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Karen Lewis Salary, Vacation Homes Called Into Question By Sun-Times

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 13, 2014 3:50PM

Photo courtesy Chicago Teachers Union Local 1.

The first real attack against Karen Lewis’ prospective mayoral campaign was published in today’s Sun-Times.

The expose peeking at Lewis’ income and an ownership stake in three homes has critics of the Chicago Teachers Union president shouting, “well look who’s a member of the bourgeoisie!” Lewis draws a combined income of $235,953 between her CTU salary ($136,890, plus $18,687 in “nontaxable benefits") and her position as executive vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers ($64,157, plus $16,039 in “other compensation”). Lewis also has ownership stakes in a vacation condo in Hawaii and a home in southwestern Michigan’s “Harbor Country,” where Mayor Rahm Emanuel also owns a vacation property.

The inference—one of many made in the piece from reporters Dan Mihalapoulos and Chris Fusco—is how can Lewis rail against the wealthy when she’s drawing a handsome salary herself. These revelations are red herrings. Lewis promised when she was first elected CTU president in 2010 she would make more than the highest paid teacher in the union. Her CTU salary is based on a 50 hour work week, but Lewis told the Sun-Times:

“I wish I were working 50 hours,” Lewis said. “My day usually starts around 7 in the morning, and, if I’m lucky, I’m home by 10 at night. I work really long hours.”

This is something people don’t appreciate about elected officials, both public and in organized labor. It’s a terrible lifestyle. You give up your family, your health, your interests and your time for an organization that you (usually) believe in. The salary looks good on paper, but the hours and expenses toward personal services like laundry, cooking, etc., means Lewis is probably earning as much as the highest paid teacher in the union, if not a little less.

The article also comes as Lewis, fresh from a Hawaiian vacation, told media her odds of running for mayor are currently “50-50” and it could be months before she makes a final decision. If a prospective showdown between Lewis and Emanuel becomes a forum over what they earn, that becomes one more reason for Lewis not to run.

Emanuel campaigned for mayor three years ago on vague promises of Building a New Chicago, a slogan of which we’re reminded daily as we pass stalled infrastructure projects across the city. The main question Karen Lewis needs to ask herself before she decides on a mayoral run is whether she can expand her base of support past the teachers, parents of public school students and the poor who have suffered the most as a result of Emanuel’s decisions. A seasoned challenger to Emanuel can have the mayor defending his record throughout the race and rounding up support to vote Emanuel out of office. I’m not sure Karen Lewis is that person, which would make her prospective candidacy a novelty, at least, and a distraction, at worst.