CTU House of Delegates to meet Nov. 5... Political controversy flares up in the CTU

[Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared at Socialist Worker and is reprinted here at with permission of the author. For those who wish to consult the original article and additional analysis by the same writer, go to:

Political controversy flares up in the CTU

The last-minute decision by Karen Lewis and a handful of Chicago Teachers Union staff members to "endorse" the candidacy of Jesus "Chuy" Garcia during the three days prior to the CTU LEAD dinner on Halloween night has caused the biggest split in five years inside both the union and the CORE (Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators) which won union power in June 2010. The "Chuy" push came so late that a special extra program had to be published giving biographies of the night's speakers. Despite the probably ability of the Garcia supporters to win a slim majority in the union's House of Delegates to their agenda, the factionalism and manipulation that has been going on inside CTU since October 27 is explosive and backfiring within the union's rank and file. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Lee Sustar looks at the issues surrounding a debate in the Chicago Teachers Union about endorsing a candidate for the upcoming mayor's race. November 5, 2014

DELEGATES OF the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are expected to decide November 5 on whether to endorse an electoral challenge to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the February mayoral election.

The push to support Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Cook County Commissioner and longtime Chicago politician, comes amid controversy over how it came about--in a videotaped statement from CTU President Karen Lewis at the union's annual political dinner, known as LEAD, on October 31. Lewis has taken a leave of absence because of a serious illness, and Vice President Jesse Sharkey has assumed the president's duties according to the CTU's constitution.

Lewis, after undergoing major surgery, has remained politically active and pressed for Garcia's endorsement. For the union to back Garcia, however, the CTU constitution requires the political action committee/legislative committee [1] (PAC/Leg) to first propose any endorsements before they are passed along to the union's executive board, which must approve the recommendation before it goes to the next House of Delegates meeting.

The PAC/LEG committee did hold several meetings, but was unable to issue a decision on endorsement until after the October 31 union dinner. Now, the executive board has recommended an endorsement to be taken up at the House of Delegates. But Garcia's appearance at the LEAD event pre-empted the process.

LEWIS' HIGH-profile individual support for Garcia captured headlines because she was preparing to run for mayor herself before she fell ill--and opinion polls showed she had a shot at beating Emanuel, despite the mayor's $8 million-plus campaign fund. She clearly hopes to transfer her support to Garcia. But as the independent teacher publication Substance News reported [2], her personal endorsement of Garcia raised hackles among CTU members.

While under observation in preparation for the Day Of The Dead, Illinois governor Pat Quinn (second from left above) shared something droll with Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (second from right) while Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery (right) smiled on. This picture was from the LEAD dinner, four days before Quinn lost to Bruce Rauner in the November 4 election. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.For one thing, as Substance pointed out, the public embrace of Garcia at the CTU's highest-profile political event came before the union had considered other challengers to Emanuel--mostly prominently, Alderman Bob Fioretti, who supported the CTU's 2012 strike and its campaign to save public schools from closure.

Second, the rush to back Garcia sidelined those who want to raise broader questions about the union's support for Democratic politicians following the CTU's endorsement of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn last month [3].

Quinn, who lost his re-election race yesterday, is a one-time reformer turned union-basher [4]. He's spent the last few years overseeing legislation to "fix" public workers' pensions by slashing benefits. Adding insult to injury, Quinn chose as his running mate this time around Paul Vallas, who in the 1990s ushered in the era of school "reform" as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

But because Quinn's opponent in the race was the billionaire Republican investor Bruce Rauner, the union--by a majority vote in the House of Delegates on a proposal from the executive board--supported Quinn in a classic "lesser evil" calculation. Indeed, Quinn was the advertised keynote speaker at the CTU dinner until he was bumped by Garcia.

The other point of controversy is simply the importance that the CTU has placed on union democracy as an alternative to backroom deals--from its officers, who won election in 2010 as part of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) reform slate, through to the rank and file.

In 2011, when Lewis negotiated an agreement to support Senate Bill 7, a law making it difficult for the union to strike, CORE members on the executive board and in the House of Delegates led a successful effort to withdraw the union's support for the agreement. And the CTU's successful 2012 strike didn't end until after delegates had delayed ratifying the agreement until after members held picket-line meetings to discuss the deal and instruct the delegates whether or not to vote for ratification.

