CHICAGO — An explosive revelation is shaking up an already competitive mayor’s race here after incumbent Lori Lightfoot’s campaign sent an email to Chicago public school teachers — in a system she oversees — asking them to recruit students to volunteer on her campaign for school credit.
Now, the Chicago Public Schools inspector general is investigating the matter, critics are calling for more extensive inquiries and her opponents are piling on.
All of it threatens to further complicate Lightfoot’s already daunting path to reelection in February, in which she has trailed in the polls.
“CPS OIG has opened an investigation into this matter and we are currently gathering information to determine which, if any, policies have been violated,” the Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General confirmed to NBC News Thursday.
The probe comes after a deputy campaign manager sent an email to public school teachers — over government email — asking them to recruit students to volunteer for Lightfoot’s campaign in an “externship program” where students could earn class credit. The Chicago PBS station, WTTW News, first reported the emails.
“We’re simply looking for enthusiastic, curious and hard-working young people eager to help Mayor Lightfoot win this spring,” the aide said in the email obtained by WTTW News.
The email comes just as a nine-way mayoral battle is underway and Lightfoot is facing formidable opponents, including Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Chicago and Paul Vallas, a former superintendent of Chicago schools.
“It might suggest that a sense of desperation is sitting in,” Vallas said of the recruitment effort through schools.
Vallas, a former superintendent of Chicago schools, called for a thorough inquiry into the extent of the campaign’s involvement, including whether someone shared government email lists with a political entity.
“I cannot believe CPS did this without some kind of clear message from city hall,” he said.
Another opponent, Chicago Ald. Sophia King, said the email in and of itself was the kind of thing that “gives Chicago a bad name.”
“I really think this is egregious and if she had anything to do with this she should step down,” King said.
As mayor, Lightfoot directly oversees Chicago schools, appointing the superintendent and members of the board of education.
After news broke of the email on Wednesday, the Lightfoot campaign issued several statements stating that 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.”
Asked on Thursday about the inspector general’s probe, her campaign released a statement saying, “If there is a Board of Ethics inquiry, we will address it at that time. We are committed to running an ethical, transparent campaign, and will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead.”