Updated: August 17, 2014 6:25AM
By finally taking herself out of the 2015 mayoral discussion Tuesday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took some of the pressure off Mayor Rahm Emanuel but also paved the way for Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to take center stage as the most viable alternative to his re-election.
With all signs now pointing toward Lewis entering the race, it only made sense for Preckwinkle to end the speculation about her own plans, which had been re-fueled by two new polls showing she could defeat Emanuel.
The results of an Early & Often poll released Sunday suggest Lewis could beat Emanuel as well, if the election were held today, which fortunately for the mayor, is not the case.
He’s got seven months to rehabilitate his image with the voters of Chicago, and it probably helps him for Lewis to come to the front of the pack now so the public can focus on their differences, as well as her shortcomings, instead of only his.
It definitely makes the task ahead easier for him without Preckwinkle in the race, although he has been saying for months now that she has assured him she would not run.
Just the same, it’s also helpful to Lewis that Preckwinkle is stepping aside because her withdrawal allows those seeking an alternative to Emanuel to enlist in her campaign immediately instead of waiting on the sidelines until after the November elections to see what Preckwinkle would do.
That includes both potential donors and other labor unions whose support Lewis will need to have a real chance.
Loyal readers may recall I wrote back in May that Lewis would NOT run for mayor, based on the belief she understood her ardent advocacy for the teachers union was not compatible with a mayoral campaign, in short, that she was not politic enough to be a politician. That’s not looking like a very smart prediction right now.
While I still harbor concerns along the same lines, it now appears Lewis does not, and I certainly don’t want to say anything to discourage her from giving Chicagoans a real choice in the mayoral election. There will be plenty of time later to sort out who is the better choice.
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) also seems to be getting ready to make a run for mayor, and former Ald. Robert Shaw has already announced his candidacy, and the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned, although Lewis starts off in the stronger position.
While I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any poll, the results of both the Early & Often poll and another one published by Crain’s Chicago Business should be more cause for concern from the Emanuel camp.
Our poll, conducted by We Ask America, showed Lewis with a 45 to 36 percent lead over Emanuel. The Crain’s story, quoting a poll conducted for the Teamsters union, showed Preckwinkle beating Emanuel, albeit by a smaller margin — 8 points — than the 24 points forecast by We Ask America. Strangely enough, the Teamsters, who have been allied with Emanuel, didn’t include Lewis in the poll results that were released.
Even if you flip the Early & Often results and assume Lewis is starting the race behind 45 to 36, that still qualifies her as a very serious candidate at this stage of the campaign.
It’s my own belief that what you’re really seeing in these poll results is that there are a lot of voters who just don’t like Emanuel. His need to take tough stands on difficult issues accounts for part of that, but he’s also managed to rub a lot of people the wrong way with his personal style.
Lewis, likewise, can be a polarizing figure, and some of the things she could get away with saying as CTU president won’t fly in a mayoral campaign.
Plus, voters will start focusing on where she stands on all the issues, not just those affecting schools. In a speech at the City Club, Lewis proposed enacting a commuter tax, which she said would be a 1 percent income tax on people who live outside the city and work in it; a progressive state income tax with higher rates for those with larger incomes; and a “LaSalle Street Tax,” a financial transaction tax on futures contracts and derivatives.
That would definitely set the stage for a rousing debate on income disparity in America, which Emanuel now wants to head off with his endorsement of a $13 minimum wage.
At a public appearance Tuesday, Emanuel deflected questions about Lewis, saying there will be a time for politics, but this isn’t it.
In Chicago, it’s always time for politics.