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Top mayoral aide apologizes for joke that ‘fell flat’ during teachers strike

The mayor’s chief in-house negotiator, Mike Frisch, offered to bet Lightfoot and other top aides “3 cigars and a bottle of scotch” on the length of the strike. Frisch called it “ a failed attempt on my part to inject some levity” into a high-stress situation.

Chicago Teachers Union members rally on Sept. 14. The CTU has set a strike deadline of Oct. 17.
Chicago teachers went on strike in 2019.
Sun-Times

A top mayoral aide apologized Wednesday for making a joke out of the 11-day teachers strike — by sending an email offering to bet Mayor Lori Lightfoot and top mayoral aides about when the strike would end.

”My email reflected a failed attempt on my part to inject some levity into a high stress, tense and serious situation,” Mike Frisch, the mayor’s chief in-house labor negotiator, was quoted as saying in a statement released by the mayor’s office.

“There was no actual bet. This was intended to be a joke that clearly did not land. It was in poor taste, and I apologize.”

Although Lightfoot was among those who received the email, she never responded and does not have “any recollection” of it, the mayor’s office said.

“As evident during daily public comments, the Mayor took the issue of the work stoppage by CTU very seriously and the Mayor, of course, never participated in any bet nor would she,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Frisch’s apology didn’t satisfy Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey.

“It sort of shows why we have been having such a difficult time with the mayor on the question of a safe reopening of schools. There was a degree of disregard for the seriousness of the situation with a joke. There’s a kind of irreverence there about something that we considered to be quite serious at the time. And we’re still seeing a degree of disregard to what we view as very legitimate concerns involving schools,” Sharkey said.

“The mayor has shown herself in her kind of personal proclivities — the scotch and cigars, the kind of insider jokes and hardball and foul-mouth — to be a very different kind of politician than she said she was when she was running. For someone who said, ‘Bring in the light. I’m gonna be an anti-Machine politician,’ there’s a lot of Machine features there.”

The embarrassing email that only exacerbated tensions between Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

In the subject line of the email, exchanged during the strike, Frisch wrote “confirming our agreement.”

“The Bet: 3 cigars and a bottle of scotch of the winner’s choosing. Under: Strike ends before next Weds. Over: Strike extends past Weds,” he wrote.

In an obvious reference to Maurice Classen, the mayor’s chief of staff, Frisch wrote: “Frisch and Maurice have the Under, MLL has the Over. Now no one can back out ...”

The strike ended only after Lightfoot lost the public relations battle, essentially giving away the store to the union, which had backed her vanquished opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The mayor initially demanded that teachers not be compensated for the 11 days they were on strike. The walk-out ended only after Lightfoot agreed to pay striking teachers for five of the 11 days they had spent on the picket lines.