The Spin: New ad targeting ComEd, corruption hits airwaves | State Sen. Steans calls on Speaker Madigan to give up leadership posts | ComEd attorney was lead Blagojevich prosecutor a decade ago
Chicago officials announced today they’re moving from a lax warning system to ticketing visitors or returning residents who fail abide by a self-quarantine order after arriving from a so-called high-risk COVID-19 state.
In a discussion with reporters today, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top public health official suggested offenders may be sussed out via social media or via contact tracing and fined.
The same day ComEd made its first court appearance on bombshell federal bribery charges involving House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operation, a new TV ad hit the airwaves in Illinois blistering the utility over the criminal case.
Interesting side note: The attorney representing ComEd was the lead prosecutor in the public corruption case of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
And Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans is calling on Madigan to step down from his roles as Illinois House speaker and state Democratic chairman after he was implicated in the ComEd case. But, as the Tribune’s Rick Pearson reports, she stopped short of calling on him to give up his Southwest Side house seat he had held since 1971.
Welcome to The Spin.
From the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt: “Chicago added Wisconsin and three other states to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 14-day self-quarantine order on Tuesday.
“There are now 22 states from which travelers are being told to self-quarantine upon arrival in Chicago due to coronavirus concerns. The requirement covering Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota and Nebraska goes into effect on Friday.” More details here.
As Pratt notes, many Illinois and Chicago residents, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, have homes there.
My Tribune colleague John Byrne also notes: “The city’s self-quarantine enforcement has been notably lax since Lightfoot announced the first 15 states on the list early this month.
“No citations have yet been issued, and the mayor has repeatedly stressed she’s more concerned with educating people about the risks than trying to punish them.
That’s about to change, city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady told reporters.
If city contact tracers get information that people who’ve come down with the virus were in close proximity to someone who got back from Wisconsin or another quarantine state and flouted the rules, they’ll issue a ticket, she said.
Same goes for people who are on social media “flagrantly posting their social activities, clearly out and about in Chicago after being in settings that are subject to our quarantine order, within the time frame,” Arwady said. Read more here.
After heavy COVID-19 toll on Illinois nursing homes, top regulators depart state agency: The Tribune’s Joe Mahr has the details here.
Bottled Blonde, controversial River North bar, closed permanently by coronavirus, but not violations: The Tribune’s Luisa Chu has the details here.
From the Tribune’s Ally Marotti: “Newcomers to Illinois’ weed industry remain in limbo, with some hemorrhaging money, and it could be another two months before they find out whether they’ll be allowed to open a marijuana business.
“The state is almost three months late awarding dispensary licenses, and a month late awarding licenses to grow, process and transport marijuana. Meanwhile, the consulting firm the state hired for about $6.7 million isn’t done with the process of scoring applications, an Illinois official said.
“KPMG entered into an almost $4.2 million, no-bid contract with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to score applications for 75 dispensary licenses. The firm also entered into a no-bid contract with the state’s agriculture department, worth $2.5 million, to score applications for more than 80 craft grow, infuser and transporter licenses.
“The coronavirus pandemic threw the process into disarray.” Read the full story here.
The Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes: Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans on Tuesday called on Michael Madigan to step down from his roles as Illinois House speaker and state Democratic chairman after he was implicated in a federal bribery and influence scheme that resulted in a $200 million fine against ComEd.
“Some will argue that the speaker is innocent until charges are filed and he’s proven guilty. But those are not the standards that should apply to his leadership role. Serving as speaker is not a right; it’s a privilege. A leader’s actions must avoid even the perception of wrongdoing. Speaker Madigan repeatedly has violated that trust,” Steans, a Chicago Democrat who has been in the Senate since 2008, said in a statement.
“For the same reason, Michael Madigan should step down as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. We are in the midst of the most important campaign of our lifetime — to remove a president who routinely violates our Constitution and our trust. In contrast, Democrats must offer voters a level of trust and accountability that Chairman Madigan can no longer provide,” she said.
But Steans stopped short of saying Madigan should give up his Southwest Side seat in the House, which he has held since 1971, or his position on the Democratic State Central Committee, saying those “are matters for his constituents to decide.”
