Chicago strike creates perils, opportunity for White House

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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GOP advocates are taunting the president for inactivity as his adopted hometown remains paralyzed by a massive teachers strike.

“The president isn’t taking a position on the Chicago teachers union strike… Awkward,” said an email from Republican spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

The strike has excluded 400,000 students from school, and comes as the city deals with the housing meltdown and a crime-wave on the African-American Southside.

The problems in Chicago may further tarnish Obama’s poll ratings in the last few weeks before the November election.

Mitt Romney also tried to entangle Obama in Chicago’s meltdown.

“Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children… [and] President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you,’” said Romney.

“I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.”

Kukowski’s email suggested that Chicago politics has reached into the White House. “Is [his inactivity] because he’s said he is ‘committed to’ the teachers union and doesn’t want to go against his newest fundraiser Rahm Emanuel?” she asked.

Emanuel recently quit Obama’s campaign to help raise funds for an outside super PAC, while the Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Obama for president in 2007.

However, GOP intervention creates an opportunity for Obama to force a settlement and appear as the peacemaker among the various members of his coalition — unmarried mothers, state employees, the Democratic Party machine and the teachers who are pushing for a large pay increase.

The teachers and city politicians are likely to accept an Obama-pushed deal that postpones the issue — and any strike — beyond the election.

Regardless of the strike, Illinois is likely to vote for Obama, largely because of the Democrats’ dominance of the northern portion of the state.

Jay Carney, the White House’s spokesman, on Monday urged the city and strikers to reach a deal.

“The sides in this dispute in Chicago can and should work it out… and we hope they do resolve this,” he said.

Obama’s “principal concern is for the student and families,” Carney said, adding that he has not heard from the president about the strike. “The president… has not expressed any opinion,” he added.

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