Stopping short of an official endorsement, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush encouraged Karen Lewis to challenge Rahm Emanuel in Chicago's upcoming mayoral election.
"Anytime you have healthy opposition, it is healthy for the city," Rush tells the Sun-Times, adding: "If she is serious about running, then I would encourage her to run."
(My esteemed Ward Room colleague Mark W. Anderson agrees, saying "nothing could be worse politically for the City of Chicago than for the current mayor to waltz back into office with out any serious electoral opposition.")
The fiery Chicago Teachers Union boss is deciding whether to throw her hat into the ring for February 2015 amid heavy pressure. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle publicly ruled out a run for Chicago's highest office this week, redirecting the spotlight on Lewis as the next-best candidate. With the frontrunner out of the picture, and few viable substitutes willing to step up, it's looking more and more likely that Lewis will eventually cave to supporters' pleas and add herself to the ballot.
In the event, her campaign could get some get-out-the-vote assistance from South Side stalwart Rush and fellow Democratic congressman Danny Davis, who reps the city's West Side. The two hit the House floor on Wednesday to lament the violent outbreaks and racial discrimination plaguing the Windy City.
"When the leaders of my city, when the mayor stands proudly and takes credit for closing 54 public schools that are mostly on the South and West Sides of the City of Chicago, there is nothing but a continuation of the decades-long disinvestment in good-quality schools," said Rush.
Emanuel is on shaky turf with black voters whose antipathy toward the mayor has grown dramatically since he took the helm at City Hall three years ago. Among the criticisms: He's more invested in transforming this midwestern metropolis into a global tourist destination than in fixing its broken school system.
Lewis, meanwhile, is polling nine points ahead of Emanuel in a newly published Sun-Times poll that reveals overwhelming support from black voters surveyed. On Thursday, the social media-savvy union leader retweeted a link to the paper's pro-Lewis interviews with Rush and Davis.
All the same, anyone who enters a showdown with Emanuel will have to match the threat of his vast storehouse of campaign cash -- $8.3 million and counting -- not to mention his splashy network of all-star connections including Bill, Hillary and President Obama. (Emanuel might not be able to buy Chicago's unconditional love with his money, but his money is scaring off the most worthy of challengers who feel they couldn't compete. Copy that for those brave souls who tried, and failed, to knock gazillionaire ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg off the ballot.)
And, as Anderson observes, an Emanuel-Lewis contest wouldn't be pretty. For one, Emanuel's war chest would fund a brutal attack on Lewis' character and experience, casting her as a "dangerous radical out of touch with the needs of everyday Chicagoans."
That said, Lewis seems up for it. And the sharp-witted activist has no shortage of Rahm-related insults to hurl back his direction.