Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis said she is "seriously considering" running for Chicago mayor and will decided whether to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel when she has "certain things in place."
"And those things are, primarily, the three things you need to run a campaign," Lewis said at a Tuesday evening discussion about city issues, held on Chicago's far Southwest Side in the 19th Ward. "You've got to have money. You've got to have people, and you've got to have time."
"I want to run things on my timeline," she added at the talk, moderated by journalist Walter Jacobson and hosted by the CTU at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall, 11532 S. Western Ave.
At the discussion, Lewis said she filed the necessary paperwork on Tuesday to establish a campaign committee.
"People are sending me money, so I want to be in compliance with state election law," Lewis told reporters after the event.
She would not say how much money she has raised thus far as she weighs a mayoral run. That information, she said, "will be on the filing when we do that."
Candidates for mayor in the city of Chicago, meanwhile, have to gather 12,500 signatures of registered voters in order to get on the ballot. Nomination petition sheets for the February election can be circulated as early as August 26 and have to be filed no later than November 24.
"We do intend to circulate petitions," Lewis told reporters. "We need to know if people want that to happen. So if we get enough petitions, that will actually kind of make that decision for me."
Tuesday's event was part of Lewis' new listening tour to hear from Chicagoans about important issues. The tour will stop in 77 communities, the CTU president said.
Shoneice Reynolds, the mother of Asean Johnson, the Marcus Moziah Garvey Elementary School student who gained national attention for speaking out against Chicago school closings, was at Tuesday's talk. Reynolds pledged to "be out day and night" gathering nomination signatures for Lewis.
Reynolds said the city needs new leadership because "no one is listening to the people."
"We don't have a mayor for the 99 percent," she said. "We have a mayor for the rich, and that's not what Chicago is made up of."
"We have a mayor that (threw) a hot dog party for our Little League baseball team that's been a part of my life all of my life, Jackie Robinson West, but he wanted to close the school where Jackie Robinson West was founded — Marcus Garvey," she added. "You want to buy hot dogs for the community and hold viewing parties as if you care."
Jacobson asked Lewis whether she could compete with Emanuel's more than $8 million in cash-on-hand for his re-election bid.
"That $8 million war chest is going to go way up," she said. "We can never compete with him with money. The good news is, the majority of people that have the money that will be donating to him won't be able to vote because they don't live here."
"The people of Chicago know who [Emanuel] is, and they've spoken about that," the CTU president added. "He hasn't been able to move his numbers for a very long time no matter what stunt he's pulling this week or next week. People realize that what he is doing is just to get ready for the election. I don't think anybody is buying his schtick, quite frankly."
The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, has pledged to donate $1 million to Lewis' mayoral campaign, if she chooses to run.
Lewis said the AFT's campaign-donation promise "automatically changes the calculus," adding that "it is extremely important to know that that money is available."
"I hope to raise quite a few more, because a million dollars, while it's lovely, nobody is going to turn it down, isn't going to be enough," the CTU president said.
Jacobson also asked Lewis if Emanuel has done any good for the city of Chicago.
"Nothing comes to mind," Lewis responded. "And that ought to say something that nothing immediately comes to mind. I talk to people on the street ... What we have is a demoralized city workforce that doesn't feel appreciated."
"What we've also seen is a person who feels intrinsically as an outsider that doesn't really appreciate what this city is about," Lewis continued. "So when you come in and you [say], 'We're going to make Chicago a world class city,' did you bother to ask us if that was something we wanted? You know, we are a city of neighborhoods ... of people [who] identify themselves by very, very small groups and then we build out."
"I think the problem is that not understanding that, and not knowing that, makes (people) not feel like you understand Chicago, and then you bring in all these people from outside of the city to head up departments, and they have no institutional knowledge, they have no understanding of how we operate. What I see by and large is someone who is very tone deaf to the very people he's supposed to appeal to," she said of Emanuel.
Lewis was asked whether she would keep Barbara Byrd-Bennett as Chicago Public Schools' CEO if she were to run for mayor and win. That question prompted the audience of CTU members, CPS parents and others to erupt in laughter.
"I'm going to have a large group of people helping me pick the next" CEO, Lewis responded, adding that she would also change the chief of public schools' title from "CEO" to "superintendent."
Lewis would also "be working very hard to get an elected, representative school board," she said.
Here's some of Lewis' other remarks:
The conversation also touched on the topic of the revenue needed to tackle the city's pension crisis and other fiscal problems.
"I think we need to be very creative about revenue," Lewis said. "I think the problem is that we have had no discussions about anything except for raising property taxes or slashing city services. That has been the discussion plain and simple. We have actually said we ought to look at [a] financial transaction tax, we ought to look at possibly even a commuter tax. We have to look at a variety of ways to do things, but what we've seen are very regressive, instead of progressive, taxing" policies.
So what might dissuade Lewis from running for mayor, Jacobson asked.
"If people were to tell me, 'You know, you just can't do this. You can't win,' and 'To try and do this will be more harmful than good,'" Lewis responded.
"It is my goal not to just 'run for mayor'," she continued. "I think that's only part of the process. The part of the process is to change the political landscape. The whole process is to put into place a political infrastructure that is actually responsive to the people, and if we cannot do that, then I think this might be folly."