Teachers union vows to change political landscape after schools vote
BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters May 22, 2013 2:00PM
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. File Photo. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 24, 2013 1:57PM
The historic vote on Wednesday to shutter 50 schools has served as a rallying point for the Chicago Teachers Union as its president vows to field a challenger against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2015 re-election.
But while nine aldermen showed up at the Chicago Board of Education meeting to criticize the school closings, just one referred to Emanuel at all.
CTU President Karen Lewis said redemption for Wednesday’s vote could come only at the ballot box.
“Clearly, we have to change the political landscape in the city,” Lewis said. “We have to go back to old-style democracy.”
The union announced that it’s hosting the first in a series of training sessions Thursday for volunteers to register 100,000 new voters.
Emanuel did not hold any news conferences Wednesday, instead issuing a brief statement on the board vote through his aides. Earlier in the week, he said he “will absorb the political consequences, so our children have a better future.”
Spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor — who was criticized for being on a ski trip to Utah when the school-closings list came out in March — spent Wednesday working in his office at City Hall.
The political heat on him from the City Council appears to be weak, confined mostly to aldermen whose wards were affected by the closings. Nine of 50 council members appeared at the Board of Education meeting to criticize some or all of the mayor’s plan before the vote. Only Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) criticized Emanuel directly.
Fioretti and two of his council colleagues drew some of the day’s loudest applause when they blasted the board for allowing more privately run charter schools while the Chicago Public Schools system shrinks.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said it was “somewhat disingenuous” for new charters to open near public schools that are closing because CPS says they are under-used.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), said the city is “incentivizing charter school proliferation at the expense of neighborhood schools.” Charters need approval from the board and get much of their funding from CPS.
Those schools, Pawar said, are supported by “wealthy people, connected people who are telling us that government is bad ... when at the end, they’re going to be wholly reliant on government funding.”
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) acknowledged her ward on the South Side lost a lot of people in the past decade, meaning that, “Some of the decisions that were made were good decisions.” But she said the closings that occur now should be the last such actions.
“We have had enough,” Dowell said.
Fioretti said he thought there should be no closings for at least a year and decried the public hearings on the mayor’s plan. After those meetings, hearing officers recommended 13 schools of 54 slated for closing be kept open.
“All those hearings were a charade,” Fioretti said. “I don’t believe the mayor ever attended a hearing.”
Lewis, the teachers’ union leader, was among some in the crowd who cheered that comment and later gave Fioretti a standing ovation.