Lightfoot condemned as ‘name-calling ... bad boss’ who can’t get along with anybody — not just CTU

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates wouldn’t say if she’ll challenge Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whom she has said is on a “kamikaze mission to destroy” Chicago Public Schools. But she offered a blistering critique of Lightfoot’s tenure.

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CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is a “micro-managing,” “name-calling” “bad boss” who can’t get along with anybody — not just the Chicago Teachers Union, the union’s fiery vice president said Thursday.

Stacy Davis Gates said she is singularly focused on, as she put it, “what’s right in front of my face.” That is, getting through the 2022 school year and re-electing Democratic legislative leaders, rank-and-file lawmakers and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whom she praised as the first line of defense for her members during the pandemic.

Under repeated questioning, Davis Gates refused to say whether she would challenge Lightfoot, a rookie mayor she has accused of being on a “kamikaze mission to destroy” Chicago Public Schools.

But she laid the groundwork for a campaign — by herself or a candidate of the CTU’s choosing — with her blistering critique of Lightfoot’s tumultuous tenure, combative personality and micro-managing style.

“It’s not just her relationship or lack thereof with our membership. It’s also the lack of partnership that she has with rank-and-file law enforcement. It is also the lack of partnership she has with all of Cook County government — from the board president to the state’s attorney to the chief judge. It’s the lack of relationship she has with the governor and the senate president,” Davis Gates said.

“There are, like, a mile-long list of individuals, institutions, parties in this city who have been categorized by her as an opponent or an enemy in a way that makes it very difficult to partner, to lead and to do right by the residents of this city.”

Lightfoot dismissed the rebuke as beneath her and “not worthy of any kind of response.”

“This isn’t junior high school. We’re talking about very serious issues involving the future of our children in Chicago Public Schools,” the mayor said.

“I will not allow anybody to politicize that issue. And I’m certainly not gonna let somebody drag me into a he-said, she-said, juvenile name-calling fight.”

Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students protest outside the CPS headquarters in the Loop on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 during a district-wide walkout to demand Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez to include them in the conversation about COVID-19 safety in schools.

Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students protest outside the CPS headquarters in the Loop last week during a district-wide walkout to demand Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez to include them in the conversation about COVID-19 safety in schools.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The mayor noted there are 40 unions representing Chicago employees and she has “productive and professional relations with very single one except two”: the CTU and Fraternal Order of Police.

Last week, CTU members voted to end the latest in seemingly endless series of stand-offs with Lightfoot’s City Hall.

By a 56% vote — close by CTU standards — the House of Delegates voted to return to in-person teaching with no guarantee its members would be paid for the days they were locked out.

The hard-fought agreement included expanded COVID-19 testing and contact tracing and better masks for students and staff. But it did not include the opt-out testing the CTU had demanded.

Rank-and-file teachers wanted more than a few masks.

Unlike the 11-day strike in 2019 that saw Lightfoot cave and the CTU get the better end of the deal, some teachers came away feeling like the stand they took wasn’t worth it. That the mayor stood her ground and got the better end of the deal.

On Thursday, Davis Gates pushed back.

She argued the “righteous” and “palpable anger” many members feel is directed toward a mayor who has “shunned” them, “called them names” and ignored their complaints about school safety and the lack of student and staff support.

“We have a bad boss in this city. It’s a boss who refuses to listen and engage with real people. You cannot dictate. You cannot name-call and expect people to feel supported and want to continue to do the work,” Davis Gates said.

Three rounds of increasingly contentious negotiations with City Hall have showcased Lightfoot’s steadfast refusal to “empower her team.” She won’t allow them to forge an “agreement that makes sense.” They can only “say no,” Davis Gates said.

“The only time that we see movement or hear words like ‘yes’ is when our members take votes or move into some sort of aggressive action. That’s not a sustainable way of running a school district. It’s not a sustainable way of administering a city budget, administering public safety, administering education,” the CTU vice-president said.

Davis Gates noted Oak Park public schools and even the University of Chicago Lab School, where former Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent his children, have opt-out testing for COVID-19.

Why, then, did the CTU agree to a deal that tests students only if their parents opt-in?

“You can’t get a mayor who is ideologically opposed to a practice she calls `morally repugnant’ to say yes. We would still be locked out. That’s the intractability that we’re dealing with,” Davis Gates said.

“If we were gonna plant our flag on that one, then we would still be out.”

Whether or not Davis Gates enters the 2023 mayoral race, one thing seems certain: Neither former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan nor vanquished mayoral challenger Paul Vallas have a chance of winning the union’s support.

Both are former CEO’s of CPS whose “over-use of [school] closures and turn-arounds,” Davis Gates said, “de-stabilized entire neighborhoods.”

Vallas fired back, saying he didn’t close any schools while he was CEO and had a good relationship with the union that led to no work stoppages during his tenure.

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