Carol Felsenthal
On politics

How the Chicago Teachers Strike Could Affect Obama, Democrats

For a few hours this morning, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all had something in common on this the 11th anniversary of 9/11: Their top sections featured stories of the poisonous battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools versus Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union. The result is a huge stain on Chicago…

For a few hours this morning, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all had something in common on this the 11th anniversary of 9/11: Their top sections featured stories of the poisonous battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools versus Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union.

The result is a huge stain on Chicago; national stories that spotlight our local schools’ messes and don’t mention much about their successes. (What new Chicago resident would want to send their children to a system burdened by a 40 percent dropout rate? Who would want to headquarter their business here?)

All these stories note that if the strike is not resolved today, tomorrow, or very soon, it will impact the presidential election—for starters, the mayor and former White House chief-of-staff is, at least temporarily, off the Obama SuperPAC fundraising beat—and even down-ticket contests. It will certainly tarnish the reputation of Emanuel, the city’s first Jewish mayor, who was pictured with horns in a CTU rally placard. 

President Obama cannot be delighted that Mitt Romney joined Rahm in the fight yesterday. [“Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children,” Romney said of the strike in Obama’s hometown.) Obama, who did not respond to Romney and made no public statement on the standoff, desperately needs a fired-up union membership to turn out for him and to drag others to the polls. But his administration’s support for charter schools (staffed by nonunion faculties) as well as his advocating for merit pay—salary levels and tenure decisions set by analyzing scores of frequently administered standardized tests—do not make a foundation for adoration. And neither does the president’s and First Lady’s decision to send their own children to the University of Chicago Lab Schools (where Rahm’s children attend) when they lived here—and, now, to the private Sidwell Friends School in D.C. 

Not many public school teachers will vote for Romney—see above statement—but some might not give enough of a damn whether Obama is re-elected. They likely will vote for him but not care enough if their neighbors do the same.

Obviously, in this bluest of blue states, how the teachers in Chicago feel about the president matters very little. But it could matter in some of the close swing states, where public school teachers are feeling “disrespected,” a word they often use when describing their grievances.

Rahm has always been a national figure, but now more than ever as he leads a city in the throes of a dangerous strike—dangerous for parents who work and don’t have private means to see that their children have all-day care that even the worst performing schools provided. And the shooting gallery that has taken hold on parts of the South and West Sides is an even more frightful dilemma, as schools closed to students throw thousands of potential new victims on the streets.

 

Photography: (Strike) Dennis Rodkin; (Emanuel) Esther Kang

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