CTU boss cheers for Rahmfather's early retirement

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Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass discusses Karen Lewis and her recent battles with Rahm Emanuel as well as her support for Toni Preckwinkle to run for mayor.

Karen Lewis, the feisty boss of the Chicago Teachers Union, has a special hope for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"Hopefully retired soon. I just think the mayor — I don't understand him. I just really don't," said Lewis.

Lewis made her remarks as a guest Thursday on "Kass and Cohn," my midmorning talk radio show on WLS-AM, and she took great pains to deconstruct the mayor.

She doesn't like him much. She thinks he's a mayor without a constituency, a guy just marking time looking for a better gig. Lewis said she wouldn't mind Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle taking over the fifth floor of City Hall.

"In this city, you need someone who actually makes connections with people across the spectrum," Lewis said. "And I don't see him being able to do that.

"And in a way, when that happens, it sort of backfires on you. It would seem like to me that the city's elite should kind of have the conversation with him: 'Stop being so polarizing.' I just think that's a real problem for the city."

Some readers and listeners asked me Thursday why I'd spend any time on Lewis. Here's why: I'm a conservative/libertarian, and she's of the political left, and we disagree on policy. But I respect the woman. Lewis is smart, tough and fearless. She protects her people. And she's Chicago.

Before the teachers strike, she called Rahm Emanuel out as a "bully," and then she beat him silly in front of his friends. And though his PR machine pretends otherwise, the city's business elites have been worried about Rahm since that 2012 teachers strike.

Lewis rolled him, then broke him, then rolled him some more.

Lately, Emanuel seems frazzled. When first elected, he had a couple of things going for him. The city's oligarchs supported him. And even though he may not have been loved by Chicago, he did have an aura of ruthless competence.

Now the oligarchs are worried, and he's running a huge deficit in the likability department. He has political problems with African-Americans in general and with cops and city workers in particular.

His aura of competence has been replaced by desperation. He just named a new high school after President Barack Obama. Hey, schoolkids, can you spell the word "pandering"?

Emanuel has support from North Side hipsters for building all those miles of bike lanes, but skinny guys in brightly colored pants aren't enough to win. Perhaps that's why he gave all that awkward TV love to African-Americans during the endless, cloying, eight-part CNN special that sought to glorify him.

Meanwhile, gangs on the South and West sides are continuing to slaughter kids in the streets, and over recent days, Rahm has been hit by both major newspapers on ethics issues, the kind he promised to end when he took over City Hall three years ago.

The Tribune nailed him for taking luxury fundraising trips at taxpayer expense.

The Sun-Times nailed him in a story about his uber-agent brother Ari Emanuel being an investor in Uber. That ride-share company and others have benefited from City Hall taking a heavy regulatory hand to their competitors, the established taxi companies.

Now Emanuel is pushing the only thing he's got, an aura of inevitability from his $7 million political war chest. Others are thinking about challenging his bid for re-election.

During our interview with Lewis, co-host Lauren Cohn asked the CTU president the question people want to know: Will she run for mayor in 2015?

"No," Lewis said, laughing. "No. No. I'm not a politician. I'm a schoolteacher. I'm very interested in educational policies, as I have been for the past five years. So clearly, I think this is where my focus needs to be."

But she thinks Preckwinkle could take out the mayor.

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