Obama needs to tread carefully in Chicago strike
Updated: 2012-09-12 07:53
By Eric Johnson in Chicago (China Daily)
The Chicago teachers' strike is putting US President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in a bind, pitting unions loyal to him against officials with ties to the White House.
The Obama camp needs to be careful not to upset the unions, which it needs for campaign funds and to do ground work leading up to the Nov 6 election, while not alienating independent voters who are worried about the Democrats being too close to powerful labor groups.
While not directly involved, Obama is associated in many minds with politics in his hometown, where one of his cabinet members, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, formerly oversaw the schools and now endorses the changes that have angered teachers.
And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a former Obama chief of staff.
Some 29,000 teachers and support staff are involved in the strike, the city's first in a quarter of a century, to protest reforms such as performance evaluations for teachers and more authority for school principals.
"They should go back to work. I think it's unbelievable," said a major Obama donor in the Chicago area, worried about the effect the strike will have on Obama's image with independent voters in swing states.
"Every person I know who is a major donor to the president is against the strike decision," the donor said.
But the Obama campaign relies on the Democratic legions of rank-and-file union labor to carry out voter drives in key battleground states, which may be their best chance to overcome well-funded Republican attacks over the airwaves.
Obama is expected to win Illinois handily on Election Day, but he needs union help in closely contested midwestern states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
"The unions are a strong part of the Democratic Party and when you alienate the unions then you begin to pull the Democratic dominance of Chicago apart," said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that Obama was aware of the situation in Chicago.
His "principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation", Carney said. "We hope both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly."
The strike in the nation's third-largest school system is a distraction for Emanuel, a key fundraiser for Obama.
Thomas Bowen, director of Emanuel's political action committee, said "The mayor is committed to re-electing the president, but he must focus on his job as mayor right now."
(China Daily 09/12/2012 page10)