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The Mechanics
« Chicago Community Trust Releases On The Table Report How Aldermanic Candidates Might Adjust With Karen Lewis Out of the Mayoral Race »

Op-Ed Wed Oct 15 2014

What a Karen Lewis Campaign for Mayor Meant to Chicago

By Tim Meegan

For the past several months, Chicago has been electrified by the prospect of a clash between two of the strongest personalities in city politics: the brash, business-first mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the outspoken, social justice-oriented union president Karen Lewis. For spectators in the media, and in the city's neighborhoods, the clash between these two contenders, both bold in presentation and opposing in ideology, promised to be the electoral matchup of a generation.

But Monday's announcement by Lewis's team showed that this contest is not to be. Lewis, who has flirted with a formal announcement and has been recently beset by serious health concerns, declared what many of late had feared: that the fiery labor leader won't be throwing her red CTU cap into the race.

While it is unfortunate not to see Karen Lewis take on Rahm Emanuel's agenda, it is up to the people of Chicago to take the message of social justice to City Council. I hope Karen takes the time she needs to recover, and I look forward to her rejoining us in this fight.

No matter who you talk to, the prospect of Karen Lewis running for mayor elicited strong reactions. For some, Lewis' confrontational persona is off-putting. For others she represents the reinvigoration of the labor movement and is the face of resistance to privatization policies, mayoral control, and the attack on working families in Chicago.

To be sure, Lewis was not tailor-made for the media as a political candidate. She is a teacher, twice elected by the rank and file of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), who understood the necessity of a fighting union that stands up to school closings and the privatization of education. The 2010 election of the CORE caucus, to which Lewis belongs, represents a paradigm shift from a top-down, service-oriented union to a bottom-up, rank-and-file movement based on social justice principles.

What solidified CORE's control of the CTU and made Lewis a folk hero in Chicago was the 2012 teachers' strike. The significance of the CTU strike was that just months before the presidential elections, in the president's home town, Karen Lewis and the CTU brought one of the most powerful and well-connected politicians in the country to his knees.

Since that time, Mayor Emanuel has closed 50 schools on the South and West sides while opening more selective enrollment schools on the North side. He has slashed funding for neighborhood public schools while opening dozens of new charters. And he has continued to slash public services such as libraries, parks, and mental health clinics at the same time the city has funneled tax dollars into private hands through TIF subsidies for expensive projects such as hotels and a private university's basketball arena.

We live in a time where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, Democrats and Republicans look more and more alike, corporations are regarded as people, and politicians may receive unlimited financial contributions. Democracy itself is threatened as big money has come to dominate politics; just look at Rahm's $8 million campaign war chest, funded by the nation's 1%.

These converging trends have produced a city in which it's increasingly difficult to get by.

For Chicago's working families, our quality of life depends on addressing poverty and income inequality, not exacerbating it. It depends on addressing the waning funding and lack of democratic decision-making in Chicago's schools. And it depends on addressing issues of racial and social justice, and in rectifying the city's short-sighted attempt to shore up budgets through privatizing the city's assets rather than through taxing the wealthy.

We need a Chicago that values fairness and an equitable distribution of resources. A Chicago that understands you can't simply arrest your way out of crime. A Chicago that puts the working class before the investor class and supports neighborhoods over downtown development. A Chicago that demands the wealthy pay their fair share and recognizes that all children, regardless of which side of town they're on, are equal residents of our city. These are the values that captured Chicago's political imagination when Karen was in the mix--and continue to underlie the excitement surrounding the 2015 city elections. For the first time in a very long time, it seems that another Chicago is, still, possible.


Tim Meegan is a national board certified teacher at Roosevelt High School and an independent candidate for 33rd ward alderman.

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Bruce / October 15, 2014 1:11 PM

Karen Lewis, no thank you. She would be a disaster if elected, which now looks unlikely. Jobs and taxpayers would flee in drives and any possibility of economic growth would be stymied. Give me Rahm any day of the week

Erik / October 15, 2014 11:28 PM

We will still win.

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