and shed a lot of light on current events, Scott-Boria noted. The discussion covered a variety of issues, from the intricacies of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts – a "scam" or a "valuable tool"? – to the upcoming G8 and NATO summit meetings being held in Chicago in May.

Joe Moore and Ben Joravsky

Joe Moore and Ben Joravsky talking with Chicago Program students and staff.

"When the panelists got here, we opened it up for them to do some opening remarks, and then we just let students ask questions," she said. "The students really got engaged in the conversation. Joe and Ben were entertaining like you wouldn't believe. The students loved it! They kept [Moore and Joravsky] a half an hour over time and then went up and spoke to them afterwards."

The debaters have known each other a long time – nearly 30 years by Joravsky's reckoning – and have other things in common beyond their knowledge of how the city works. Both went to high school in Evanston, the suburb that borders Rogers Park, and both went on to graduate from ACM colleges.

As a student at Knox College, Moore participated in the ACM Urban Studies Program, which is now part of the Chicago Program. He's been generous in his support of ACM students through years, Scott-Boria said, and regularly meets with students and takes them to see the City Council chambers. Last semester, Moore gave Chicago Program students an entree to front row seats at a press conference that Mayor Rahm Emanuel held in Rogers Park.

Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Program students

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with Chicago Program students at a press conference as Joe Moore looks on.

This was the first time as a guest speaker at the Chicago Program for Joravsky, an alumnus of Lawrence University, whose career as a journalist in Chicago goes back to the early 1980s.

Over the years he has written a wide range of investigative articles, profiles, and features for the Chicago Reader and other publications and is the author of five books, including Hoop Dreams. Among other awards for his writing, Joravsky received the 2010 Chicago Journalist of the Year Award from the Chicago Journalists Association.

The Chicago Program's experiential approach is firmly rooted in using the city's resources, with frequent guest speakers, visits to businesses and organizations, neighborhood explorations, and assignments that have students traversing the city nearly every day.

It was only the second week of the spring semester, but the students had already visited the Chicago History Museum and toured the city as part of Core Course. Scott-Boria prepped them for the Moore-Joravsky discussion by having them read up on current Chicago issues and then formulate questions in advance.

Joe Moore and students at City Council chamber

Joe Moore with Chicago Program students during a visit to the City Council chamber in fall 2010.

Photo courtesy of Molly Moon

"The students were able to ask intelligent questions, even without knowing the nuances of some of these issues," Scott-Boria noted. "It was a great discussion and fun, and I think the students really appreciated it."


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