THE DEBATE about Garcia highlights larger questions about how the CTU will approach the February 24 election.

A Karen Lewis run for mayor had the potential to mobilize an independent, labor-based campaign against the local political establishment--which is entirely Democratic--and their big business backers. Lewis' popularity in working-class Chicago comes not from connections to wealthy patrons, but her role in leading a strike that challenged the business and political powerbrokers.

Some of Lewis' statements and actions as her campaign began to take shape raised concerns about just how independent it would be [5]. Those are even more pressing with Chuy Garcia, a veteran of the Chicago Democratic Party.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Garcia has roots in Chicago's 1970s activist left. He was a close ally of Mexican-American organizer Rudy Lozano, who was murdered in what activists believe was a political assassination. He filled Lozano's shoes by winning election as an alderman in 1986 as an ally of Harold Washington, the city's first African American mayor. Garcia retained ties to labor and the left, sometimes appearing at left-wing political events.

As a founder of the Little Village Development Corp. (now Enlaces), Garcia helped knit together a rising Mexican-American middle class in the 1980s and 1990s by helping businesses secure loans to create the second-most important business district in the city after downtown.

After serving two terms as a state senator, Garcia was targeted by Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose Hispanic Democratic Organization ran pro-Daley hack against him. After losing the election, Garcia continued to develop his political networks, chairing the Woods Fund, a foundation that makes grants to community groups.

Gradually, Garcia rose in Democratic circles and shifted into the political mainstream--at odds with Daley, who saw him as a threat, but at home with the liberal wing of the party. When the Cook County Board became mired in corruption scandals, and with Daley set to retire, the door was open for Garcia to run for the Cook County Board to represent a district that includes parts of Chicago, as well as heavily Latino suburban towns.

"Garcia isn't a Democratic machine guy, but he is definitely a politician," said Jorge Mujica, a socialist candidate for alderman in the February elections [6]. And being a Democratic politician in the aftermath of the Great Recession means backing austerity. As a Cook County commissioner, Garcia has been the floor leader for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, herself a former alderman and liberal with roots in the city's African American community.

Since her election in 2010, Preckwinkle has been hammering unions with demands for concessions [7]. She also pushed for legislation to gut county workers' pensions--the measure failed [8] when Republicans in the state legislature decided it didn't cut deeply enough. The Chicago Civic Federation, a business-backed, union-hating, austerity-pushing group, has hailed Preckwinkle's austerity budgets [9].

As a close Preckwinkle ally, Garcia helped to implement this agenda. In a speech to college students made shortly after he announced his candidacy, he made this into a badge of honor [10]: "We inherited a deficit of $479 million, which is not chump change. I believe that we demonstrate through our actions that we can live within our means."

THERE'S LITTLE reason to expect that Garcia would take a different approach as mayor of Chicago, which faces its own looming pension shortfall [11] after decades of underfunding, as a result of a tax structure that soaks workers and the poor while favoring the big financial and real estate interests.

And while Garcia criticized Emanuel for closing 49 public schools in spring 2013, he hasn't committed to reopening them--nor to freezing and rolling back the proliferation of charter schools that have drained public school funding and downsized the teaching workforce.

While Garcia indicated at the CTU dinner that he supports an elected school board--a deal-breaker issue for Chicago teachers and education justice activists who continue to fight Emanuel on the question--the candidate hasn't made that a focal point for his nascent campaign.

Many CTU members, determined to get rid of their arch-enemy Rahm Emanuel, may conclude that Garcia is a candidate who should be supported, despite the drawbacks. But by promoting Garcia before the union's deliberative bodies had a chance to debate his history and make a formal decision, the union risks endorsing another supposedly pro-labor Democrat who goes on to shaft teachers, just as Pat Quinn did.

A handful of independent campaigns for alderman--including some CTU members--are attempting to put forward an alternative to the Democratic establishment. The CTU, like labor unions everywhere, will be far better served by endorsing genuinely independent campaigns that fight for the interests of working people.

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November 6, 2014 at 6:35 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Debate in House of Delegates

Last night at the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates, the effort by a significant number of delegates to hold back the endorsement of Jesus Garcia � until a more democratic process had occurred � was defeated.

