DOWNTOWN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot apologized Thursday after a campaign staffer emailed teachers at their Chicago Public Schools accounts attempting to recruit student volunteers for the mayor’s reelection effort.
The email, which was obtained by Block Club and first reported by WTTW Chicago’s Heather Cherone, was sent Tuesday.
Lightfoot’s team initially stood by the email, defending it as an “opportunity to engage” with the campaign and saying it was “done using publicly available contact information,” WTTW reported.
But campaign officials later reversed course, saying the campaign will “cease contact with CPS employees” out of an “abundance of caution,” according to a statement.
At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Lightfoot called the incident a “well-intentioned” mistake by one staffer and said there was no “nefarious intent … or coercion.” Lightfoot’s deputy campaign manager Megan Crane sent the email to teachers.
The mayor she only found out about it after reporters started asking about it.
“I have always held myself to a high ethical standard,” Lightfoot said. “I campaigned on it. I governed that way. And that’s the way I will continue to conduct myself, and people on my team must understand that and abide by it accordingly.”
Lightfoot said she apologized to CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Chicago Board of Education President Miguel de Valle after the incident was brought to her attention.
In the email to teachers, Crane billed the program as an “externship” opportunity to volunteer in the mayor’s reelection campaign. The primary election is Feb. 28.
“As the race heats up, we’re looking to enrich our office through what we call our externship program. Could you please share this opportunity with your students?” the email said. “Lightfoot for Chicago is seeking resumes from any volunteer interested in campaign politics and eager to gain experience in the field.”
In exchange for volunteering, students would be eligible to earn class credit, the email said. “Externs” would be expected to “devote 12 hours per week to the campaign,” and that volunteer opportunities included working on “voter contact, attending events and more.”
“We’re simply looking for enthusiastic, curious and hard-working young people eager to help Mayor Lightfoot win this spring,” the email stated.
It’s unclear how many people received the email. Lightfoot said her campaign was looking into it.
Several of Lightfoot’s political opponents, including Chicago Teachers’ Union leaders, blasted the tactic. CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher said his office opened an investigation into this matter, according to WTTW.
According to CPS ethics guidelines, “a political campaign should not be using the CPS email system to solicit volunteers and donations.” Guidelines recommend that teachers report and forward solicitation emails to an ethics advisor.
City employees, including teachers, are also prohibited from working on behalf of political campaigns during their job hours or on city property, according to municipal ethics codes. This would include recruiting student campaign volunteers in a CPS classroom.
WTTW News also reported the Chicago Board of Ethics will also discuss the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23. A spokesperson for Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg also said her office is “gathering information” about the emails and is in contact with Fletcher’s office.
Lightfoot said Thursday she and her campaign would work willingly with any investigation.
“They have every right to look into it, and if there is a need for us to respond, we’ll cooperate fully,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot has spoken with her campaign employees to reiterate there must be “an impenetrable” wall between her political office and reelection affairs, she said.
Crane won’t be fired, Lightfoot said, saying it’s an opportunity for the employee to learn and grow. Firing her would be the “easy” choice, but not the right one, she said.
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