Chicago Mayoral Campaign

Lightfoot Blasted After Asking CPS Teachers to Encourage Students to Help Her Mayoral Campaign

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The debate is heating up between Chicago mayoral candidates over public safety, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot defending her record and her opponents criticizing her performance in office. Mary Ann Ahern has the latest.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is under heavy scrutiny after her campaign sent an email to Chicago Public Schools teachers, asking them to offer students the opportunity to serve as “externs” on her reelection campaign.

Many of her opponents in the mayoral race blasted the email as “unethical,” and several suggested that she may have violated both the city’s ethics ordinance and election law in sending it.

The email was sent to teachers, offering students a chance to volunteer for her campaign in exchange for course credit.

According to multiple reports, Lightfoot’s campaign has since rescinded the offer in the wake of the withering criticisms.

Chicago Public Schools says that it will not coordinate with Lightfoot or any other campaign.

“As a rule, the district does not coordinate with any political candidates or campaigns. It has not done so to date, and will not be doing so,” a spokesperson for CPS said in a statement.

Ethics ordinances in the city of Chicago prohibit the use of public resources for non-official purposes, and email addresses are included as part of that ordinance.

Lightfoot’s campaign says that the email addresses of teachers are publicly-available, and denied any wrongdoing.

“This is a common practice that has been utilized in city, state and federal-level campaigns for decades, and has given countless high school and college students the opportunity to learn more about the electoral process,” the campaign said in a statement. “All LFC campaign staff have been reminded about the solid wall that must exist between campaign and official activities.”

Stacy Davis Gates, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called the emails “unethical” in an interview with WTTW, and said she was “concerned teachers who decline to volunteer….could face retaliation.”

The union sent out a letter Wednesday accusing Lightfoot of “shaking down” members of the union.

The email was sent out to CPS teachers this week, offering students an “externship” with the campaign.

“As the race heats up, we’re looking to enrich our office through what we call our externship program,” the email read. “Lightfoot for Chicago is seeking resumes from any volunteer interested in campaign politics and eager to gain experience in the field.”

Externs through the program were expected to work for at least 12 hours per week, which would make them eligible for class credit, according to the email.

Participants would be asked to work in areas including voter contact and at events.

“We’re simply looking for enthusiastic, curious and hard-working young people eager to help Mayor Lightfoot win this spring,” the email read.

The email sparked a tsunami of criticism from both Lightfoot’s political opponents and former officials, including former Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

“This is deeply, deeply problematic,” he said.

Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García also criticized the email as problematic.

“Looks like desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said. “The mayor should be more concerned about fully funding Chicago Public Schools than using them as a recruiting pipeline for free labor for her reelection campaign.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who is also running for mayor, criticized the emails as “unethical” and a contradiction on Lightfoot’s part.

“I don’t know what kind of lesson Lightfoot believes she is teaching, but the extra credit must be in government corruption,” he said. “This is completely unethical, a hypocritical contradiction to her campaign promises of better government, and a disgraceful exploitation of public school students.”

“Just when you think Chicago’s storied history of political patronage and machine corruption is breaking down, Lori Lightfoot proves she’s keeping it alive,” State Rep. Kam Buckner, another mayoral candidate, added. “This heavy-handed misuse and abuse of power is a reminder that Lori Lightfoot has no respect for the law.”

He called on the Inspector General’s office and the Chicago Board of Elections to investigate the emails. Paul Vallas made a similar call for an investigation