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Yes, Chicago, Karen Lewis Is Seriously Considering Running For Mayor

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 15, 2014 3:30PM

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, seen at a rally protesting school closings in March. (Photo credit: Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist)

Karen Lewis has dabbled as a comedian in the past but her flirting with a mayoral run is no joke. Hot on the heels of a poll commissioned by the Sun-Times that shows the Chicago Teachers Union president could indeed play a spoiler role, at least, to Rahm Emanuel’s re-election plans, Lewis revealed to the Sun-Times how serious she’s considering running against Emanuel.

Lewis has established an exploratory committee and, if she does throw her hat in the ring, has a plan in place to reach out to all 77 neighborhood areas in Chicago to canvas voters and gauge what concerns them about the state of the city. Lewis calls is “an organic, grass-roots movement that doesn’t have a top-down organization. Lewis’ spokeswoman, Stephanie Gadlin, calls it “people-centered democracy.”

Lewis announced she was considering running for mayor last month, stating, “I don’t see anyone stepping up.” She’s expected to make a final decision in August and the Sun-Times poll showed her holding a nine-point advantage over Emanuel, head-to-head, if the mayoral election were to be held today. Emanuel campaign strategist Pete Giangreco called the poll “inaccurate” and “laughable” to which Lewis replied, “There are a variety of ways to look at these problems, but laughable isn’t one of them.”

“That is how people feel — that they’ve been laughed at and ignored.”

Whether Lewis can mount a realistic challenge to Emanuel remains to be seen. She is one of the few, if not the only one, to make the mayor blink during his time on office and her leadership of the teachers union, especially during the 2012 teachers strike, earned her serious political clout and national recognition. Emanuel’s popularity numbers are low but he doesn’t face a serious challenge to re-election with the February 2015 mayoral election on the horizon. Lewis’ showing in the poll could be used by another possible challenger to Emanuel to split the vote and, at the very least, force a runoff election.

Having a representative in every neighborhood area is a page from the Barack Obama playbook. Political pundits scoffed at the Obama campaign opening offices on a neighborhood level but it paid dividends in the president’s 2012 re-election by turning out votes that otherwise would have stayed at home on Election Day. Emanuel won election in 2011 with only 40 percent of registered voters and if Lewis can mobilize and encourage voters to cast ballots next year, whether for her or another candidate who isn’t the mayor, it could have Emanuel in the unusual position of actually defending his record.