The Rockford Files

Three Strikes and You’re Out

April 2005 will mark the third mayoral election since I arrived in Rockford at the end of 1995.  In that first election in April 1997, Rockford’s first (and, so far, only) black mayor, Democrat Charles Box, was running for his third term.  For eight years, the city had been under a federal court order to desegregate its schools; the school board had imposed taxation without a popular referendum (later declared illegal by the Illinois Supreme Court) to pay for the lawsuit, which ultimately cost Rockford’s taxpayers a third of a billion dollars; and the city’s residential neighborhoods were crumbling under the highest property-tax rates in the nation.

The protest against the illegal tax, led by the redoubtable Mary Hitchcock and the indefatigable Barb Dent and fought pro bono in the courts by the heroic Michael O’Brien, was at its peak; The Rockford Institute turned out over 700 people on a cold, snowy, and icy night in February for a rally against judicial tyranny; and all Mayor Box could bring himself to do was to advise the taxpayers of Rockford to “belly up to the bar.”

Black families were having their homes taken from them through eminent domain in order to build palatial “magnet schools” (equipped with planetaria and Olympic-sized swimming pools) that were somehow supposed to rectify discrimination against those same black families; allegations of corruption...

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