Our amendment to the motion to endorse said that the House should endorse the passing of petitions for Garcia, but

1. That the Chicago Teachers Union not endorse any candidates for mayor prior to November 24, 2014, when nominating petitions are submitted to the Board of Election Commissioners, and

2. That the CTU, as it did on December 16, 2010, hold a "candidates forum" for all candidates for mayor in the upcoming February 2015 municipal election, and

3. Following that 2014 forum, as it did in 2010, the CTU, through the House of Delegates, shall decide on which candidate for mayor will receive the support of the CTU.

As an associate delegate to the house from Steinmetz High School and a high school functional vice president, I spoke from the floor.

I said that the union leadership manipulated the process by promoting Garcia at the LEAD before there had been any open debate or votes on a mayoral candidate.

(This included when vice-president of the union Jesse Sharkey introduced Garcia as "the next mayor of Chicago" when his candidacy had not been discussed � much less debated or voted on � with the executive board, the house of delegates, or the union membership).

I also spoke against the religious-like fervor of many in the union on accepting by faith anything Karen Lewis wanted just because she's Karen.

I said that the union�s back-room deals, manipulation of its members, and that the adulation of Karen bypassed democracy.

At the meeting, Jesse Sharkey, CTU political director Stacy Davis-Gates, and many delegates who supported the endorsement acknowledged the lack of democracy in the hurried push to promote Garcia. However, they all suggested it was for the best for the union and Chicago.

November 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM

By: Rod Estvan

On the problem of Democratic Party progressivism

Lee Sustar's article was worth reading and I appreciate that Substance ran it. The point raised by Sustar that like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle who implemented austerity measures to prevent tax hikes and create what I consider to be a "theoretically" balanced budget there is little reason to believe " that Garcia would take a different approach as mayor of Chicago, which faces its own looming pension shortfall after decades of underfunding, as a result of a tax structure that soaks workers and the poor while favoring the big financial and real estate interests," is well taken. I would also say that there is no reason to believe that the same basic dilemmas wouldn't apply to Alderman Bob Fioretti.

Among the progressive Democrats inside the CTU and in Chicago there have been promoted a number of ideas for revenue generation based largely on mobilization of the internal resources within the City of Chicago itself and the promotion of a progressive income tax on a statewide level. I supported the fair tax effort in Sprigfield and as a registered lobbyists worked to pass it. Here is largely what happened.

The Democrat party in the Illinois General Assembly blocked the move towards a progressive income tax even though they had a majority in both houses and a Democratic Governor, arguing it was best to wait until after Quinn was reelected, which as we know did not happen. All the progressive ideas of revenue generation discussed including TIF reform, commuter taxes, and taxes on professional services exceed the home rule authority of Chicago under existing law and likely would require action by the Assembly which is unlikely in my opinion.

I have to beat the same drum again, until the labor and social movements break with the Democrat party the game continues. The idea that building up a progressive wing of the Democrat Party will lead to a progressive party or some type of labor party eventually is a profound delusion. Making a break from the Democratic Party without completely alienating Democrats who have periodically supported issues promoted by organized labor and social movements will require great skill, but that is no reason not to try. Right now the labor and social movements are largely promoting a delusion that the so called progressive wing of the Democrat Party will be able to fix things, it simply can't.

Rod Estvan

November 6, 2014 at 1:53 PM

By: John Kugler

Kiss the Ring

We need to stop playing "kiss the ring" politics. Good candidates need to be allowed to flourish and organizations need to support them, not the other way around. Politics in our system is based on individual voters. When we decide to play in the political arena, we need to listen to the voters, not tell them what they should do!

Rauner winning should be a wake up call to understanding that we need to listen more to what people want.

November 10, 2014 at 10:18 AM

By: Ed Hershey

Break With the Democratic Party

Estvan's comment's pretty telling.

In Chicago, there are only Democrats as far as eye can see, and more or less all the way up to the state's borders. The Democratic Party is the party that is screwing the working class at the City, County and State level.

We're not going to get people to turn out for Garcia -- and for good reason. We need to instead propose our own power.

Working People need their own party. CTU has the means, on our own, to create such a party. We just need to muster the will to do it.

Otherwise we just keep repeating the same demoralizing cycle of supporting the party that abuses us.

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