Who is running the Chicago Teachers Union?

Anyone who has watched CTU President Marilyn Stewart try to answer reporters’ questions or debate even someone as ill-informed as Arne Duncan knows the reality is often sad. The question then arises: Who is actually running the CTU now that Stewart has declared herself dictator — “Chief Executive Officer”?

In the months ahead, Substance will begin to profile some of those who have more power than a thousand dues paying teachers or a hundred elected delegates. Most of them have been out of the classroom for a quarter century or more (like Nick Cannella, above center) or were never even teachers, like attorney Lawrence Poltrock (above left) and publicist Rosemarie Genova (above right). Genova is holding the press release announcing the “Yes” vote for the contract on August 31, 2007. The release was printed before the vote was taken.

Four of the most powerful people in the union today hold appointed positions, not elected ones. They are: John Ostenburg, a former State Rep. who currently holds the title “Chief of Staff,” Nick Cannella, who has had various titles during the past year, but is usually called a “Coordinator”, Lawrence Poltrock, the union’s chief attorney, and Rosemarie Genova, the union’s publicist.

More than the remaining to officers whom Marilyn Stewart recognizes, appointed staff are controlling the union and handling stragegy. After the controversial vote on the CTU budget in June 2008, Ostenburg was observed hurrying down the aisle in the House of Delegates calling for adjournment. Ostenburg has never taught in Chicago’s public schools and was never a union delegate representing CTU members.

From the beginning of the purge of Ted Dallas from the union’s ranks, the legal work has centered on Lawrence Poltrock. At times, Poltrock has been accompanied by three other attorneys when Dallas’s lawyers have appeared in court challenging the union’s right to try him.

One of the most important people in the CTU offices has had extensive political experience but virtually no union experience in Chicago’s public schools. Last year, Marilyn Stewart appointed former State Rep. John Ostenburg as her new “Chief of Staff.” Ostenburg, who had worked for the union for more than a decade, had generally confined his work to editing the union newspaper, a job which he did under Tom Reece, Deborah Lynch, and Marilyn Stewart. Ostenburg was one of the few union staff people to serve continuously from the Reece administration (1994 -2001) through the Lynch administration (2001 - 2004) and now into the Stewart administration (2004 - date).

Ostenburg’s editorials in the Chicago Union Teacher challenged the status quo at the Chicago Board of Education for the first couple of years of Marilyn Stewart, until the beginnings of the financial crisis of the union. That crisis began as Stewart’s unchallenged spending began to catch up with the union in 2007.

Publicist Rosemarie Genova, like Ostenburg and Poltrock, never worked in the Chicago public schools and never held an elected union position. She worked as publicist for the United Progressive Caucus during the 2004 union election that eventually saw Marilyn Stewart take power after an election, then a runoff, then a standoff between Deborah Lynch and Marilyn Stewart. (Lynch alleged vote fraud and refused to leave the union offices in July 2004 after Stewart was declared victor in a runoff; the situation was eventually resolved by the American Federation of Teachers).

Genova has worked closely with Ostenburg and Poltrock, but especially with Cannella, during the past year. She is rumored to have a business relationship with Cannella to sell materials to the union, but that has not been confirmed. 


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