Former Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis, died yesterday. The fiery and outspoken CTU leader was most known for leading the first teachers’ strike in over 25 years during Rahm Emmanuel’s tenure as mayor. The two often clashed in public. She planned to challenge him in the 2015 mayoral election. A brain cancer diagnosis derailed those plans in October 2014. Emmanuel tweeted yesterday, “Karen Lewis was a tough and tireless champion for public education and for Chicago’s children, one who was never afraid to fight for what she believed in.”
Mayor Lightfoot also spoke about her legacy at a news conference yesterday, saying, “I think the legacy of Karen Lewis will live on and resonate in our city for a long time to come, and rightfully so.”
Elected in 2010 to lead CTU, Karen Lewis spent her time as president working to improve public schools’ and education while supporting over 30,000 teachers.
Senator Bernie Sanders also sent his thoughts via a tweet saying, ” Jane and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Karen Lewis. She lived her life on the front line of the struggle for justice in education, and to honor her memory; we must recommit ourselves to building the fairer future students and families deserve”.
In a statement, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said, our city has lost a great voice. “Karen Lewis was one of the most powerful and prolific voices in public education, advocating for students, their families, and the communities in which they live,” Gadlin said. “As her spokeswoman, I cannot tell you how inspired I was by her leadership as well as her vulnerability as she navigated the treacherous terrain of Chicago politics.”
Lt. Governor, Juliana Stratton also sent her condolences saying, “Today we mourn the loss of a dynamic woman who had an amazing impact on the education of Chicago school children and the people who dedicate their lives to teaching them. Karen Lewis led the Chicago Teachers Union with brilliance, grit, love, and style. She often found herself in rooms and spaces where she was the only woman and person of color, and she never failed to bring her authentic self to the table where decisions were made. I learned from Karen Lewis that when you find yourself in these rooms and spaces, you never dim your light to make others feel comfortable. My heartfelt condolences to her loved ones and the CTU family. May she rest in power”.
After suffering another stroke in 2017, she retired but remained a strong advocate for teachers and an opponent of charter schools.
She is survived by her husband, John Lewis.
Interim Managing Editor Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living on the southside of Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.