By Scott Sutton
Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stopped short of announcing her candidacy for mayor during her speaking tour Tuesday night, but that didn't stop her from teasing it and toying the audience and media at her "Conversation with Karen" event in Uptown.
That’s not to say she won’t run, as it becomes clearer and clearer that a campaign for Chicago’s highest public office is more of a matter of when, not if.
“Again, this is about changing the political infrastructure,” Lewis told the community members at the Clarendon Park Community Center. “And if you’re down for that I think that you’re someone who would vote for someone like me. If I choose to run.” The last line drew a laugh from the audience and Lewis herself.
The questions Lewis fielded from the audience ranged in topics from TIFs to police presence to education reform. Although she provided few specific answers (except for needing more police and more programs for young people) the theme of the night from Lewis’s answers was more about what she dubbed “participatory democracy”.
She focused on letting people know that they need to get out and vote and get involved at every level of local government.
In essence, her rallying call seemed to be one aimed at a grassroots campaign based on discontent with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and change from the top down.
“We have to this kind of participatory democracy across the city, or we will have people that are further and further out of touch,” said Lewis.
Some members of the audience found that Lewis’s answers may have been a bit out of touch. Andy Thayer, a member of the LGBT Liberation Network and an Uptown resident of 25 years, said he didn’t agree with her stance on hiring more police.
“It’s a broader issue than that and we need to have our basics covered like jobs and education to really prevent violence and crime,” Thayer said. “You can’t separate jobs and education and violence, they all feed on each other.”
Another community member wondered about Lewis’s conviction in helping to sort out TIF issues in Uptown, an area that has seen large amounts of gentrification over the last few years.
“This gym is a perfect example,” said local artist and One North Side member Jeffrey Littleton while he pointed to the yellowed floor. “Whenever it rains in here we get water and we need $6 million to get this place up to code. But instead that TIF money went to a luxury condo around the corner. Why couldn’t she give a straight up answer on how she would help fix the TIF issue?”
Lewis has already sunk $40,000 of her own money into a campaign fund, which has a total of $43,000. Compare that to Emanuel’s $8.3 million current campaign fund.
Then again, she hasn’t even declared for the race yet.
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