Pro-Rahm group tells Karen Lewis to choose: Mayor’s race or CTU

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A group that has supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the past on Tuesday called on Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to make a choice: Declare candidacy for mayor or lead in negotiating the next teachers contract.

Democrats for Education Reform — Illinois called on Lewis to decide by the end of the week, saying otherwise she runs into a conflict of interest.

It’s a request that the teacher’s union called “ridiculous.”

Lewis has launched an exploratory committee, filed papers with Illinois State Board of Elections, loaned herself $40,000 and is circulating petitions for mayor. However, the fiery union leader who was the architect behind the 2012 Chicago teachersstrike has not declared her candidacy. Still, as CTU president, Lewis would be chief negotiator in the next contract talks.

And she’d be negotiating with the man she might run against.

“With a $40,000 contribution to her mayoral campaign, President Lewis has made it clear she is running for mayor, but she has also said that she will force negotiations over a new teachers contract this year,” DFER-IL State Director Rebeca Nieves-Huffman said in a statement. “Doing both would present nothing short of a conflict of interest. Chicagoans won’t know whether President Lewis is representing her members, her political interests, or if she’d use the negotiations merely as an extension of her campaign. If Karen Lewis truly cares about representing the interests of all Chicagoans, she should step down from her role as head of the CTU as she pursues a campaign for mayor.”

In 2012, the Education Reform Now Advocacy paid for ads supporting Emanuel’s position following the teachers strike. Education Reform Now is part of Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, a private, pro-charter group founded by New York hedge fund advisers, many of whom also serve on boards of charter schools.

For its part, CTU said it doesn’t see a problem with a potential mayoral hopeful engaged in contract talks.

“The lead in our contract talks will come from rank-and-file educators who work tirelessly to provide our students with the education they deserve. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is just one voice,” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. “DFER’s request is off-putting in that this group has yet to ask Mayor Emanuel to remove himself from all contract talks, ongoing financial negotiations and his other fiduciary responsibilities while he is seeking re-election. Such an ‘ask’ of President Lewis is equally ridiculous. CTU-Board of Education negotiations have not even started yet—we are still in the process of collecting contract proposals from our members and meeting with neighborhood groups about what we need for our schools.”

Lewis’ exploratory committee similarly said there was no conflict.

“Karen has always advocated for the educational well-being of the students of Chicago,” Emma Tai, Lewis exploratory campaign spokeswoman said in a statement. “Her ideas about education are formed by over twenty years in the classroom—and over 70 percent ofChicagoansagree with her about school-related issues.Should she decide to become a candidate for mayor, she will continue to be the same advocate for educators, parents and students and that she’s always been.”

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