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Chicago Teachers Union Backs Former Education Activist in State Race

By Sam Cholke | February 5, 2014 7:24am
 The Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Jay Travis Tuesday in her bid against state Rep. Christian Mitchell in the 26th District.
The Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Jay Travis Tuesday in her bid against state Rep. Christian Mitchell in the 26th District.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — Jay Travis got an early endorsement Tuesday from the Chicago Teachers Union in her bid to unseat Christian Mitchell as the state representative for the 26th District.

“We will be knocking on doors, making phone calls and raising cash to make sure the next representative for the 26th District will be Jay Travis,” said Brandon Johnson, organizer and deputy political director for the union, at the event at Travis’ Kenwood campaign office.

Johnson said the union is backing Travis because Mitchell declined to back about half of the issues important to the union during his first term, including a moratorium on school closings and a push for an elected school board in Chicago.

“We will no longer accept rubber-stamp decisions from an unelected school board,” Travis told about 50 supporters at the event.

Travis is the former executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the south lakefront activist group that has pushed aggressively in recent years for increased investment in public schools. The group has been highly critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools district officials and the Board of Education.

Travis left the Kenwood Oakland group in 2012 to join the Woods Fund, a foundation that supports community organizing and public policy, as a program officer.

In the March primary election, Travis will face Christian Mitchell, who also claims the politically progressive mantle.

"They made a decision and I respect that," Mitchell said of endorsement from the teachers union. "I've earned the endorsement of the AFL-CIO for my support of working families and look forward to winning the support of the voters of the 26th District for a second term."

The Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Mitchell's opponent, Kenny Johnson, during the 2011 Democratic primary election.

Mitchell narrowly defeated Johnson in the 2011 primary in an election that astonished many for the extraordinary amount of money that was spent by two candidates who differed little in their progressive policy positions.

The two campaigns combined spent $695,000 during the 2011 election, with Mitchell’s campaign having spent nearly $324,000 in the three months leading up to the Democratic primary.

After the 2011 redistricting, the 26th District now includes lakefront neighborhoods as far north as Streeterville and as far south as South Chicago, covering sections of South Shore, Woodlawn, Hyde Park, the South Loop and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s political base in Kenwood in between.

Before the race has heated up, education is becoming a leading issue.

“We want a moratorium on school closings and we want it now,” Travis said Tuesday.

The Chicago Teachers Union has followed up its endorsement of Travis with a $15,000 contribution to her campaign.

Education groups are also beginning to contribute to Mitchell. Democrats for Education Reform contributed $2,500 to Mitchell’s campaign in October. The group’s sole donor is the New York-based Education Reform Now, which campaigned against the 2012 Chicago teachers strike and has supported candidates in several states that supported charter schools and paying teachers based on their students’ performance.

Both candidates are expected to ramp up their campaigns in the coming months and there are early talks of several debates.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Jacob “Coby” Hakalir in the general election.