Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday she’s outraged by the latest contracting scandal at the Chicago Public Schools — this one involving the CEO’s chief of staff — but it’s done nothing to shake her “1,000 percent” confidence in Janice Jackson.
Pedro Soto was charged last week with lying to the FBI when asked whether he passed secret bid information about a $1 billion contract to privatize the school system’s cleaning and engineering work.
The alleged scheme was outlined in a four-page charging document known as a criminal information, which typically signals a defendant intends to plead guilty.
Federal prosecutors did not reveal how Soto might have influenced the bidding process for the custodial contract, only that he lied about it on Dec. 17, 2019, after the FBI began to dig into it.
The case against Soto involves a bidding process that began in April 2016 — just six months after former Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in a bribery scheme that landed her in prison. The financially-strapped school system that serves so many children living in poverty was left reeling.
Given the scandal’s juxtaposition to the Byrd-Bennett scandal, Lightfoot was asked Thursday if it had shaken her confidence in Jackson, whom she inherited from former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“No, not at all. The fact of the matter is that the individual who is charged and is … gonna be pleading guilty, engaged in criminal conduct. … On the basis of the information that was filed, he gave confidential information to a potential bidder for a janitorial contract,” Lightfoot said.
Also, Lightfoot said it was her understanding that the “company that was improperly seeking that information never even made it into the final three and obviously wasn’t awarded the contract.”
When Jackson learned about the alleged bid-rigging scheme involving her right-hand man, she took “a number of immediate steps, not the least of which was” referring the case to the CPS inspector general, the mayor said.
“It’s very unfortunate that this individual who had worked for CPS for 20 years … didn’t think any better of himself, his obligation to the children of the system and to CPS itself. He will obviously pay a very high debt for what he has done and the criminal conduct that he’s presumably admitting to,” Lightfoot said.
“But this doesn’t have anything to do with the current leadership and my 100 percent — and I’ll say 1,000 percent — confidence in Dr. Jackson.”
Lightfoot made her remarks at a news conference to unveil a new housing initiative. She joined the Community Investment Corp. in South Shore to announce a $330 million lending commitment from 40 banks, paving the way for the acquisition and rehabilitation of 7,000 units of affordable rental housing in South and West side neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of disinvestment.
Also at the news conference, the mayor said she’s troubled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging cities and states to prepare to administer a coronavirus virus vaccine before the November election.
“I’m deeply concerned about the CDC talking at all about anything other than what the science is. … I’m very concerned about the fact that the CDC is now talking about vaccines in connection with elections. That should not be happening,” she said.
“Of course, we’ve have been preparing now for some time. We are concerned about making sure we educate people about what the process will be when a vaccine is actually ready, when it’s mass produced and when it’s available to be administered in communities like Chicago. I would be shocked if that happens before Election Day.”