The adoring crowd that welcomed Karen Lewis to the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall on Tuesday gave the first of her public “Conversations with Karen” the feel of a Chicago Teachers Union rally.
That’s probably because it was a CTU production start to finish — arranged and publicized by the union’s organizing staff in support of rank-and-file members from the neighborhood.
The union even rented out the hall and paid former television anchor Walter Jacobson to moderate, though nobody needed to offer any incentives to the teachers who brought family and friends to encourage Lewis to run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Long before the audience serenaded her off stage to the chant of “Run, Karen, Run,” it occurred to me a Lewis candidacy has something going for it that could help make up for an expected multi-million fund-raising deficit.
In the teachers union and its 30,000 members, Lewis would begin a mayoral campaign with a built-in field organization of energized activists capable of reaching across racial lines into every corner of the city, where they already live and work.
These same CTU members followed Lewis into battle once previously in the 2012 teachers strike and emerged with a sense of empowerment that their effort had paid off. That makes them stronger than many other unions.
Just as impressively, they managed to keep the public and CPS parents mostly on their side during the strike, which took some doing and therefore some know-how about reaching beyond their own ranks.
In a mayoral race, those teachers would be taking on the same enemy in Emanuel who helped motivate them into action two years ago, possibly bringing a sense of unfinished business to the task.
As if they needed any reminder, Lewis on Tuesday recalled Emanuel’s oft-repeated mantra that in their previous contract, teachers got raises while ‘kids got the shaft.”
More than two years later, that one still rankles teachers, as evidenced by the grumbling and hissing Lewis was able to elicit.
Before it’s all over, however, Lewis’ teachers union support could prove a two-edged sword in a campaign against Emanuel.