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CTU President Lewis Intends To Play Spoiler Role In Next Year's Election

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 6, 2014 1:45PM

Could Mayor Emanuel be negotiating with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis during his reelection campaign next year? (Photo credit: Justin Carlson)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis effectively said she plans to play a spoiler role in next year’s mayoral election. Speaking after a City Club of Chicago luncheon Monday Lewis said the union will most likely not accept an extension of the three year contract they negotiated with the Chicago School Board in 2012 and that negotiations on a new contract would likely take place during next year’s mayoral race.

“I’m not looking to make anybody’s election year easy at all, especially someone who doesn’t want to make our lives easy,” said Lewis. Nor should she, with the city’s actions after a new deal was reached are an indicator.

Since CTU and the School Board agreed on that contract all Emanuel, the board and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara-Byrd-Bennett have done is oversee the largest single closure of public schools in American history, target several other schools for turnaround, lay off thousands of union employees, maximize property tax levies and dip into reserve funds to balance a school budget even CPS said was unsustainable in its current makeup, cry poor about looming pension payments when they did nothing to prepare for the inevitable and demonize the union every step of the way.

Lewis and Emanuel have no love lost for each other yet the union leader indicated she could be civil if the mayor could. “If there’s a way we can have some reasonable conversation, then sure, but if not, it’s going to be contentious, absolutely, as it should,” Lewis said. “I think all elections need to be contentious, because it means people are involved and engaged in a real democratic process.”

Of course no clear candidate has emerged to challenge Emanuel in 2015 but Lewis had some praise for the politician at the top of most wish lists—Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “She'd be different,” Lewis said. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of being a mayor is about style. Clearly hers is less confrontational.” Preckwinkle has, on several occasions, ruled out a run for the Fifth Floor and said she still has pressing business with county government.

Lewis, during her luncheon with the City Club of Chicago, proposed a “LaSalle Street tax” on both buyers and sellers of futures, futures options and securities option contracts traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange as a means of alleviating the city’s looming pension problem. Lewis said the proposal could generate between $10 billion and $12 billion for Illinois’ coffers and $2 billion for the city.

“This city does not have a pension crisis,” Lewis said during her speech.” It has a leadership crisis.”

“With a billion dollar deficit the Board somehow found a way to authorize 13 new charter operations; to fund three new turnarounds with costs that could trend in upwards of $21 million; to spend $10 million for new furniture; to announce new air conditioning for every school; to unveil surprise plans for a $60 million Barak Obama High School on the North Side in honor of a South Side trailblazer; and the list goes on and on and on. But, CPS and the mayor forgot to tell people that their billion-dollar deficit included the $681 million pension payment that was slated for 2014. And they forgot to mention their surplus. (This year the payment is about $685 million.) “But then again, the Board and City Hall forget to tell us a lot of things—like how charter schools fair no better than neighborhood schools. In many cases they fair worse. How these operations are in Springfield using taxpayer money and private donations to fight legislation that would hold them accountable and put them under the complete authority of the same Board of Education as the rest of us. How is it in 2014, that we still have a major school district in this country with separate and unequal policies? “The time is coming where charters cannot dodge accountability; and when their educational employees will have to unionize in order to secure their benefits and protect the integrity of their classrooms. And, CTU will be right here, red shirts in hand, waiting for them when they do.”