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City creates Cultural Center office for Lightfoot’s wife to focus on youth programs

City Hall describes a volunteer role for first lady Amy Eshleman that sounds similar to the one held by former first lady Maggie Daley, who championed After School Matters

First Lady Amy Eshleman (left), Mayor Lori Lightfoot (right) and their daughter, Vivian (center) at the mayor’s May 20 inauguration at Wintrust Arena.
Associated Press

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s wife now has an office at the Cultural Center, where she will focus on “youth and education outside of school programming,” City Hall disclosed Thursday, describing a volunteer role for Amy Eshleman similar to the one once held by former first lady Maggie Daley.

“We were looking for space outside of City Hall,” mayoral press secretary Anel Ruiz said.

Eshleman, 57, is not ready to talk about her new role until it is more clearly defined. She’s “taking time to plan and develop” the citywide initiative, Ruiz said.

It will focus on “youth and education outside of school programming,” which sounds a lot like the award-winning arts and education programming known as “After School Matters” that Maggie Daley championed — along with then-Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg — from an office also located at the Cultural Center.

“Similar to prior First Ladies, Amy Eshleman is looking forward to taking on key initiatives on behalf of the City of Chicago,” Ruiz wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times.

“With over 20 years of experience expanding opportunities for Chicago’s young people, the First Lady is excited to continue this work in her new role.”

Eshleman spent 18 years at the Chicago Public Library and served as a top assistant to then-Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, a longtime friend of Lightfoot, who introduced the mayor to Eshleman.

Eshleman is credited with helping to develop YOUmedia, a digital center for teenagers.

“Amy Eshleman is one of the smartest, most hard-working people I’ve ever worked with. She understands the landscape of digital learning. Whatever role she decides to take will be a benefit to the city of Chicago,” Dempsey said Thursday.

Dempsey, one of Lightfoot’s leading campaign contributors, said she has no idea whether Eshleman will carve out a role similar to Maggie Daley or pave her own road.

“It’s whatever she wants it to be. But I can tell you she’s steeped in this work. She’s knowledgeable in this work ... she has a passion for it. There’s nobody who is better equipped to do whatever it is she chooses to do to help kids in the out-of-school learning space,” Dempsey said.

After leaving the library system, Eshleman worked as director of learning for the Urban Libraries Council and as “partnerships lead” for the Digital Youth Network at DePaul University.

She’s now self-employed, working as a “learning experiences consultant.”

Earlier this month, Lightfoot promised to confront the never-ending cycle of gang violence fueling the spike in shootings and homicides by focusing on providing opportunity for young people “lost” and “desperate,” in neighborhoods plagued by disinvestment.

The mayor argued then that the city “has to do much more” to connect with that lost generation.

“We’re thinking about and bringing other people to the table to talk about how we reach that cohort of young people, some of whom are in school, some of whom are in juvenile detention, some of whom are out on the street,” Lightfoot said then.

“If we can make significant progress with that cohort, particularly on the West Side, we will see a dramatic change in our violence numbers going forward. But this is work that should have been started a long time ago. And we’re behind the curve. But we’re gonna be focused like a laser beam on doing everything we can, starting last week to really focus on that cohort going forward.”