Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis Explains How She and Mayor Rahm Emaunel Differ

Karen Lewis
(Getty Images)

A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed that Chicago is becoming more and more unhappy with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told Chicago Magazine that she and the mayor have more things in common than they don’t, but she sat down with the Chicago Defender to explain how the two differ.
“What sets me apart is that I think my focus and my point of view are on people and policy and how they work together,” Lewis said. “I don’t think Rahm has any kind of understanding of the lives of a lot of people that live in Chicago and I don’t think he really cares.”
Emanuel has been in office since 2011 and he can run for a second term. The next mayoral election is Feb. 25. East Garfield Park resident and community activist, Amara Enyia, former Ald. Robert Shaw of the 9th Ward and Frederick Collins, a Chicago police officer believe they have a chance of taking the mayor’s seat in the upcoming election. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) is considering running, like Lewis, who still doesn’t know when or if she’ll declare her candidacy.
Steve Mayberry, Emanuel Campaign Spokesman, said in a statement: “The mayor knows all the wisdom in the city does not reside at City Hall. He relishes working with neighbors in every part of the city on their ideas, just as he did to build, expand or improve more than 200 parks and playgrounds in the city.”
With Emanuel losing support, Lewis might have a chance. The Chicago Tribune’s poll found that Emanuel has a 35% job approval rating, which is down from the 50% he had over a year ago. The poll also found that more than half of Chicago voters, up from 40%,  are displeased with what the current mayor did for the city in his first term.
The CTU president, who first joined the Chicago Teachers Union in 1988 and has been union president since 2010, said the solution to all the problems in the city like violence and education are not easy, but she recognizes the steps that need to be taken to begin to fix them, something Emanuel isn’t doing.
If Lewis, a Chicago native, were mayor she said her top four areas of focus would be crime, education, affordable housing and jobs.
“I think all of this stuff is inextricably linked,” she said.
When it comes to the city’s violence, she said that it has gotten worse under Emanuel’s leadership.
“It has gotten worse based on his policies,” Lewis said, adding that there has been a 40% “spike” in gang activity.
“When you have a policing strategy where the people who are in place know who the players are, they can actually mitigate that so they can have the conversations with the people who are most likely to retaliate and try to stop that,” she said.
Lewis said police officers need to be on the street level more and that there are not enough resources to help them do their job.
“There’s also a huge shortage of police officers, and overtime doesn’t take the place of fresh bodies,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Emanuel doesn’t understand what the people of Chicago want and from the moment he took office, he has been on the wrong track.
“He’s always been wrong, especially on education,” she said. “He changed deep layers of City Hall with people who had institutional knowledge and he brought in a lot of very young people from outside of Chicago to fill these positions.”
“That is a recipe for disaster because you have no institutional knowledge, you have no understanding of how a city works,” Lewis said.
Mayberry said that Emanuel works with people throughout the city and that he wants to increase minimum wage to $13 an hour, as well as expand Pre-K to every child in poverty. “That’s how you move a great city forward,” Mayberry said.


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