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Chicago teachers strike: Is Rahm Emanuel's test a challenge for Obama?

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Intensifying the matter this time around is the vitriol between the two leading figures in the dispute: Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both leaders did not meet directly this weekend. Last week, Emanuel, who controls the school district, dispatched Board of Education President David Vitale to negotiate on his behalf. In the recent past, Ms. Lewis has publicly called Emanuel a “liar” and a “bully.”

“We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with education they so rightly deserve,” said Lewis in a press conference Sunday night.

Emanuel expressed anger at his own press conference held late Sunday. He described the union’s action as a “strike of choice” and not one that was warranted. “This is not the right thing to do to the children," he said. "It’s unnecessary. It’s avoidable and it’s wrong." He also once again defended his agenda to extend the school day by 50 minutes, saying it would make Chicago public school children more competitive.

The strike involves about 29,000 teachers and support staff in what is the nation’s third-largest school district. The 45,000 students enrolled in the city’s charter schools will not be affected.

The standoff presents a significant political liability for Emanuel, because it threatens his efforts to build Chicago into a modern, globalized city that can compete for top tier talent and resources, says Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“He needs to get this right. If he’s found to be incompetent in negotiating with the teachers or miscalculated their resolve, or if he’s just too stubborn to look for points of common ground, it will raise serious issues in the long term, if he has a political future beyond mayor of Chicago,” Mr. Bruno says.

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