Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis put $40,000 of her own money toward a mayoral exploration effortinhopes of signaling to donors that she should be taken seriously.
Still, Lewis, who told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday that the money was a loan, wasn’t ready to commit to actually running. When asked if it was a sign she’s made a decision to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lewis laughed.
“It’s a sign that I’m trying to raise money,” Lewis said. “People have to see that we’re trying to raise money now. We have to do all kinds of other things.”
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Lewis’ personal monetary investment comes as petition circulators have begun their work on her behalf, gathering the signatures she would need to get on the ballot.
“We had petition training on Saturday. It was a big drive — 500 people showed up, it was amazing,” she said.
Lewis noted that money was needed to get a campaign operation up and running. She has hired a communications chief, Emma Tai.
“It is absolutely an exploratory phase,” Tai said Monday. “We’re really excited about the groundswell of support from voters across the city. I think it shows a strong level of dissatisfaction with Rahm Emanuel’s track record.”
The news of Lewis’ next step came as Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he would announce his decision on running for mayor by week’s end. Fioretti has been an Emanuel criticand has accused the mayor’s allies of creating the super PAC bankrolled by a handful of business titans to “destroy” the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
If Fioretti and Lewis both were to enter the race, they could at the very least make it more difficult for Emanuel to get the 50 percent-plus-one he needs to avoid a runoff election.
“Money may not be that big of an issue in this campaign now,” Fioretti said Monday. “The reaction that we hear from the people of this city and how we have a concentrated, concerned message — it may not be that much.”
Lewis and her supporters have long said she would not win the money race against Emanuel, either. Lewis is tapping into discontent largely felt by the closing of 50 schools in mostly poor, minority neighborhoods of the city.
In July, an Early & Often poll showed the lightning-rod union leader who was the architect behind a 2012 teachers’ strike would beat Emanuel by 9 percentage points in a head-to-head contest.
The same poll also showed her doing especially well among African-American voters, carrying 51 percent of the black vote against Emanuel’s 33 percent. She also led with Hispanics, while Emanuel led with the Asian and white vote. The survey found that Fioretti trailed Emanuel in a head-to-head contest as well as trailing the mayor with minorities.
Emanuel has more than $8 million stockpiled in his campaign account, and a separate super PAC, Chicago Forward, has more than $1 million to be spent on his behalf. However, groups such as the American Federation of Teachers have said they would pump $1 million into a Lewis candidacy. Sources have told the Sun-Times that work was underway to form a super PAC to support Lewis.