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Karen Lewis on Emanuel-Preckwinkle race: 'If Toni runs, she wins'

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is “extremely vulnerable” and would be defeated in a head-to-head race against County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Thursday.

Lewis pointed to a recent Chicago Sun-Times poll that showed only 29 percent of those surveyed and eight percent of African-Americans would support Emanuel if the election were held today.

“He can say whatever he wants. People are not buying it. This is not Karen Lewis saying Rahm Emanuel hasn’t done anything. You’ve seen his poll numbers. They are horrible for an incumbent mayor,” Lewis said Thursday while taping, “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 2 p.m. Saturday on WLS AM-890.

“He’s extremely vulnerable. … If only 29 percent of the people think he’s doing a really good job, it’s pretty bad for an incumbent mayor. In a head-to-head [race], she would take him. … I’m just looking at numbers on a head-to-head basis. … If Toni runs, she wins.”

Preckwinkle is running for re-election unopposed in November, but she has pointedly refused to rule out a race for mayor.

On Thursday, Lewis said she plans to meet with Preckwinkle on the Wednesday after the election to urge her to enter the mayor’s race after a summer-long voter registration drive that will “help her make a decision,” with fund-raising to follow.

“If Toni says yes, there will be a lot of money that will materialize. … I actually don’t think finances are the issue here. That can easily be raised,” Lewis said, when asked whether Preckwinkle could raise enough money to rival Emanuel’s $7.4 million-and-counting warchest.

“Toni has name recognition. … She is also a personality that likes making concensus and working with people. She’s a very positive person. … Toni’s not a perfect candidate. … We will still have issues around privatization and things of that nature. However, working with someone who is reasonable, working with someone who actually does want to work with you would be kind of wonderful.”

John Kupper, the mayor’s longtime political consultant, could not be reached for comment on Lewis’ remarks.

Two weeks ago, Emanuel acknowledged that he has alienated some Chicago voters with his polarizing personal style and would benefit politically from being “smoother around the edges.”

On Thursday, Lewis argued that the combativeness that some Chicago voters found appealing quickly wore thin.

“When he came in, people thought, `This is a can-do kind of guy.’ But [combativeness is] not can-do,” Lewis said.

“He immediately went to attack teachers. We had this huge stuff in the paper: `Teachers got raises. Kids got the shaft.’ There was just this relentless, nasty overture of hostility toward people who were trying to figure out what did we do wrong other than exist. [Emanuel kept saying], `Longer school day, longer school day, longer school day.’ We don’t have a problem with a longer school day as long as it’s better. But if it’s the same thing just elongated, what is the point of that?”

To say that Emanuel and Lewis have had a difficult relationship would be an understatement. Their relationship is non-existent.

The mayor started things off on the wrong foot by allegedly using the F-word during one of his earliest private meetings with Lewis.

He then attempted to run roughshod over her by raising the strike threshold and muscling through his signature plan for a longer day. The mayor’s missteps inadvertently helped Lewis garner a 90 percent strike vote that would have been unthinkable otherwise. During a massive pre-strike rally, Lewis denounced the mayor as a “liar and a bully.”

On Sept. 10, 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years, fueled by their anger against a mayor who stripped them of a previously negotiated 4 percent pay raise and offered schools and teachers extra money to waive the teachers contract and immediately implement his longer school day.

The strike damaged Chicago’s reputation and turned Lewis into a folk hero with the guts to fight City Hall.

Since the strike, Emanuel and Lewis have gone toe-to-toe on the mayor’s plan to close nearly 50 schools, a battle the mayor won.

Lewis announced an aggressive campaign to register 100,000 new voters by 2015, recruit and train candidates for mayor and alderman and help bankroll their campaigns.

She also used a City Club speech to denounce the mayor’s “rich white friends” whom, she claims, want to privatize public education.

On the one-year anniversary of the teachers strike, Emanuel was asked to assess his relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union. He talked about the get well note that he had sent to Lewis as an olive branch.

“When Karen was ill, I sent her a note to say, `I wish you well. I wish you a happy, healthy new year as well’ and I look forward, when she feels better, to us actually having a conversation,” Emanuel said then.

On Thursday, Lewis said the face-to-face conversation never happened. In fact, she said, she hasn’t talked to the mayor since 2011.

“What would I have to talk to him about?” she said.

Lewis said she has a “great working relationship” with the Chicago Public Schools, but the mayor gets in the way of “very important progress” being made.

“He hears something. He tells them. They have to implement it. That’s why we have to have an elected, representative school board so we can take one person’s individual power away because he’s misused it and abused it,” she said.