CHICAGO — Former longtime Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has passed away following a years-long battle with brain cancer. She was 67.
Lewis was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 2014, and stepped down from her position as CTU president in 2018 due to her health.
Lewis led a successful bid against the incumbent caucus of CTU and established her contentious brand. Bold and brash, she went up against then Mayor Richard Daley’s renaissance 2010 plan to open 100 new schools. A privatization plan she said was about business, not education.
Two years later, after going toe-to-toe with new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she led Chicago Public School teachers on a week-long strike, emerging, many would argue, victorious in their efforts to stem the privatization of public schools and defending teacher pay and benefits.
Lewis’ name and political clout was so recognized that hers was a leading name to run against Emanuel in his 2016 reelection bid. But even before her campaign could begin, she withdrew citing her health.
Before becoming CTU president, Lewis spent 22 years as a teacher and taught at both King College Prep High School and Lane Tech.
A CTU spokesperson released the following statement Monday morning:
“The nation has lost a true champion. Karen Lewis was one of the most powerful and prolific voices in public education, advocating for students, their families and the communities in which they live. For her tenure as president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she was the architect of today’s fight for education justice. As her spokeswoman, I cannot tell you how inspired I was by her leadership as well as her vulnerability as she navigated the treacherous terrain of Chicago politics. I cannot count how many times we shared tears over the plight of students and people who have been marginalized for years, or the bellows of laughter due to her biting sense of humor. Karen was my homegirl. She rocked. Our city has lost a great voice. I send my heartfelt condolences to her loved ones, friends and to the 25,000 members of the CTU. May her memory reign for all days to come and she find rest in the bosom of God.”Stephanie Gadlin
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also released a statement in response to Lewis’ death:
Amy and I are saddened to learn of Karen Lewis’ passing. Our deepest condolences go out to her family, loved ones, friends and CTU family during this extremely difficult time.Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot