Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s re-election campaign emailed some Chicago Public Schools teachers on Wednesday encouraging them to urge their students to volunteer to aid Lightfoot‘s re-election in return for class credit.
The email came from Megan Crane, a deputy campaign manager, and was received by teachers’ official work email accounts.
“Externs are expected to devote 12 hrs/wk to the campaign,” the email stated. “Students are eligible to earn class credit through our volunteer program.”
“We’re simply looking for enthusiastic, curious and hard-working young people eager to help Mayor Lightfoot win this spring,” the email, which was obtained by WTTW News, added.
The initial information from the Lightfoot campaign given to WTTW by a spokesperson claimed the idea meant “to provide young people with the opportunity to engage with our campaign, learn more about the importance of civic engagement and participate in the most American of processes” and “done using publicly available contact information.”
But following WTTW’s revelation regarding the email, Lightfoot’s campaign stated it would “cease contact with CPS employees” out of an “abundance of caution,” followed by a third statement saying, “All [Lightfoot for Chicago] campaign staff 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.”
Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, called the email “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. … 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.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates called the email “unethical” and echoed the ACLU’s concern that teachers and students who refused to cooperate might be targeted. The teachers’ union has endorsed Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for mayor.
After winning the election for mayor in 2019, Lightfoot boasted, “Together we can and will make Chicago a place where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny. We can and we will break this city’s endless cycle of corruption and never again — never ever — allow politicians to profit from elected positions.”