National union chief pledges $1M if Karen Lewis runs for mayor

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The head of the American Federation of Teachers says the national union is ready to spend $1 million to help Karen Lewis unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel if the Chicago Teachers Union president decides to run.

“I did say privately to Karen and at our executive council meeting that if Karen was to run, we would be all in,” AFT leader Randi Weingarten told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview Tuesday. “In a race like this, spending $1 million would not be unprecedented for the AFT.”

Weingarten said Emanuel “has shown a deep disrespect for what public education is all about.”

She compared the Chicago mayoral race to the recent election in New York City, in which organized labor helped Bill de Blasio capture the mayor’s office. In New York, Chicago and many other cities, Democrats have split sharply over education issues including teacher tenure, pensions and privately run, publicly funded charter schools.

“Look, Rahm is a particular kind of Democrat, but there are lots of Democrats who want to invest in public schools,” Weingarten said. “To run now takes a great amount of money, and too many Democrats are focused on what rich donors are saying, not what the working people are saying. I would have never called Rahm a friend of working people, not even 20 years ago.”

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Asked about Weingarten’s comments, an Emanuel campaign spokesman said, “Mayor Emanuel is pleased to have the support of a broad number of unions, who have been partners on critical issues like raising the minimum wage, immigration reform and job creation through neighborhood investments.”

Lewis has said there’s a “50-50” chance she will make her first run for public office, challenging Emanuel in the February mayoral election. If she does run, she’ll need the cash Weingarten is promising. Emanuel — one of the country’s most prolific political fund-raisers — had more than $8.3 million in cash on hand for his re-election bid as of the end of June, campaign reports show.

A recent Chicago Sun-Times poll showed Lewis with a nine-point lead over the mayor in a what-if-she-runs challenge.

Weingarten said the incumbent’s low approval ratings are due largely to “the real disdain toward public schools shown by the mayor.”

Emanuel closed a record number of schools last year and weathered a teachers’ strike in 2012.

“He has not made choices in favor of neighborhood kids who want to go to neighborhood public schools,” Weingarten said. “African-Americans and Hispanics have been disproportionately hurt by his choices.”

Lewis has made clear that if she runs, she would key in on the growing income inequality in the city. She has dismissed Emanuel as “Mayor 1%.”

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