As mayoral candidates, Bob Fioretti and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia have a number of things in common.
Both are true progressives, ready to fight for those left out of Chicago’s political process. Both are mounting fledgling campaigns that need money, volunteers and enthusiasm to reach the finish line. And both have an uphill climb in their quest to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But there’s perhaps one thing more important that they both share at the moment: a clear desire to receive an endorsement from Karen Lewis.
It’s easy to see why. Without even announcing a formal candidacy, Lewis generated an almost unprecedented amount of political expectation and hope for a potential mayoral run among a diverse set of supporters across the city.
As president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Lewis was at the forefront of a number of critical battles in Chicago: education policy, pension funding, poverty and social justice. Before she was forced to bow out of the race due to health concerns, just the mere prospect of her running fired up progressives and others in a way the city hadn't seen in many a year.
Plus, she’s a charismatic figure. Which, for all of their own likeability, both Fioretti and Garcia will have a difficult time matching.
As a result, a nod from Lewis could go a long way in helping one candidate or the other garner the kind of support needed to make a serious run at Rahm. While on the surface it may look like any other endorsement, official backing from Lewis would be a clear signal to everyone from progressive activists, union funders and voters to who the larger anti-Rahm coalition building in Chicago sees as their standard-bearer.
As a result, both campaigns are in one way or another seeking Lewis’ endorsement. While Fioretti hasn't explicitly said he’ll ask for her blessing, his campaign has publicly praised her during her illness and recovery. Meanwhile, there’s little doubt a Lewis endorsement for Fioretti could make him a stronger challenger, almost overnight.
For his part, Garcia is more explicit in his desire for Lewis’s public support. In an interview with Carol Marin of NBC 5, Garcia said “I hope to earn her endorsement,” before adding that he has spoken to Lewis about his run and received her encouragement.
Which, behind the scenes, looks to be much the case. While not publicly coming out for Garcia, CTU spokesperson Stephanie Gadlin said the organization is "very enthusiastic about Garcia's possible candidacy," and union members will help him circulate nominating petitions. Garcia has also been invited to speak at a CTU fundraiser this week, without Fioretti.
Should she choose to make an endorsement, questions may arise over whether she does it as a private citizen or in some official CTU capacity. Earlier this month, Lewis temporarily stepped down as CTU president as a result of her health challenges. That means there could be two potential endorsements on the table in the coming weeks—one from Lewis and one from the powerful teachers’ union itself.
Of course, not a lot is known publicly about Lewis’ illness and the pace of her recovery. As a result, any speculation over her endorsement could well be moot.
Nevertheless, an endorsement from almost no figure in Chicago politics today carries as much real and symbolic weight as one might from Lewis. And, whether they say so out loud, both campaigns are fully aware what Lewis blessing would mean.
The only question is: Lewis may no longer in the mayoral election game. But will she be in the mayoral endorsement game?