Forrest Claypool used Park District employees to score his pickup basketball game with David Axelrod

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Forrest Claypool - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Forrest Claypool

In his various stints as hatchet man for Mayors Daley and Emanuel, Forrest Claypool has earned a reputation for being a rigid, penny-pinching bureaucrat.

For instance, in his current incarnation as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, he found $4.4 million in the district's supposedly empty coffers to fund the Office of Internal Audit and Compliance, whose inspectors make sure that teachers really are sick when they call in absent, among other things.

So it's pretty funny to learn there was a time when Claypool was known to flaunt a rule or two in order to have a good time playing basketball with his pals.

I'm alluding to an article in the recent issue of the Chicago Teacher Union's monthly magazine by Joseph "Joey" McDermott. (More about Joey in a minute.)

The article takes us back to 1998, when Claypool was Mayor Daley's Park District superintendent, making his name by, among other things, privatizing high-paying city jobs.

That way our tax dollars went to the owners of companies who can live anywhere in the world, as opposed to regular city workers who live in the city's neighborhoods.

At the time, McDermott was a twentysomething lower-level Park District employee who had recently graduated from college and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

One day his boss gave him an unusual assignment: she sent him to Hamlin Park in Roscoe Village to keep score and run the time clock in a pickup basketball game organized by none other than Superintendent Claypool himself.

The game featured David Axelrod, the political strategist, who would go on to make his fame and fortune as the guru behind Barack Obama's 2008 presidential victory.

Now, I know you're probably thinking that it's hypocritical for a rules stickler like Claypool to so obviously flaunt the rules and waste everyone's tax dollars on something as frivolous as directing a Park District employee to keep score of the boss's pickup basketball game. Especially when the boss and his pals could easily track the score themselves.

But, in Claypool's defense, you need to know something about David Axelrod and basketball score keeping. A subject I happen to know a thing or two about.

You see, back in the early 1990s, I played in a pickup basketball game at the New City YMCA—long since demolished, alas—that featured the above-mentioned Mr. Axelrod.

My game, then as now, consisted of running to the corner and waiting for someone to pass me the ball so I could immediately jack up a shot.

Axelrod was far more valuable to his team because (1) he had a good three-point shot, and (2) he was—oh, how to put this—very creative when it came to keeping score.

No matter how many baskets the opposing team made, when he called out the score, Axelrod always had his team ahead.

You know, pickup basketball games are a lot like elections—it's hard to lose when your guy's keeping score.

Anyway, McDermott eventually became a teacher, and he's now a field rep for the Chicago Teachers Union. Among his claims to fame is that he's the answer to the following trivia question: Who was Cook County state's attorney Kim Foxx's high school prom date?

Something you can only learn by reading the Reader!

About the only thing McDermott and Claypool have in common is a love for basketball.

So I propose that CTU and CPS settled their differences with a one-on-one basketball game, pitting McDermott against Claypool.

If Claypool wins, the teachers will agree to take all those furlough days Claypool keeps trying to stuff down their throats. And if McDermott wins, Mayor Rahm will give back that 4 percent raise he snatched from the teachers a few years back.

Sounds like a fair fight—so long as Claypool doesn't bring along his old pal Axelrod to keep score.


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