Chicago — Last Halloween, 17-year-old Eleanor Glockner threw a red wool jacket over an old black dress of her mom’s. She dyed her hair gray, pinned it into a bun and stuck a homemade Chicago Teachers Union button on her lapel before marching down the street to trick-or-treat at the home of her neighbor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I was curious to see how he would react,” the Northside College Prep High School senior said mischievously, referring to her impersonation of CTU President Karen Lewis.
Disappointingly for her, rather than the mayor, a bowl of candies on a chair greeted sweets-seekers near the sidewalk in front of Emanuel’s home. But the plainclothes police officer guarding his home laughed and told Glockner he would tell the mayor about it.
Emanuel — a favorite son of Jewish organizations, such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Chicago’s Jewish United Fund — and Lewis, an African American who converted to Judaism two decades ago, may share a religious faith. But the clash of these two powerful personalities over the future of public education has seeped deep into Chicago’s consciousness as the two have brawled bitterly over what is, for many Jews, a key Jewish and public value.
Among the high (or low) points, according to Lewis, was a meeting between the two in the fall of 2011 when, Lewis reported, Emanuel “exploded” at her, pointed his finger, and screamed, “F— you, Lewis!” The famously salty-tongued Emanuel declined to confirm or deny Lewis’ account, but told the Chicago Sun-Times: “To tell the truth, she hugged me at the end of the meeting.”
For her part, some of Lewis’ attacks on Emanuel and his education reform program, led by wealthy philanthropists such as local billionaire Penny Pritzker, have been incendiary. Alluding to the reformers’ focus on closing unionized public schools that have performed poorly and replacing them with non-union charter schools, Lewis railed, “When did all these venture capitalists become so interested in the lives of minority students in the first place? There’s something about these folks who love the kids but hate their parents. There’s something about these folks who use little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”
Asked if the city schools should boost property taxes, Lewis said, “Yes. If you look at a majority of the tax base for property taxes in Chicago, they’re mostly white, who don’t have a real interest in paying for the education of poor black and brown children. We don’t want to say that out loud.”
Last month, the Sun-Times referred to Lewis and Emanuel as an “eraser set, involved in a real dust-up.”