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Lightfoot Opponents Blast Mayoral Campaign’s Attempt To Recruit CPS Students As Volunteers Via Teacher Emails

According to CPS ethics guidelines, “a political campaign should not be using the CPS email system to solicit volunteers and donations.”

In a new ad, Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers pizza — and a list of her accomplishments.
Lightfoot for Chicago

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing fierce backlash after her campaign emailed Chicago Public Schools teachers asking them to recruit students to volunteer for her campaign in exchange for class credit. 

The email, which was obtained by Block Club and first reported by WTTW Chicago’s Heather Cherone, went out Tuesday from Lightfoot’s deputy campaign manager Megan Crane to teachers’ work emails. 

In the email, Crane bills the program as an “externship” opportunity to volunteer in the mayor’s re-election campaign. The election is scheduled for 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 says. “Lightfoot for Chicago is seeking resumes from any volunteer interested in campaign politics and eager to gain experience in the field.”

The email goes on to say that in exchange for volunteering, students would be eligible to earn class credit. It says that “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 states. 

Although it is unclear how many teachers received the email, the revelation that it was sent at all set off a firestorm of criticism from nearly every one of Lightfoot’s election opponents, as well as the Chicago Teachers Union. 

“This is unethical and wrong on so many levels,” the union said in part. 

According to ethics guidelines published by the Chicago Public School system, “a political campaign should not be using the CPS email system to solicit volunteers and donations.” Ethics 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 reported that Lightfoot’s campaign 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.”

But after WTTW published the email and mayoral opponents roundly slammed it, the campaign backtracked, saying in a statement that the campaign would “cease contact with CPS employees” out of an “abundance of caution.”

WTTW also reported that a third, stronger statement came from the campaign approximately two hours later, saying staff had been reminded “about the solid wall that must exist between campaign and official activities and that contacts with any city of Chicago, or other sister agency employees, including CPS employees, even through publicly available sources is off limits. Period.” 

Brandon Johnson, who is running against Lightfoot for mayor and has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, called the emails “outrageous” and “unethical” in a statement on Twitter. 

“[Lightfoot] is exploiting young people for political gain,” Johnson said. 

Other opponents, including Paul Vallas, called for an ethics investigation by the city and the CPS Inspector General into how the Lightfoot campaign obtained the email addresses, and whether the campaign had worked with CPS to offer class credit. 

CPS email addresses are public information, but it is unclear whether the Lightfoot campaign used city resources to obtain the emails through a list, or compiled them independently. 

“Chicago voters deserve to hear answers to these questions,” the statement from the Vallas campaign said in part. 

Last year, CPS leadership tried to fire two teachers for protesting the city’s attempt to move a scrap shredding company from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side. In its recommendation, the city said that the two teachers, Chuck Stark and Lauren Bianchi, showed “poor judgment and bias” by encouraging students to participate in demonstrations against the move. The Chicago Board of Education rejected this attempt and the teachers kept their jobs.

As mayor, Lightfoot oversees the CEO of the city’s public school system, Pedro Martinez.

Lightfoot ran for mayor in 2019 on a campaign of rooting out corruption at City Hall. The mayoral election on Feb. 28 includes a crowded, nearly 10-person field. If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held April 4. 

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