Steans becomes the second Democratic member of the Senate to push for Madigan to step down from his leadership positions. But state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake went further, saying he should also give up his seat in the General Assembly.
Democratic senators face a bit more insulation from Madigan than the 72 other members of his House Democratic caucus, who have relied on his ability to help fund their campaigns. Some House Democrats have echoed Gov. Pritzker’s call that if the issues surrounding ComEd’s efforts to win Madigan’s favor prove true that he should step down.
Steans is also among the wealthiest members of the General Assembly and campaign finance reports show she has not taken any money from the four political funds that Madigan controls. Seeking reelection from the city’s North Side with no GOP opposition, Steans reported having $285,338 in her campaign fund at the start of July and had previously supplemented her fund with $80,400 in personal loans.
Steans’ Senate district also is represented in the House by Rep. Greg Harris, who holds the position of House majority leader, the top deputy post in Madigan’s leadership team.
Earlier this month, ComEd agreed to the fine and to cooperate with federal authorities. Prosecutors accused the state’s largest utility of orchestrating a “yearslong bribery scheme” involving jobs, contracts and payments to Madigan allies. Prosecutors said the utility attempted to “influence and reward” Madigan by providing financial benefits to some close to him, often through downstate lobbyist Michael McClain, a key confidant and adviser at the center of the probe.
Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving speaker, has not been charged with any wrongdoing and is identified in court papers as “Public Official A.”
ComEd in court today: “ComEd made its first court appearance Tuesday since being hit with bombshell federal bribery charges involving House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operation — and if all goes as planned, it may be one of the company’s last,” the Tribune’s Jason Meisner writes.
That’s because of the deferred prosecution agreement. Read Meiner’s full story here.
The Blago connection: Reid Schar, lead attorney for ComEd, who as an assistant U.S. attorney a decade ago led the prosecution of former-Gov. Blagojevich, Meisner notes.
On the air: The same day ComEd made its first court appearance, a TV ad hit the airwaves in Illinois blistering the utility over the criminal case.
An organization called the Clean Energy Transition Project launched the ad on cable news networks in Illinois today hitting ComEd over the bribery case You can watch the ad here.
I asked CETP representative Lacie Newton via email who is funding the organization, which dropped nearly $60,000 on ads through early August, records show.
She told me the organization does not disclose its donors, but she did offer this statement: “Our mission at the Clean Energy Transition Project is to advocate for clean energy policies that put people above corporations and politics — that means pushing against bailouts that put the financial burden on people and families already struggling to get by, addressing issues of energy justice and insecurity, and preventing wealthy, corrupt corporations from stalling real progress on climate action. "
The spot doesn’t name names beyond the utility but, with a bird’s-eye view of the state Capitol, it implores Illinois residents to “Tell Springfield no to another ComEd and Exelon bailout.”
In a statement, Exelon spokesman Paul Adams: pushed back on the ad’s narrative about the 2016 legislation, known as the Future Energy Jobs Act. He said in part, “The Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) passed more than three years ago with bipartisan support from more than 200 environmental, consumer, labor, business and faith organizations and was signed by a Republican governor. It provided billions in benefits to consumers, accelerated growth of renewable energy and made Illinois a leader in clean energy policies that have been replicated in other states.”
He goes on to state: “It’s notable that Exelon and the broad spectrum of other organizations that backed FEJA made their support public, which stands in contrast to the Clean Energy Transition Project, an unknown entity that seems to conceal its supporters and sources of funding.”
The background: Republicans and Democrats united in 2016 to raise electricity rates on Illinois residents and businesses to bail out a pair of Exelon’s nuclear power plants, the Tribune wrote at the time.
Connecting the dots — Crain’s columnist Joe Cahill offered a snapshot in a piece last week about the big deals that the utility and the Illinois General Assembly hammered out over the last decade, including that 2016 deal:“Exelon got a new law that puts ComEd rate hikes on something close to autopilot.” Exelon is ComEd’s parent company. “The utility’s rates for delivering power have climbed 35% since Madigan waved through the new rate-setting process in 2011, generating more than $750 million in revenue increases for ComEd. Madigan also greenlighted a 2016 bill that bails out ailing Exelon nuke plants through extra charges on electric bills. It’s worth about $2.4 billion to Exelon over 10 years.”
