Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Bruce Rauner Is Karen Lewis’s Worst Nightmare

“There is nothing worse than a combination of arrogance and ignorance—combined with a healthy dose of money.”

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

I talked to Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis late last month to ask her when the union would issue its endorsement in the race for governor. Would Pat Quinn, by default, be the CTU’s choice? At that point Quinn had not yet selected Paul Vallas as his running mate. 

Now he has, and I contacted Lewis again yesterday to ask about the Vallas pick. Lewis’s press secretary told me she was in meetings all day but sent me her statement on Vallas.  I wasn’t surprised at her harsh take on the man who headed CPS under Daley and then went on to head school systems in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the latter he was, effectively, slammed with a no-confidence vote when pro-union, anti-Vallas candidates won a majority on the elected school board.

Lewis wrote that the CTU “has supported Governor Quinn in the past because of his commitment to grassroots organizing, publicly funded public education, and collective bargaining.   For these reasons we are concerned about his choice of Paul Vallas as a running mate.” 

Lewis charged that as CPS’s CEO, “Vallas pioneered the corporate driven education model in our city…. Vallas ushered in an era of massive expansion of standardized testing; the privatization of public schools through outsourcing and charter school expansion; and the devastating policy of school turnarounds, which resulted in the firing of scores of black and veteran teachers.” She referenced a 2010 PBS interview in which Vallas “appallingly stated that he did not see any downside to charter school proliferation, believed that there was not enough faculty turnover in education, and did not see a need for collective bargaining.” She concluded with the hope that Vallas would “support proposals for an elected representative school board” and “denounce privatization schemes.” 

Here’s an edited transcript of our telephone conversation:

When will you issue your endorsement for governor? I’m assuming it’ll be Pat Quinn since he’s, for all intents and purposes, the only Democrat running.

It’s not me, it’s the CTU rank and file that decides. They have a process they go through.  I doubt it’ll be a Republican. I assume it’ll be Quinn. They’ll start meeting in January and February.

I have written a lot about the friendship between Rahm Emanuel and Republican Bruce Rauner. Your thoughts on that?

Clearly Rahm and Rauner are good friends. And Rauner is a very close adviser to Rahm. It goes to show you that there’s no difference between the political parties. There’s only one real political party and that’s the party of money.

So what about Pat Quinn. Is he a member of the “party of money?”

Pat Quinn is way better in ideology. Bruce Rauner is a nightmare. I have nothing good to say about him. He would be damaging to every working person in Illinois. He’s the worst nightmare. As governor, he’d be a menace to society. There is nothing worse than a combination of arrogance and ignorance—combined with a healthy dose of money.

So you’ve told me what you think of Bruce Rauner. What about Pat Quinn?

I don’t think Pat Quinn is that kind of person at all. I think Pat Quinn wants to do the right thing. That’s always been his goal.

How is Quinn on issues of importance to CPS?

I think on the spectrum if you’re going zero to 10 on the question, say, of charter schools, Rauner would be a 10;  Rahm a 8.5; Pat would be 5 or 6.

How important is the governor to the welfare of CPS anyway? Does it really matter that much who’s governor?

The governor has the ability to push bills and to get legislators on his side. He has to make some decisions. Part of the problem we have in Chicago is we don’t have anybody we can go to who is accountable because the mayor has control of schools completely. We need an elected representative school board. One person should not have that kind of power. 

Have you talked to Gov. Quinn about an elected school board?

Yes I have. Pat Quinn has never told me no. [Quinn has expressed support for an elected CPS board.] At a press conference on Tuesday, Vallas said he would follow Quinn in support of an elected school board.


So Lewis is unhappy with Quinn’s choice of Vallas, but realistically, she and the union she heads are stuck with them. Where else are they going to go? Rauner? Brady? Rutherford? Dillard? Not a chance. Most interesting here is that Karen Lewis felt compelled to issue a statement about a pick for lieutenant governor. This race might be the only one in recent history in which anyone noticed the number two. Can anyone name even one of the aforementioned Republicans’ picks for lieutenant governor?


8 months ago
Posted by Neftali

That pretty much settles it. If Karen Lewis' worst nightmare is Bruce Rauner, then he has my vote.

Between my Social Security, 401K, and IRA plans, I contribute 20% of my pay towards my retirement, and the benefits are no where near as good as public sector pension plans pushed by CPS and the other public sector unions which contribute at best less than 1/2 that amount!

Taxpayer leaches like CPS are the reason this state is broke. Until they start contributing 20% of their own pay toward retirement, I have no sympathy for them.

7 months ago
Posted by Operafan

"There is nothing worse than a combination of arrogance and ignorance..."

The irony I find with Karen's shameless proclamation is that she,with her racist, classist, anti-white, anti-success, hatred, venom, and intolerance for anybody Other is about the most arrogant person in our public sphere.

I think its cool that she's so protective of the minority students in her keep. She's like a big, fierce mom, and that's what kids need. But it seems that Karen really only cares about the poor minority kids, the ones who are funded by the "rich white taxpayers." Bigot, much? And why does she have to hate on the rich, white folks? You don't hear her harping on the rich black or Hispanic (or Italian, or whatever) folks in Chicago, and there are plenty of them.

Her temper and sense of victim-mentality strikes me as so over-the-top and so anti-democratic that its scary-weird. From whence cometh all the hate and hot air, Karen? The real elephant in the room is Karen's out-and-out intolerance of other people. Why not encourage the minorities to rise above, to aspire to greater lives? Instead, she tears down bridges, spreads hate, and creates an even deeper divide with race and class in Chicago.

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