First Tuesdays With Mick & Ben


As the clock ticks closer to a teachers’ strike this week, I’d like to interrupt my coverage of the showdown to bring you some news about my own life . . .

Mick Dumke and I are breaking up.

OK, I didn’t mean to be so melodramatic. It’s not like we were, you know, going steady. And I’m not saying the talk-show partnership of a couple of reporters amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

It’s just that it’s a little melancholy for me. Mick and I have been cohosting First Tuesdays—our monthly political talk show at the Hideout—for five and a half years. Or since not long after the last big teachers’ strike.

Finally, Mick said, “Enough.” No particular reason other than an overall feeling of fatigue. Five years is a long time to be booking guests, writing Facebook invitations, and hoping that the guests you book show up and don’t blow you off.

He’s been thinking about making a break for it for a while. When he told me his decision, I suggested we send out a press release saying he was retiring to spend more time with his family.

Generally, that’s what politicians say when they step down from office—usually just before word breaks that they’re under investigation.

But Mick’s family said, “Hey, man, don’t blame this on us!”‘ So here we are—sticking with the truth.

The idea for First Tuesdays came from Tim Tuten, co-owner of the Hideout. Back in the old days, Mick and I were colleagues at the Reader, cranking out investigations into things like parking meter contracts, TIF scandals, marijuana arrests, and an assortment of often tedious budget topics.

It’s not as easy as it looks. You try getting people to give a hoot about the hidden water-sewer slush fund.

Tim thought it should be like the old WTTW show where a bunch of sportswriters sat around a table smoking cigars and telling tall tales. Only instead of smoking cigars we’d be drinking beer.

Mick and I took it in a different direction—bringing on various politicians or journalists to talk about what was going on.

Our first panel featured former alderman Richard Mell, who bragged about how he swapped his support for dumb ideas—like selling the parking meters—in exchange for city jobs.

I wasn’t so proud of the panel that featured aldermen Danny Solis and Rick Munoz—whose careers have ended in disgrace.

This was in the summer of 2014, around the time Solis started wearing a wire for the feds to gather dirt on Alderman Ed Burke.

For all I know, Danny was wearing his wire at First Tuesdays. If so—here’s hoping the agents back at the base were entertained.

I suppose it’s appropriate that one era of the show ends on the verge of a teachers’ strike. The show started in the aftermath of several Rahm-related school crises.

In fact, my favorite show is probably the May 2014 one when then-Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis packed the joint.

You could expect two topics to be raised at a First Tuesdays show—legalizing reefer and blowing up TIFs.

When it got to the reefer question, Karen said we should legalize the stuff and use the revenue generated from its sales to pay off our pension obligations.

The crowd went crazy.

It was at least another two years before mainstream Democrats dared to utter a word about legalizing reefer, even though it should never have been illegal in the first place—as most of them knew because they were probably smoking it, maybe even in their cars before they came on our show.

As always, Karen was ahead of her time. It’s a damn shame she never got to be our mayor.

In addition to salary, the main issue in the 2012 teachers’ strike was respect—as in teachers demanding that Mayor Rahm show them some.

Mayor Rahm was peddling the same old “reform” malarkey that he picked up from watching Waiting for Superman one too many times. Like the other reformers, he was dedicated to the notion that the best way to get poor kids to learn at the same pace as rich kids was to treat their teachers like shit.

More than one First Tuesdays featured me going on a tangent about how there’s money in the TIF slush fund for lower class size, and supplies, and nurses, and librarians. And Mick would shake his head and smile as if to say, “I knew it was only a matter of time before Ben mentioned TIFs.”

Some things have changed since our first few shows. Mayor Lightfoot treats teachers with more respect than Rahm did—at least for the moment. And her salary offers are more generous—at least she’s not asking teachers to work longer for less. Like Mayor Rahm.

But the age-old issues of inequity and warped spending priorities remain. At the risk of having everyone shaking their heads, I’d like to point out that it’s especially obscene to dedicate $2.4 billion in property taxes for Lincoln Yards and the 78 when we say we can’t afford to contractually guarantee the hiring of nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors in our poorest schools.

But back to Mick . . .

We’re not really breaking up. We’re still good friends. I happen to know he’s working on a monster kick-ass investigation for ProPublica. I’d love to tell you all about it, but I’m sworn to secrecy.

Hurry up and finish it, Mick, I can’t wait to read it.

Speaking of kickass reporters, Reader superstar Maya Dukmasova is my new partner at First Tuesdays. Our first show will be November 5. Same time (6:30 PM). Same place (1354 W. Wabansia).

We’ll be talking about—what else? —the teachers’ strike. By then we’ll know if one has been averted, settled, or, God help us all, is still going on.

This article originally appeared on The Reader. Read it here.