CPS watchdog to investigate Mayor Lightfoot campaign emails newstrendslive

The Chicago Public Schools inspector general has opened an investigation into an attempt by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reelection campaign to solicit students as political volunteers.

“CPS OIG has opened an investigation into this matter and we are currently gathering information to determine which, if any, policies have been violated,” CPS inspector general Will Fletcher said in an emailed statement.

City Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s office said it is “aware of the public reporting on this matter” and is in contact with Fletcher.

The uproar began earlier this week after Lightfoot’s political team asked CPS teachers to help recruit their students for her reelection campaign in exchange for class credit — a practice that the incumbent mayor’s campaign later vowed to stop after her challengers blasted it as crossing ethical boundaries.

An email obtained by the Tribune that was sent to a CPS work account Tuesday included a message titled “Externship Program Opportunity.” It’s unclear how many teachers received the emails, which were first reported by WTTW News. The email asked CPS staff members to “please share this opportunity with your students” and included a link to a Google form to sign up for the 12-hour-a-week program.

“Lightfoot for Chicago is seeking resumes from any volunteer interested in campaign politics and eager to gain experience in the field,” the email read. “The ideal volunteer will be efficient, well organized and enthusiastic about joining a dynamic team. A strong commitment to Democratic ideals is essential. … We’re simply looking for enthusiastic, curious and hard-working young people eager to help Mayor Lightfoot win this spring.”

In a series of statements, Lightfoot’s campaign first denied wrongdoing and characterized it as a typical learning opportunity offered by campaigns.

But the team later released an amended statement saying it would stop contacting teachers and noting that all campaign staff members “have 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.”

The message immediately drew reproach from Lightfoot’s challengers, who said it was improper. On Thursday, ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell, said the email “is inappropriately coercive and raises First Amendment concerns.”

“The Supreme Court has made clear that government officials cannot use their office or power to coerce participation or to punish for lack of participation in political campaigns. Federal courts affirmed that principle in an ACLU of Illinois case (O’Hare Truck Service, Incorporated v. City of Northlake),” Connell said. “Because the Mayor has the ultimate authority over the Chicago schools, teachers may feel coercion in this ask from the Mayor’s campaign or fear negative consequences for lack of participation.”

Connell called on Lightfoot to “personally and publicly renounce this infraction in strong, explicit language, making clear that no one in Chicago should feel compelled to participate in her reelection campaign.”

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