Class-action lawsuit demands ComEd issue refunds for customers after bribery scheme: A new class-action lawsuit demands ComEd reimburse customers at least $150 million for the rate increases and other benefits it received from the state as part an acknowledged bribery scheme, the Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair writes.
Tomorrow: ComEd on the hot seat — In the wake of the scandal, the state agency that regulates ComEd is calling on the utility to testify about ethics reform at tomorrow’s meeting. The Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates ComEd’s rates and safety practices, wants to hear from the utility’s top executives,
Reminder: The ICC’s chairwoman is Carrie Zalewski, whose relative is embroiled in the federal probe of ComEd. Prosecutors say in court documents that an undemanding patronage job was arranged for her father-in-law — identified by the Tribune as former Chicago Ald. Michael R. Zalewski — at the request of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s camp, and that a ComEd executive approved it. Carrie Zalewski is married to state. Rep. Michael J. Zalewski, D-Riverside, who is the son of the former alderman. Details on the Wednesday meeting here.
Gov. Pritzker’s vote of confidence: Carrie Zalewski’s office has said there is no conflict of interest with her remaining on the board and Gov. Pritzker has said she has his complete confidence. She is expected to preside over an ethics reform hearing with ComEd executives on Wednesday.
From the Tribune’s Robert McCoppin: “A Democratic candidate for the DuPage County board withdrew from the race after apologizing for a tweet in which she said she laughed repeatedly at a video of a law enforcement officer getting hit in the face with a projectile.
“Twenty-year-old Hadiya Afzal attracted national attention and said she was targeted by a ‘harassment campaign’ after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz posted on Twitter that her comment was ‘Hateful & sick.' " Read the tweet here.
Kanye West, Willie Wilson facing petition challenge to make Nov. 3 ballot: Read the Tribune story here.
U.S. Senate candidate Willie Wilson kicks off face mask giveaway tomorrow: Businessman and frequent political candidate Willie Wilson, who is running as an independent to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, will kick off an effort tomorrow morning to deliver 20 million face masks to senior citizens and the poor. Citing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and once again criticizing the state’s response - at one point he was planning to sue over the state not distributing free masks - will get underway on Chicago’s West Side.
A group of parents whose children were victims of gun violence along with Chicago ministers held a news conference this morning in front of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s downtown office, asking her to establish a “robust” witness protection program, the Tribune’s Javonte Anderson reports.
Several speakers said criminals feel emboldened because most of the time, homicides go unsolved. To wit: Chicago police made arrests in 103 out of 486 homicides last year, a rate of 21% for 2019, according to city crime data through Dec. 23.
Foxx, who is running for re-election against Republican and former judge Pat O’Brien, issued a statement praising her office’s Victim Witness Unit but pointed to budget limitations and that the “criminal justice system cannot be the only resource for victims.”
“This unit is funded by allocations in our annual County Budget as well as both state and federal grants. These resources allow us to offer limited relocation assistance on a case by case basis,” Foxx said in a statement.
“Collaboration with advocates, community-based organizations, government, and other law enforcement agencies is critical to provide the most comprehensive system of services to victims and witnesses,” she said.
High-ranking Chicago police official dead in apparent suicide: Dion Boyd, recently promoted to deputy chief of criminal networks - a job that focuses on long-term gang and narcotics investigations - was found shot to death at the Homan Square police facility on the West Side, my Tribune colleagues Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney report.
If the Cook County medical examiner’s office formally rules his death a suicide, Boyd would be at least the ninth Chicago cop to die by suicide in two years, they report. Read the full story here.
The Chicago Police Department’s problem with officer suicides was highlighted in a 2017 report by the U.S. Justice Department of the city’s policing practices. At that time, one Chicago police official told the Justice Department that CPD’s officer suicide rate was higher than the national average.
Chicago police sergeant sues after he says he was misidentified on social media as cop who gave protesters the finger: The Tribune’s Megan Crepeau has the details here.
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