Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis stoked more talk about a possible mayoral candidacy after receiving a rousing ovation from Austin residents and clergy Aug. 12 at the LEADER’s Network’s monthly meeting.
Lewis was the invited guest of the Austin-based organization of West Side pastors. Attendees of the Columbus Park Refectory event also included community activists and CTU members.
About three dozen people attended, with Lewis invited to speak about education.
While her remarks overall were wide-raging, Lewis took a direct swing at some of the educational reforms championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and also President Barack Obama.
Lewis criticized what she called the “hyper-competitiveness of many status quo educational programs,” such as Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.
The roughly $4 billion project awards funding to select school district across the country based on their compliance with the Common Core Standards being implemented in Illinois and other states.
“I think it is important for us to go for the gold, but I think it is wrong for us to diminish the silver and the bronze, because those are huge achievements too,” Lewis said. “My concern is that in our individualistic culture that we’ve developed right now, we’re in this winner-take-all mentality. That’s why I don’t like Race to the Top. In Race to the Top, there are winners and there are losers.”
Lewis also stated her own political philosophy concerning Progressivism.
“People in our community, by and large, have a progressive bent, because we have had to take care of one another,” she said. “We have been told by people who believe in individualism — I got mine; government didn’t do anything for me. I’ve heard that a million times. The problem with that is it is not true. And it leads to deterioration.”
Lewis’s comments drew chants of “Run Karen Run” among the crowd.
“We have to change the political landscape in this city, in this state and in this country,” she said, adding that the likelihood of her running is “50-50” after being asked about that prospect from the crowd.
She said that while contemplating a potential run, she plans to attend more meetings like this one with “people who are the real experts about what’s going on in their community.”
When asked how she would compete with Emanuel’s $14 million campaign war chest, Lewis estimated that she’ll likely need around $7-10 million, but she downplayed the financial factor, saying “money doesn’t vote.”
“You can always get money. You can always get people, but you can’t always get time,” she said. “My question is, ‘Is this our time?'”
Lewis’s comments and views drew support by many in attendance.
“There needs to be a new narrative, not just coming from our politicians but from the grassroots on up, said Rev. Cy Fields, president of The LEADER’s Network. “I was so inspired [by Lewis’s comments]. We need somebody with some compassion, some love and some common sense too.”
To Lewis directly, Fields said: “We believe in callings and sometimes we’re called for such a time as this. As you continue to think about [running for mayor], know there’s a whole lot of people praying about it. Stay in the race.”
The LEADER’s Network includes more than 20 West Side pastors, including co-chairs Rev. Ira Acree of Austin and Rev. Marshall Hatch of WestGarfieldPark. Newly-announced 29th Ward aldermanic candidate Deborah Williams is an administrator for the organization.
Former 29th Ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers, who’s now a political consultant, also spoke at the Aug. 12, event about the basics of running a political campaign. He said that despite Emanuel’s bad poll ratings among the black community, if the votes were counted that day, Emanuel would be reelected.
He added that outside of Lewis, there isn’t a prospective challenger to Emanuel with “all of the right ingredients,” such as financing, name recognition and a record of achievement.
According to a recent Chicago Tribune poll, Emanuel’s job approval rating has fallen to 35 percent, down 15 percent from this time a year ago. In addition, a recent Chicago Sun-Times poll shows Lewis leading the mayor by as many as nine points.
But Carothers warned that there are other dynamics to consider before running.
“My polling tells me that he has very high unfavorables in the African-American community; I’ve had two done. But if you don’t have a very credible challenger, then his strength goes up. He might not win as big, but he can still win.”
Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org