Brain Tumor Forces Karen Lewis Out of Chicago Mayoral Race

Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president, will not be running in the 2015 Chicago mayoral campaign due to the treatment for a brain tumor.

The story developed as mystery surrounded Lewis’ retreat from the race. According to Sophia Tareen of the Huffington Post, the most high-profile challenger to Rahm Emanuel’s re-election was not specific about the reasons for her withdrawal, but she did recently disclose publicly that she had an illness of some kind. In many people’s opinion, Kelly had the best chance of unseating Emanuel, who began his first term in 2011.  She has been raising her public profile and gathering petition signers for months, as well as criticizing Emanuel’s policies and control of the city, especially in the are of the city’s violence problem.

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

Last week, the union’s vice-president, Jesse Sharkey, said that Lewis has a “serious illness” and had undergone surgery that was successful. He added that he has been standing in for Lewis during this time but gave no further information on the subject.

Mayor Emanuel issued a statement wishing Lewis a speedy recovery. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn did the same.

“I have always respected and admired Karen’s willingness to step up and be part of the conversation about our city’s future,” said Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff.

Bob Fioretti, an alderman in Chicago, who is also running, says he has been praying for Lewis.

“For Chicago’s sake, I hope this is not the last we see of Karen Lewis,” he said in a statement. “I can understand the battle with illness, and how it can change the best thought out plans. But I also know that Karen is resilient and strong and will be back advocating for educators, students and Chicagoans in no time.”

Political scholars say that it would be very difficult for anyone to mount a serious challenge at this late date.  Still, those in the know say Emanuel’s approval ratings are low. The contest is nonpartisan, so if no one gets more than half of the votes, there will be a runoff between the candidates who have the top two greatest number of votes.

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times, published only hours before the Huffington Post article, stated that Karen Lewis’ illness was a brain tumor. Reporters Michael Sneed, Lauren Fitzpatrick, and Fran Spielman say that Ms. Lewis experienced a severe headache last week, and was quickly diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She underwent five hours of surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and will be scheduled for chemotherapy and radiation, said a close source.

“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.”

Now that Lewis is out of the running, Emanuel could win in the first round based on his $9 million campaign fund. But Lewis’ announcement has put black political activists in high-gear to find another high-profile African-American challenger. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who appeared to be a noteworthy challenger, and whose popularity surpassed Emanuel’s by a significant amount, pulled out of the race and is not likely to change her mind. Alderman Roderick Sawyer of the 6th District says:

“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.”

Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post says that Lewis and Emanuel have had a contentious relationship along the lines of education policy and politics. The mayor’s reform moves which have resulted in the closing of 50 public schools in mostly African-American neighborhoods have been particularly egregious in Lewis’ opinion. Many say that Lewis was the only person who could have beaten the mayor.