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Rahm Emanuel picked this fight with teachers

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks Tuesday news conference TarkingtSchool Excellence Chicago as Principal Vincent Iturrald listens.  |  M.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks Tuesday at a news conference at Tarkington School of Excellence in Chicago as Principal Vincent Iturrald listens. | M. Spencer Green~AP

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:27PM

Rahm Emanuel started a fight with teachers that only he can finish.

In his 2011 campaign for mayor, he took the Chicago Teachers Union on as an adversary rather than attempt to make them a partner. He opted for a blunt instrument rather than a finessed approach. In hammering home how he was “for the children,” he left the implication that teachers were not.

And then, shortly after his election, Emanuel went to Springfield to get Senate Bill 7 passed. Touted as education reform, it was really an anti-collective bargaining measure, setting up a 75 percent vote threshold for union members to authorize a strike.

“No other union in the history in America has ever had to hit a 75 percent vote of membership,” said Bob Bruno, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor and director of the Labor Education Program.

Jonah Edelman, executive director of the deep-pocketed, pro-business group Stand for Children, was caught on video gloating about its legislative victory, saying: “The unions cannot strike in Chicago. . . . They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold.”

Though Edelman later publicly regretted his bravado, his agenda clearly is on behalf of the privatization of public education. And of charter schools. Even though the metrics of charter-school performance mirror the highs and lows of neighborhood public schools.

“I ran the numbers when I was at CPS,” said Terry Mazany, former interim CPS superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. “Charters, based on . . . being freed from restrictions of bureaucracy, should be knocking the socks off neighborhood schools. But they’re not. It’s a dead heat.”

And while there is, in this tortuous contract fight, a lot of talk about making teachers more accountable — a good thing — there is no talk from the mayor about making charters similarly accountable. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, but they’re not closely overseen by the Chicago Board of Education.

Nobody argues Chicago isn’t in dire financial straits. Or that our schoolchildren aren’t in desperate need of every advantage we can muster for them.

But teachers have been demonized to such an extent that it has led us to this strike.

“The elephant in the room is respect,” Mazany said.

And so Chicago teachers did exactly what Edelman thought impossible. They blew past the 75 percent barrier and got a 90 percent strike vote.

For the moment, according to a new poll by McKeon & Associates, more of Chicago’s registered voters support the strike than oppose it, 47 percent to 39 percent, with 14 percent undecided.

According to the survey, only 19 percent believe the mayor is doing an excellent or good job handling the strike, with nearly three quarters rating him at average, below average or poor.

I don’t know what kind of advice the mayor has been getting. But it should not have brought us to this Armageddon moment.

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