Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Thursday refused to close the door on a run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but said it could be months before she decides.
Lewis, just back from vacation, said she expects to begin working toward collecting the 12,500 valid signatures required to run for mayor “on or around” Aug. 26, when potential mayoral candidates can start circulating petitions, but that she will not consider filing the paperwork with the state election board to create a campaign committee until sometime after that.
“I think it's important to see where the numbers are (on the petitions), how many people want to get involved and what the reaction is before taking the step” to possibly register the campaign committee, Lewis said.
Lewis also said she would need to put in place campaign leadership and determine whether she can raise enough money to go toe to toe with the well-funded mayor before making a final decision.
In the meantime, Lewis said she's meeting with small groups of Chicagoans, some of whom she respects for their political acumen and others for their visions for the city's future, to try to gauge whether taking on Emanuel is the right move. She said she is considering whether it's the right thing for her family and the realities of the political landscape as she weighs a final decision.
Lewis put the chances she will take on Emanuel at “50-50.”
“The decision has to be made based on evidence,” Lewis told Tribune columnist John Kass and radio partner Lauren Cohn on WLS-AM 890 during a radio interview earlier Thursday. “You want to have things in place. I'm a school teacher. We plan. That lesson plan isn't done yet.”
Lewis has risen to the top of the list of potential challengers in part because of her willingness to criticize Emanuel's policies and her built-in base of support leading the teachers union. There's little downside for her as she talks about possibly running for mayor: she's free to take swipes at the mayor from a bigger platform, which helps her popularity with many of her union members.
During the radio interview, she walked a fine line in talking about an agreement Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn announced this week to have 40 state troopers join Chicago police officers in searching for fugitives in a handful of high-crime city neighborhoods. She suggested it's good that the governor — who is seeking re-election — responded to the request for help, but also said it indicated that perhaps the mayor is “desperate” and out of ideas on crime.
“I think militarizing the police force doesn't necessarily help unless there's a plan around it,” Lewis said. “Sending in people for more strength and more aggression doesn't necessarily move the needle.”
Lewis said the city should be hiring more police. Emanuel has favored instead increasing police overtime because it does not raise the city's pension obligations. “When it comes out, (overtime) is about the same, and it doesn't really solve the problem, and you have a lot of tired, demoralized cops on the street,” she said.
Lewis did not offer specifics about how she would solve the city's financial problems except to say there is a need to “get creative around revenue.” She did note that she believes the administration is bloated.
“You've got a commissioner, you've got a deputy commissioner, you've got an assistant to the deputy commissioner, you've got an assistant to the assistant to the commissioner, and these are all people that I'm very concerned about what they're doing,” she said.
The anti-Emanuel crowd, Lewis included, had hoped Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle would be their standard bearer in the mayoral campaign. But after declining to rule out a run for months, Preckwinkle announced in July that she would not take the leap.
As Lewis mulls a run for mayor, Ald. Robert Fioretti is thinking about hiring campaign staff for his own potential mayoral run.
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