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Mark Brown: Despite wounds, mayor will eventually claim victory in teachers strike

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Officer Donald J. Marquez Charter School participates town hall discussiwith students teachers parents. Schools CEO Jean-Claude

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Officer Donald J. Marquez Charter School and participates in a town hall discussion with students, teachers and parents. Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard participated. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:41AM



The Chicago Teachers Union gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel a black eye this past week, no doubt about it.

The teacher strike caught Emanuel flush, knocked him off stride for a week and will leave a mark.

Just remember, though, black eyes heal.

To belabor the boxing analogy another moment, it’s as if the mayor took a standing eight count.

He didn’t go down. There’s no debilitating injury. And woe to any opponent who starts celebrating in the ring too soon.

There will be speculation Emanuel has been weakened politically going forward by his bout with CTU President Karen Lewis and her 30,000 members.

I don’t see it.

First and foremost, he’s still the mayor.

For three more years. At least. With all the power and influence that goes with it, which as we all know is everything in this town.

Outside the arena of the Chicago Public Schools, Emanuel’s dominance remains unchallenged.

Few aldermen even dared to publicly support the teachers union during the strike.

Two-thirds of the City Council, including all the powerful veterans, signed a letter urging teachers to stay in the classroom during negotiations instead of striking.

None of them gained any stature from the strike that would allow them to build an independent power base. And in many ways, they’re now stuck in the same boat with him, meaning it will continue to be in their best interest to row together.

Plus, there’s still nobody who can match the mayor’s campaign fund-raising prowess in the business community, where his reputation was only burnished by his willingness to do battle with a public employee union.

Also, don’t forget, the mayor is going to claim victory.

He might wait until after the teacher union’s House of Delegates vote on Sunday so as not to upset the tentative agreement reached Friday with his crowing. His initial statement referring to the tentative deal as an “honest and principled compromise” was noticeably subdued.

But at some point, he’s not going to be able to help himself. He’s going to want everyone to know he didn’t back down from the teachers and got what he wanted in the contract, which appears to be arguably true as we piece together the details of the agreement.

Some believe the teacher strike will weaken Emanuel’s hand in other sensitive contract negotiations. Maybe.

But neither Chicago Police nor firefighters, both currently in contract talks, are allowed to strike. They can’t hold that threat over him.

While it probably wouldn’t help the mayor to antagonize either group and add to his committed detractors, my recollection is that he ran against nearly all of organized labor in the last election, and it didn’t hurt him a bit. Mind you, some of the unions may be more motivated to work harder next time.

A week from now, the CTU strike may already be fading from memory, and something new will come along to occupy our concerns.

It’s not as if Emanuel won’t have enough other problems to handle.

Reducing crime will return to being job one.

An overlooked winner in the CTU strike may have been Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who not only got a breather from the front page emphasis on the city’s gun violence for a week but also experienced an actual falloff in murders while the kids were out of school, not to suggest the two are connected.

By the first of the year, the pressing need for pension reform will put Emanuel back in conflict with all the city’s public employee unions. Financial necessity leaves him no out.

And now that the teachers contract is settled comes the difficult business of paying for it, which in part will require closing more schools. That will unleash a new round of howling from both the teachers and the affected communities.

There also is this little matter of a presidential election less than two months away, for which Emanuel can now resume his duties — which only just began before the strike — as Barack Obama’s SuperPAC fundraiser. He is in effect the president’s political envoy to the mega-donors.

For Emanuel, much is riding on getting Obama re-elected to keep him in position to help the city during a second term. If Obama wins, Emanuel’s continued power is assured.

In the meantime, there’s the matter of that black eye. They always say a nice steak is good for that. Maybe Karen Lewis could send one over — wrapped in newspaper.



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