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Chicago teachers strike: Mitt Romney slams union, walkout

September 10, 2012|By Mitchell Landsberg and Kathleen Hennessey

MANSFIELD, Ohio — On at least one topic, Mitt Romney is in agreement with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff.

Romney issued a statement Monday criticizing the Chicago Teachers Union for its strike, which came after months of contentious back-and-forth between union President Karen Lewis and Emanuel, as well as his appointed school board.

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education,” Romney said in the statement, issued by his campaign as he was flying from Boston to a campaign event in Ohio. “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.”

PHOTOS: Chicago teachers go on strike

The union is striking over failure to reach agreement on several issues, including teacher evaluations, hiring, healthcare and salary.

Romney went on to attack Obama, casting him — somewhat improbably — as an ally of teachers unions. Obama and his education secretary, former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan, have advocated policies, such as school choice and the use of testing in teacher evaluations, that are anathema to teachers unions. They have also, however, used stimulus money to pay for teacher salaries, winning support from the unions.

“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,’” Romney said. “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.”

The White House, meanwhile, tried to bow out of the fight on Monday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said he hadn't discussed the strike with the president.

“Our principle concern is for the students. The president's principle concern is for the student and families,” he said. But the president “has not expressed an opinion or made any assessment about this particular incident.”

The strike is something of a political trap for the president, but it's unlikely Obama will be able to stay quiet on the standoff for long. Not only is his former chief of staff the one squaring off against a key Democratic constituency, but the strike is unfolding in his hometown.

Carney tried to pivot to safer political ground on Monday, noting that the president's languishing jobs bill would have provided funding to local government for hiring teachers.

“He certainly doesn't agree with those who think adding more teachers shouldn't be a priority,” Carney said.

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mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

kathleen.hennesy@latimes.com

Twitter: @latlands, @khennessey

Landsberg reported from Ohio, Hennessey from Washington.

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