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Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis Has Pulled Out Of The Race For mayor, She Has A Brain Tumor

Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis Has Pulled Out Of The Race For mayor, She Has A Brain Tumor


Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who just pulled out of mayoral contention, is suffering from a cancerous brain tumor that was diagnosed shortly after she experienced a severe headache last week.

As a result, Lewis underwent a five-hour surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she is scheduled to undergo a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, according to a source close to Lewis.

The tumor had nothing to do with her weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Lewis has wanted Mayor Rahm Emanuel gone practically since he took office, but she will not be the one to unseat him in February, the head of her mayoral exploratory committee said Monday.

The feisty 61-year-old CTU leader will not run for mayor, Jay Travis, the head of

her mayoral exploratory committee said in a statement Monday.

“Karen Lewis has decided to not pursue a mayoral bid,” Travis said. “Yet she charges us to continue fighting for strong neighborhood schools, safe communities and good jobs for everyone.

“The tens of thousands of signatures collected for Karen confirm what the polls have already said: Chicagoans from Beverly to Uptown want to feel safe in their neighborhoods; they want an elected representative school board; and they want political leadership at every level that is responsive and responsible.”

Emanuel issued a statement, saying he would keep Lewis in his prayers.

“I have always respected and admired Karen’s willingness to step up and be part of the conversation about our city’s future, but nothing is more important than a person’s health,” the mayor said. “Along with all Chicagoans, I will keep Karen and her family in our thoughts and prayers, and we look forward to seeing her on her feet very soon.”

Ald Bob Fioretti, who has already kicked off his candidacy, issued a statement, held a news conference and sent out a fund-raising appeal in the hours after Lewis’ announcement.

“Today my friend Karen made a decision not to run for mayor of Chicago,” he wrote in an email seeking donations Monday night. “I have the pleasure of calling her a friend, and I join many across this city in praying for her health today.”

The Chicago Teachers Union, which remains tight-lipped about Lewis’ medical condition, already handed Lewis’ duties as union president to Vice President Jesse Sharkey which he would retain “until she’s recovered.”

In a tense and terse press conference Thursday, Sharkey said that Lewis was “recovering well” from surgery.

“I visited Karen and spoke with her this morning,” he said. “She was both alert and comfortable.”

Until she was hospitalized on Oct. 5, Lewis was all but certain to challenge Emanuel.

After County Board President Toni Preckwinkle bowed out, Lewis persuaded her husband, John Lewis, who had looked forward to their retirement together, to go along with the stress and scrutiny of a mayoral campaign.

Her departure from the race leaves Fioretti (2nd) as the primary challenger to a mayor whose plummeting poll numbers make him vulnerable.

Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t spoken to Lewis since she had surgery last week, but the governor said the two exchanged some kind words.

“I talked to her before, last week, and I told her we love her. I wanted to make sure she knows that,” Quinn said on Monday, hours before Lewis’ campaign ended.

Since they last spoke, Quinn said: “I already left a couple of messages for her. You know, anytime somebody has a health challenge you want to hang with them, you know, pray for them. She’s an authentic person. Genuine. Cares about kids.”

Quinn would not elaborate on her condition.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I know some things about her health that she told me but that was in confidence,” Quinn said. “So, we wished her very well. The thing I like about Karen is her vitality … She’s full of life.”

Lewis has locked horns with Emanuel since he was elected mayor, but she didn’t emerge as a serious electoral rival until July, when an exclusive Early & Often Poll found she could give Emanuel a run for his money.

Lewis has locked horns with Emanuel since he was elected mayor, but she didn’t emerge as a serious electoral rival until July, when an exclusive Early & Often Poll found she could give Emanuel a run for his money.

Lewis was leading Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent with 18 percent of the likely voters undecided in the automated poll, which was conducted by We Ask America.

The poll also suggested Preckwinkle was an even more formidable challenger, trouncing the mayor by a stunning 24 points.

Preckwinkle dominated with 55 percent of those surveyed. Emanuel notched just under 31 percent.

Emanuel’s camp initially derided the results as “laughable.”

But no one was laughing days later when coverage of the poll quickly exploded locally and nationally creating a “volume, intensity” and “frequency” of questions that Preckwinkle said finally propelled her to end months of speculation.

