Until Monday night, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was the most likely challenger to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral race. Though the outspoken leader of 30,000 district employees had not yet officially announced her candidacy, the establishment of a Karen Lewis Exploratory Committee and other actions—like asking her husband John Lewis to prepare for a race—suggested that her plan to overcome longtime opponent Emanuel was well underway. In the months since a July Early & Often poll concluded that she was the only potential challenger with an advantage—nine percentage points—over Emanuel, the possibility of a run excited all Chicagoans seeking a candidate that would challenge the hallmarks of Chicago politics with a school-centered, community and equality-driven agenda.
So when Lewis was hospitalized on October 5, after experiencing a headache and discomfort, we hoped that it would not set her back on her still-unofficial campaign trail. On the evening of October 13, it was announced that Lewis would not run because she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
I am saddened first and foremost by Lewis’s health, and I join countless Chicagoans in holding this seemingly fearless leader in our thoughts as she undergoes treatment and recovery in the coming months. I am saddened too by Lewis’s temporary absence from Chicago politics and dialogue, and by the opportunities that she will miss in the coming months to deepen her imprint on Chicago’s political landscape.
But if there is anything that Lewis has taught us in her four-year tenure as the president of the CTU, it is to rally. When she and her union were dissatisfied with the 2012 teacher contract negotiations, they rallied, leading to the first Chicago teachers strike in over a quarter century. When the Chicago Public Schools threatened to close over one-hundred schools in the city, teachers, parents, children, and, of course, the always-ready-for-a-fight Lewis, rallied. And when the opportunity arose to possibly overcome Emanuel—whose approval ratings were at thirty-five percent as of August—she used the spotlight of potential candidacy to keep her agenda at the fore. I am confident that Lewis will rally. And even if a bid for mayor is not in her future, I look forward to the day when she does.