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Bruce Dixon says once fiery black teachers union leader Karen Lewis pulled out for medical reasons, Garcia would not critique the Democratic Party and President Obama’s neoliberal education policies as Lewis was willing to do

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago won reelection. This was supposed to be a battle between Rahm Emanuel and the leader of the Teachers Union, Karen Lewis. But Ms. Lewis was found to have cancer, brain cancer, in the fall and had to pull out. That would have been a battle royale. Karen Lewis is a fiery leader of the Teachers Union, was fighting Emanuel on his whole policy of school shutdowns and which also became a symbol of a whole way to approach the problems of a big American city. But with the pulling out of Lewis, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was asked to run by Ms. Lewis, and he never really had the same kind of charisma or the same kind of support across the city, and some say not the same kind of politics. Now joining us to talk about all of this, and particularly Mr. Emanuel’s win, is from Atlanta, Bruce Dixon. Bruce is a native of Chicago, now in Atlanta. He’s also managing editor of Black Agenda Report. Thanks very much for joining us, Bruce. BRUCE DIXON, MANAGING EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for inviting me, Paul. JAY: So Emanuel wins by about 12 points, which is more or less what the polling was showing going into the runoff. Now, the fact that there even was a runoff shows how perhaps vulnerable Emanuel might have been, and we might as well do — let’s talk a bit about the might have been, because if Karen Lewis had run, what do you think might have been? Certainly one thing that lead to Emanuel’s win is apparently he did very well amongst African-Americans. Perhaps did better than Garcia, and maybe that’s the thing that won him the election. It certainly would have been a different story with Lewis. DIXON: I think that’s right. I think that Chuy did about as well as any Democrat would have done, as any centrist Democrat wold have done. Any Democrat, period, would have done. What Chuy didn’t do, perhaps felt that he couldn’t do, was he couldn’t denounce the mayor’s educational policies as part and parcel of the national bipartisan elite consensus on privatizing education in poor black and brown communities. Chuy couldn’t do that because of course he, too, is a career Democrat. Chuy couldn’t denounce these things in the way that Karen Lewis might have been able to. Chuy couldn’t advance a critique of the entire black political establishment, which almost unanimously — almost — came out for Rahm Emanuel. And these are things that Karen Lewis, an outsider, is more likely to have been able to do, had she chosen to. JAY: I mean, it was a fairly low turnout, wasn’t it? DIXON: There was absolutely a low turnout. This is the kind of — low turnout in municipal elections is something that the establishment has counted on for generations. I remember, I’ve been looking closely at Chicago election returns since the early ’70s, when the elder Daley was mayor. And that was the pattern then, was they would always want high turnouts in even-numbered years that projected their power down-state and nationally, but low turnout, especially in African-American communities, in municipal elections. You can see the same pattern here in Atlanta, where you’ve had black mayors since 1972. Shirley Franklin, the last, the second time that she ran, won with effectively something like about a 12% turnout. Which she got 89% of that. JAY: Now, Garcia ran as if he was not part of the machine. He was supposed to be a man of the people. He was supposed to be like a working-class candidate. Why didn’t that create more excitement amongst African-Americans? Because that’s — the African-Americans that did come out did more or less vote for the machine, which meant most people stayed home. DIXON: Well, that, that being a Democrat but not being part of the machine was the story of maybe 20 or 25 years of my life and a lot of people’s careers, and in fact it just doesn’t work. There were some people who, revealingly, were portraying this on the national level as a fight for the soul of the Democratic party. But in fact, the Democratic party has no soul, and if there ever was a fight for it it’s a fight that was decided almost a generation ago. And as long as you’re running as a Democrat, and the president, the biggest Democrat in the country is out here campaigning for your opponent, you better be something other than a Democrat in order to call that into question. If you’re still a Democrat, and your president is coming in campaigning against you, that’s got to say something. You know, how come Chuy couldn’t denounce that? Well, he couldn’t denounce that because of course he was a Democrat, too. JAY: Yeah. I mean, Karen Lewis was not shy about critiquing President Obama’s education policies. DIXON: That’s, that’s precisely it. And what Chuy would have had to do was he would have had to talk about not just Chicago, but talk about Philadelphia. Talk about New York. Talk about Kansas City. Talk about Atlanta. Talk about all the other cities where the same charter madness is unfolding, where they’ve got federal education policy that’s designed to create excuses to discredit and close public schools, and privatize them. And the fact that this is a national policy and that national policy, enforcing this national policy of privatization on black and brown communities who don’t want it is the reason why Barack Obama, why President Obama, parachuted his mayor into Chicago in the first place. It’s the reason why Barack Obama and — it’s the reason why Rahm Emanuel was able to raise and spend ten or twelve times as much in the first mayoral election as Chuy Garcia. That this is national policy, and this is the way the Democrat Party goes. JAY: Would it not been more difficult for Garcia to critique President Obama, frankly, because he’s not African-American? Karen Lewis can say things maybe Garcia can’t. DIXON: That’s exactly the point, is that Karen Lewis is not a career democrat politician, and she’s black. So she would have had a lot more latitude in criticizing the President, and criticizing national policy. Another thing, too, that Chicagoans are trying to get an elected school board, which is something that they’ve never had in Chicago. In Chicago, the mayor appoints the school board directly, and before the 1990s, when that became law, it was the mayor with permission of the city council appointing the school board. But of course it is a fact that in other places around the country where you have elected school boards, the federal government has figured out ways to subvert them, too, and to make them accessories to privatization. Or if they can’t do it, as they’re doing here in Georgia, to remove local school boards and put them under state control. JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us. DIXON: Thank you, Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Bruce Dixon is the managing editor of the Black Agenda Report. He has had an extensive career as a union activist in a string of factories, plants and workplaces. He is also the co-chair of the Georgia Green Party.