“I’m not heartbroken,” Preckwinkle told reporters at the time. “It was a decision that was clear to me for some time that I needed to make and, as I said, the Sun-Times basically forced my hand.

“If they hadn’t published those poll results, I don’t think the questions would have been of the same volume, intensity, frequency, whatever. But given the poll results, I think it was going to be hard to get people to focus on anything else we were doing, because the questions would all be about the mayor’s race.”

At the time, Lewis said Preckwinkle’s decision “changes the playing field.”

Lewis immediately spoke of forming an exploratory committee, although she didn’t actually create one until mid-August.

She started circulating nominating petitions, lent herself $40,000 and travelled across the city on a “listening tour” with voters in different neighborhoods.

But, Monday’s announcement slammed the door on that mayoral campaign.

As an anti-Emanuel tag team, Fioretti and Lewis stood a strong chance of holding the mayor under the 50 percent-plus-one that he needs to avoid a run-off.

But at a hastily convened news conference Monday evening, Fioretti insisted that Emanuel would have been booted out in the first round in February, leaving Lewis and Fioretti squaring off in an April runoff.

“I’ve always said: we can beat Rahm the first time around by talking about issues, by talking about solutions and going out and reaching all the Chicagoans across this city,” Fioretti said. “It’s not about me, it’s about a movement in terms of what we need to do.”

Without Lewis, Emanuel and his $9 million-plus campaign warchest could wrap it up in Round One.

That has some black political activists in a desperate search for another high-profile African-American challenger.

“We’ve got to find somebody to put up a viable fight. There has to be another person in the race. We can’t let this man get a second term. If he does, he’ll get entrenched like [former Mayor Richard M.] Daley,” political consultant Delmarie Cobb told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.

But, she said, “Other than Toni Preckwinkle, there is nobody. Our bench is so unbelievably thin.”

Preckwinkle was asked last week about the possibility of changing her mind and running for mayor.

She pegged the chances as ranging between “slim and none.”

On Monday, Preckwinkle’s political consultant Ken Snyder slammed the door again.

Asked if Preckwinkle would reconsider, Snyder said, “No—for all the reasons she already said. She feels like she has unfinished business at the county and she’s focused on that.”

And what would that mean to black voters who helped put the mayor in office on the strength of President Barack Obama’s endorsement, but abandoned him in droves after Emanuel closed a record 50 public schools, most of them on the South and West Sides?

“Maybe [they] stay home,” Snyder said.

At Saturday’s Operation PUSH meeting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. sounded like he had not given up hope for a Preckwinkle candidacy.

Jackson introduced Preckwinkle as the next mayor of Chicago before smiling and correcting himself. The County Board president, who is running for re-election unopposed, pretended that she didn’t hear it and stared straight ahead.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose South Side ward is home to scores of Chicago teachers, said Monday he’s less concerned about where the black vote will go now that Lewis is out of the race.

He’s more concerned about getting black voters to show up at the polls — both on Nov. 4 and on Feb. 24.

“I’m more depressed about the historical low turnout. I want people to come out and vote and be engaged and not sit on the sidelines and let things happen to them,” Sawyer said.

“In this city, we can do almost anything if we come out to vote but we’re not doing it.  Look at what it takes to get people out to vote in large numbers. It shouldn’t be based on a candidate. It should be based on our interests. We’re still interested in better schools and safer streets. The candidate should not be the focus. It may be the incumbent is the candidate. Maybe Bob Fioretti is the candidate. But, it’s up to the citizenry to stand up and come out to vote.”

Ald. Will Burns (4th), one of Emanuel’s staunchest supporters in the African-American community, argued that the mayor still has the chance to turn things around among black voters who helped put him in office.

“African-American voters are rational voters. If he can make a case to black voters, they’ll vote for him just as they will vote  for any candidate who can make that case,” Burns said.

“It takes outlining the things the administration has done to make improvements to the lives of everyday Chicagoans, including black Americans. The administration has to be very clear in outlining those things: raising the minimum wage, creating affordable housing, making [free] City Colleges available to kids with a B-average, making it easier for kids from CPS to enter the Chicago Fire Department.”

Without Lewis in the race, Burns said, “I don’t know what happens next. It’s too early to tell. We don’t know what the field looks like or who will be on the ballot. There’s a long time to go between now and Nov. 24 [the deadline for filing.] The politics in this city are fluid and anything can happen.”




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