The Democratic Party in Chicago is at war. The one party town is seeing an important element of the coalition on strike. Rahm Emanuel is at war with a real adversary: teacher’s union boss Karen Lewis. Last year Lewis began laying the groundwork for a strike as witnessed in this Chicago Magazine interview with reporter Carol Felsenthal:
CF: So you have an issue with [Secretary of Education, former CPS CEO] Arne Duncan?
KL:Yeah, because he has a bachelor’s in sociology from Harvard and played basketball [he’s an education expert]? I think he’s completely and totally unqualified to do this job. And to me, it’s sort of indicative of how education is such a political tool now, as opposed to [his] having a real bent toward education. I think this is a way for Obama to try to make an olive branch with Republicans. There’s this mentality that outsiders and people with no education background are the… experts…. They want to privatize public education…. Arne’s policies here were a disaster.
Karen Lewis, like Rahm Emanuel, isn’t shy about expressing her opinions. Conflict is in the air. For 25,000 teachers to be on strike weeks before a Presidential election is a major problem for Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel. Karen Lewis has even organized children to chant slogans against Rahm Emanuel. As veteran Chicago reporter Greg Hinz has said:
Mr. Emanuel has loudly declared what he wants, issued his demands in what I hear was an f-bomb-filled meeting with Ms. Lewis, and moved to impose some items by fiat — i.e., enacting a longer school day and directing the board to rescind a negotiated 4 percent pay hike.
Chicago is running out of money. There’s much blame to go around. The financial math is a threat to the status quo. The public school system has been a lucrative racket for some. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass explains:
Unfortunately, the system works just fine. It works for the teachers union that wins the big raises (the current offer: a 16 percent bump over the next four years) and for the bureaucrats who are creatures of patronage, and for the vendors who feed from the almost $6 billion budget.
It works for Democratic politicians. They increase property taxes to pay for union raises and, in exchange, receive union support and political donations in election years. It's been going on that way for years.
But does it work for the kids? Not when nearly half don't graduate.
As New Geography readers remember, we warned that Chicago was on the downswing. The 2010 Census confirmed this decline. The difficult part of decline is the hardship that comes with layoffs. University of Chicago Professor Tim Knowles says 5000 Chicago Public School teachers could lose their jobs because of 100 schools may shut. When you lose 6.9% of your population in 10 years, closures are inevitable.
In conclusion, Karen Lewis has picked a perfect time to strike: right before a Presidential election. The Democratic party needs all the help it can get from unions to get out the vote in nearby battleground states. What if they don’t get out the vote in Ohio and other unions strongholds in November?