Karen Lewis on her health, Chicago’s mayoral race and a text from Emanuel

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CHICAGO -- Diagnosed with a brain tumor last October, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union is talking about fighting her cancer, tackling the next teachers' contract and the race for mayor.

At 61 and diagnosed with a brain tumor, Karen Lewis, the force behind the 26,000 member union, sits and smiles, months after walking away from public life and a run for mayor.

"I was running. We just called it an exploratory committee until we got enough money," she said.

She is lighter in body and spirit, aware her health needed to become a priority at a time she was preparing to wage a political war against incumbent Rahm Emanuel, a man she fought tirelessly during contract talks just three years ago. It's a contract that expires again this June and is now a priority in her office these days, but so is her health: Surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. A rigorous chemotherapy is scheduled for next year as well, but her message to those who follow her is this:

"I'm still me, and I think that's the thing that I think is important that when you have an illness, and people get scared, and you hear brain tumor and you don't know what that means, which is why I'm glad that people have the opportunity to see me and to talk to me and to see that I'm still here."

She is scaling back her days greatly at CTU. Her husband takes her phone from her from time to time, and she shuts off work and other distractions for a period each night. No more 16 hour days, she says, but the upcoming election has her engaged. Chuy Garcia, who is No. 2 in the polls, is her man, prompting her to take on Rahm Emanuel, again.

After her health issue was made public, she got a text from Emanuel.

"He did reach out," she said "I was shocked but I thought it was cool. Thank you. I appreciated it."

And she is no more kind when discussing Illinois' new governor.

"I hope he falls on his face," Lewis said.

While still in the throes of treatment, Karen Lewis will address the City Club Monday.

As for running for mayor down the road, she has no interest. This was her time, she said, and apparently it wasn't in the cards.

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  • Tino Soto

    I respect her strength and her unwillingness to back down from a fight. But only being described as a charismatic speaker is not enough to say that she was in anyway qualified to run for Mayor of a city such as ours. Also, hoping that our new Governer falls flat on his face? Let me guess, she believes she can do a better job there as well.