Karen Lewis (right), president of the Chicago Teachers Union, talks with journalist Walter Jacobson on Tuesday night at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times
Pro-Karen Lewis super PAC on the drawing board
With a robust campaign fund at $8 million and an outside super PAC already weighing in at $1 million, Mayor Rahm Emanuel certainly doesn’t have money problems.
But if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis decides to run against Emanuel, she won’t exactly be scraping bottom.
Political insiders tell Early & Often there’s an effort underway exploring creation of a super PAC to counter Emanuel — and benefit a Lewis candidacy.
Such political action committees, like Chicago Forward, which is benefitting Emanuel, are not subject to campaign finance caps, and they are able to make third-party expenditures to promote a candidate or attack another. However, they cannot coordinate directly with a candidate’s campaign.
The American Federation of Teachers earlier this week told the Sun-Times it could provide $1 million in support of a Lewis run. The AFT, as well as other labor groups, have explored setting up an outside committee, sources say.
“They’re clearly thinking about it and looking into it,” said one political operative.
The AFT has a national COPE (Committee On Political Education) that has millions of dollars in it.
“They can do that in a heartbeat,” the source said of the AFT creating a pro-Lewis super PAC.
Other national groups have expressed interest in setting up an outside PAC — if Lewis gets in the race. One of those groups, according to a longtime Chicago political operative, is MoveOn.org, which has a national base it can tap.
In July, MoveOn.org Political Action released a survey that said 85 percent of its 75,000 Chicago members wanted a “progressive challenger” to Emanuel.
Those involved in the talks say the groups want to help level the playing field, given Emanuel’s huge fund-raising advantage over any challenger.
This week, Lewis held her first public “listening session,” and filed papers setting up a political committee with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
In July, Early & Often published a poll showing that in a head-to-head contest, Lewis would beat Emanuel by 9 percentage points. The survey found Lewis was leading Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent with 18 percent of the likely voters undecided.
That same survey had Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle with a 24-point lead over Emanuel, leading her to officially announce she was out of the race days later. Citing the poll, Preckwinkle said she couldn’t get work done because everyone wanted to know if she was running for mayor.