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CTU President Karen Lewis 'trying to resume some of her duties'

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Thursday, in her first interview since being hospitalized for a brain tumor that halted her plans to run for mayor, that she’s eager to campaign for mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — but isn’t quite ready.

In a rare appearance since her October diagnosis, Lewis had stepped out Wednesday night to introduce Garcia at the union’s House of Delegates meeting. She said by telephone Thursday that she’s not yet campaigning for the Cook County commissioner set to take on Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I will be, but not right now,” Lewis said. “It won’t be behind the scenes. I’ll be out front.”

The union leader, who stepped down temporarily in October to recuperate, said she also took care of some paperwork Monday at the union’s Merchandise Mart headquarters and attended an executive board meeting.

“I’m not cleared by my doctors to go back to work,” Lewis said. “I came in to get some stuff done.”

Lewis, 61, said she has no prognosis for her cancerous brain tumor, which was removed in October — and no appetite, either — but “everyone says I’m doing fine. I think I’m doing fine.”

Meanwhile, she said she has been watching “a lot of TV, really interesting stuff too,” such as “American Experience” documentaries on PBS.

Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin confirmed that Lewis was “not fully back. . . . She’s trying to resume some of her duties but hasn’t quite done that yet.”

Lewis had long called Emanuel a “one-term mayor,” accusing him of privatizing public schools at the expense of ordinary Chicagoans, but when her efforts to find a challenger struck out, she considered taking on the mayor with millions of campaign dollars herself.

She had been raising money and circulating nominating petitions for a bid to oust Emanuel when, in early October, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her exploratory campaign committee folded within days, and she stepped down temporarily as CTU president to recuperate, leaving day-to-day union business in the hands of vice president Jesse Sharkey.

Lewis since has kept a fairly low public profile.

In mid-October, she released a statement: “While I’m in this fight, please know I’ll continue to stand for the city we love and deserve; and look forward to joining you again on the battlefield.”

When Garcia announced his candidacy, she endorsed him in a videotaped statement played at the CTU’s Legislators and Educators Appreciation Dinner, saying that “I am convinced the city is going in the wrong direction” and that it needs “real leadership that is both accountable and accessible.”

The union put its weight behind Garcia in Lewis’ absence, commissioning a survey a few weeks ago showing that Emanuel likely will face a runoff after the February primary. Nine challengers have filed nominating petitions.

That poll of 621 likely Chicago voters estimated that on a three-way ballot including Emanuel, Garcia and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Emanuel would take 33 percent of the vote, Garcia 18 and Fioretti 13. Avoiding a runoff election requires a vote total of 50 percent plus one. An Emanuel-Garcia race narrowed the difference to five points, giving Emanuel 36 percent and Garcia 31, with 30 percent of those voters undecided.