Sounding like a budding superhero trying to sell her origin story, possible mayoral candidate Karen Lewis delved into her formative years Thursday night before nearly 100 people who had packed into a chicken restaurant in the Little Village neighborhood.
On Saturdays, her father would take her for rides in his raggedy old Plymouth, which she called the “Flintstone car.” She joked that if you pulled up the floor mats, you could see the pavement.
At age 7, on one of those rides, her dad told her, “You get an education, you maintain your dignity and then you fight like hell to never let anyone take that away from you.”
She painted a contrast with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who closed dozens of schools last year — and whom she might try to unseat in February’s mayoral election. She has said there is a 50 percent chance she will run.
The head of the American Federation of Teachers said this week that the national union is ready to spend $1 million to help Lewis challenge Emanuel if she decides to run.
Earlier this week, Lewis gave the first of her public “Conversations with Karen” to an adoring crowd in the Beverly neighborhood. Thursday’s crowd was no different, chanting Lewis’ name and applauding regularly. The event was hosted by the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization. Lewis was introduced by Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).
Lewis said moments with her dad, an opera and ballet lover who taught woodshop at a CPS vocational school, seeded her populist platform.
She also spoke about issues beyond the scope of education, including the minimum wage — she’s in favor of raising it — and Chicago’s pothole plague — her car needs regular realignment.
Playing fields in the city are under water after big rains, a problem you don’t see in suburban parks with proper drainage, she said.
She ribbed Emanuel for closing libraries, police stations, mental health clinics and schools.
“If you take the institutions out of the neighborhood, what are you left with? This has got to stop, and it will not stop if we continue to have the same kind of top down autocratic leadership that does not listen to the people,” Lewis said. “We are in an unsustainable death spiral if we continue this notion of subtraction.”
And on tax-increment finance district funds, she said: “It probably won’t go downtown anymore . . . it will go toward blighted areas.”
She called the budget a “moral document” that should be prioritized by the people.
“Rich guys get to have a say, too, but they don’t get to have all the say,” she said.