- Brian Jackson / Sun-Times Media
- Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis reportedly has a “serious illness.”
I won’t kid you, folks, this has been a rough week for me and people of my political persuasion.
I mean, hearing that Karen Lewis—the people’s champ—was rushed to the hospital . . .
Well, it brought me back almost 30 years to the day Harold Washington died.
I know, I know—Karen is very much alive.
My point is that larger-than-life political champions with the smarts and guts to take on the powers-that-be—well, they don’t come around every day.
Especially in Chicago.
It’s so disheartening to see the great ones go down, even if it’s just a temporary setback, as we hope Karen’s illness will be.
I suppose if there’s any trace of humor in all of this—be it darkly cynical—it’s the outpouring of sympathy coming from some of Karen’s most vociferous foes.
Including a certain mayor I’ll call Rahm.
On Thursday, Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, held a press conference to say Lewis “has a serious illness” and had undergone surgery.
That press conference was barely over before the mayor’s press office—lightning quick as usual—issued the following statement:
“Karen Lewis is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and has always been willing to speak up for her view of what’s best—not only for the teachers that she represents, but also for issues critical to the future of our city. Along with all Chicagoans, we will keep Karen and her family in our thoughts and prayers, and we hope to see her on her feet very soon.”
All right, folks, let’s take a survey: How many of you believe the mayor sincerely hopes that Karen is “on her feet” anytime before, oh, the February 24 mayoral election? C’mon now, be honest.
Don’t get me wrong—I understand Mayor Emanuel’s predicament. On the one hand, basic human decency—a trait I don’t generally associate with politics around here—requires that he say something nice.
On the other hand, my old-fashioned Chicago skepticism makes it hard for me to fully believe anything nice he has to say about a powerful foe who has the potential to drive him from office.
In some ways, Mayor Rahm’s new-found appreciation for Karen Lewis reminds me of the changing attitudes toward Muhammad Ali.
Speaking of the people’s champ.
When Ali was young, strong, and defiant, the ruling elite—not to mention lots of everyday white people—hated his guts.
In Ali’s title bouts, they rooted for Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Cleveland Williams, Brian London—or anyone else he was fighting.
But once he was virtually silenced with Parkinson’s, they couldn’t love him enough.
They even gave him a second gold medal at the 1996 Olympics to replace the one he says he threw into the Ohio River back in 1960 to protest racism.
Anyway, Karen, if, by chance, you’re reading this, allow me to join our good friend—Mayor Rahm—in offering prayers and wishes for a speedy recovery.
Here’s hoping you come back stronger than ever—and that you whoop some mayoral ass.
Then we’ll see how much they love you.