The Chicago Teachers Union took its share of credit for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term Tuesday.
Former CTU President Karen Lewis has been a longtime critic of the mayor’s education policies, and even came very close to running against him in 2015, until she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said it was Lewis’ “courage” that “led the way for a political revolt” and “ultimately led to Rahm’s political undoing.”
Lewis could not be reached for comment, Sharkey said, but had expressed continued distaste for Rahm the day before.
“Rahm came in like a wrecking ball, but he couldn’t wreck our love for the schools,” Sharkey said. “He couldn’t make us budge from our defense for the schools and the city. This union, the CTU, followed Karen Lewis into battle, and today we’ve won.”
Sharkey berated Emanuel for emphasizing rising test scores over meeting students’ needs and for closing a record 50 elementary schools. He called out “Mayor 1 Percent” for catering to the needs of the wealthy and ignoring “black and brown” communities.
Disagreement over these policies led the CTU to strike in 2012 for seven days, fighting for better pay and benefits along with better protections for teachers who lost their jobs from school closures. They also asked for a reduction in high-stakes testing for students, and emphasized the necessity of art, music and gym programs — and air-conditioned classrooms. The strike culminated in a double-digit-percentage-point salary increase for all teachers.
Another dispute arose in 2016, when CPS teachers had to work over a year without a new contract. A strike was narrowly avoided when a tentative agreement between the district and the union was struck minutes before a late-night deadline.
The mayor’s decision to step down was only mildly surprising to Sharkey, who said resentment of Rahm has been long-growing in the city.
“Maybe it’s different down in Emerald City, in the gleaming downtown, but out in the neighborhoods … in the working class parts of this city, this is not a popular mayor,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said the CTU would only back a candidate that supports an elected school board, is committed to raising revenue for schools and will work towards raising school standards across the city.
All current candidates are being evaluated, but Sharkey said, so far, he’s unimpressed.
“We can do better, Chicago,” he said. “We can have people who are real champions for progressive revenue, for public schools, and who have a commitment to democracy.”