Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a champion for public education and a vocal critic of corporate education reform, has been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and will not be able to run for office against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a source close to Lewis said on Monday.
On October 8, Lewis completed a successful five-hour surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she is also scheduled to undergo a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.
"Karen Lewis has decided to not pursue a mayoral bid," Jay Travis, the head of her mayoral exploratory committee said in a statement. "Yet she charges us to continue fighting for strong neighborhood schools, safe communities and good jobs for everyone."
A recent poll had Lewis leading Emanuel in the mayoral election 45 to 36 percent.
The 61-year-old has been a longtime advocate of Chicago public schools and was held up by many as a national figure in the fight against the privatization of public schools. She had come up against Emanuel on numerous occasions, most notably in the September 2012 Chicago teachers' strike.
Following the announcement of her surgery, education scholar Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog, "In fighting against the forces of corporate reform that seek to destroy public education, Karen Lewis has been a model for all of us. She is a teacher. She has taught all of us how to organize from the ground up, how to rally resistance, how to live in truth and integrity."
An outpouring of support also continues to dominate the Karen Lewis for Mayor Facebook page while the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote an open letter to Lewis, saying, "[Y]ou've made yourself essential to the debate in this metropolis — to almost any debate, that is, about Chicago and its children, its schools, its finances, its direction."
"Larger-than-life political champions with the smarts and guts to take on the powers-that-be—well, they don't come around every day."
And in the Chicago Reader, journalist Ben Joravsky, who authored the book Hoop Dreams, wrote: "Larger-than-life political champions with the smarts and guts to take on the powers-that-be—well, they don't come around every day. Especially in Chicago. It's so disheartening to see the great ones go down, even if it's just a temporary setback, as we hope Karen's illness will be."
The Mayor's Press Office also issued a statement saying, "Lewis is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and has always been willing to speak up for her view of what's best [...] we hope to see her on her feet very soon.”
According to a press statement, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey will assume the duties of the president during Lewis' recovery.