Karen Lewis inches closer to run — crafting exploratory committee

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Karen Lewis’ potential bid for Chicago Mayor has moved beyond just a thought — it’s an “organic,” growing movement, the fiery Chicago Teachers Union president said.

Lewis revealed on Monday she already has an unofficial exploratory committee in the works, a chairperson has been named and her camp is working to have a representative in each of the city’s 77 neighborhoods.

Since an Early & Often poll released Sunday put Lewis at a 9-percentage-point advantage over Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lewis’ phone has been ringing non-stop, she said.

“They’ve been coming from all over the country,” Lewis said in an interview Monday. “Facebook is blowing up. Twitter is blowing up.”

Lewis lashed out at Emanuel camp’s initial response to the poll published by the Sun-Times political portal. An Emanuel political spokesman called the poll numbers “laughable.”

“There are a variety of ways to look at these problems, but laughable isn’t one of them,” said Lewis, the mayor’s top critic during the closing of 50 schools. “That is how people feel — that they’ve been laughed at and ignored.”

RELATED: Toni Preckwinkle rules out Mayoral run

Lewis said she’s still not made a final decision on whether to enter the contest.

But she is already thinking about strategy. That involves drilling down to the community level on resident concerns and having a representative for each of the city’s 77 official community areas.

Lewis described an ongoing effort to reach out to communities.

“It’s an organic, grass-roots movement that doesn’t have a top down organization. I think that’s unusual to so many people,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ spokeswoman, Stephanie Gadlin described it as “people-centered Democracy.”

“We’re knocking on doors, talking to people: ‘What are your concerns? What’s happening?’ It’s all part of the whole exploratory process,” Gadlin said. “An exploratory committee is in the works. The paperwork hasn’t been filed. It’s in development.”

Separately, there’s a growing progressive push in Chicago that is begging for an alternative to Emanuel. On Monday, MoveOn.org Political Action released a survey that said 85 percent of its 75,000 Chicago members wanted a “progressive challenger” to Emanuel.

Another local group, Grassroots Illinois Action, isn’t backing a particular candidate.

However, field director Abbie Illenberger said the group is building both its member and financial base in hopes to possibly boost the right candidate’s campaign. Illenberger said the group’s work is in the backdrop of Emanuel having $7 million in the bank and having a SuperPAC that has the potential to match that amount. The mayoral election is Feb. 24, 2015.

“The ability for regular, working people to run means we have to organize ourselves and do it collectively,” Illenberger said.

Despite low poll numbers both overall and with African American voters in particular, Emanuel — with $7 million in the bank — no doubt has a fund-raising advantage over any challenger. He has the ability to tap Bill or Hillary Clinton to help boost his dollars. And no doubt President Barack Obama will again campaign on behalf of his former chief of staff.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, generally considered the most formidable possible opponent to Emanuel, continues to dance around the question of whether she will run. Former Ald. Robert Shaw and William J. Kelley have announced their candidacies.

The automated Early & Often Poll found Lewis leading Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent with 18 percent of the likely voters undecided. In another match-up, Preckwinkle was beating Emanuel 55 percent to 31 percent.

In separate pairings, Emanuel was beating former Ald. Robert Shaw 47 percent to 29 percent and Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) 45 percent to 30 percent.

The automated telephone poll was conducted last Wednesday by We Ask America. It was based on a random sample of 1,037 likely voters and had an error margin of plus or minus 3.04 percentage points.

Emanuel’s camp initially dismissed the numbers as “entirely laughable.” But his political team declined to comment Monday on Lewis’ potential challenge.

Gadlin tweaked Emanuel’s camp for its first response.

“They can laugh,” she said, “laugh themselves out of office.”

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