The Spin: Lightfoot vs. CTU over sending high schoolers back to classrooms | Oak Park residents vote down ‘defund police’ referendum | Mayor Lightfoot to attend White Sox home opener

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Lisa Donovan, Chicago Tribune
·8 min read
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Our elected leaders must feel like they’re in an unending Ping-Pong match, vacillating between hopeful messages about the increase in vaccinations while warning about the steady uptick in COVID-19 cases and positivity rates.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said today she wants to push ahead with a plan for high schoolers to return to their classrooms — after a year of remote learning — later this month. She also said she’s hopeful that Chicago will see some semblance of the city’s vibrant summer festival scene return this year after COVID-19-related cancellations last summer.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, said today that while there won’t be a return to past COVID-19 mitigations in the suburbs just yet, an ongoing third wave of the virus warrants enough alarm to keep the possibility on the table, the Tribune’s Alice Yin reports.

Rubin said that “a future decision to clamp down on limits for gatherings and businesses depends on whether the current trends, which have her ‘extremely concerned,’ continue.”

Speaking of the suburbs, yesterday’s elections yielded lots of online griping about Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s office posting late returns. Two suburban mayors who have been caught up in federal investigations, Crestwood’s Lou Presta and Lyons’ Chris Getty, appear to have held onto their seats, while Oak Park voters said no to a controversial “defund the police” nonbinding referendum on the ballot.

The Tribune’s Clare Proctor examines yesterday’s voter turnout, which was largely below 20% in most of the suburban counties, with McHenry County reporting turnout below 10%. That’s despite the national tug of war over voting rights, she notes, and the election of key decision makers on the line, from mayors to school board members.

And count on Lightfoot to be at tomorrow’s home opener for the Chicago White Sox, her spokeswoman tells The Spin. No word on whether she’ll be part of any ceremonial events; she didn’t get a ton of love at the Cubs’ home opener last week. Then again, the mayor is a die-hard Sox fan and a season ticket holder.

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Mayor Lightfoot says she expects ‘to see some summer festivals’ this year

Looking to summer, Lightfoot says there’s a possibility that the city’s once vibrant outdoor festival scene will return after taking 2020 off, the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt reports.

President Joe Biden said last month he hopes the vaccination efforts are such that the nation could “mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July.

“I expect to see some summer festivals,” the mayor told reporters today. “Yes, planning is underway. As you might imagine, logistics, booking, ticketing takes a lot of advanced lead time,” she said. “We’re not ready to announce those plans yet, but I expect that as I’ve said many times, summer of 2021 will look more like 2019 and less like 2020.”

But, the mayor warned, “a lot of it’s going to depend on where we are in the arc of this virus.”

“Chicago’s average daily case rate has risen above 600 per day, sparking concern from city leaders and residents,” Pratt writes. “Public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady previously said an increase over 400 would be cause for alarm.”

Statewide, daily COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate have reached levels not seen since late January, the Tribune’s Jenny Whidden writes. “The seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a share of total tests is 4.1% as of Tuesday, the highest since a rate of 4.3% was reported the week ending Jan. 28,” she notes. Full story here.

CTU wants CPS, Lightfoot to delay reopening high schools as Chicago sees rise in COVID-19 cases; Lightfoot sees ‘no basis’ to do that now

With COVID-19 cases still on the rise, the Chicago Teachers Union is asking Chicago Public Schools bosses to delay reopening high schools on April 19 and step up vaccination of staff, students and families.

The Tribune’s Hannah Leone writes: “Referencing newer COVID-19 variants and increasing case counts in cities including Chicago, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said that the union is concerned about the virus’ spread and wants CPS to hold off on bringing more students in.”

Preschool, elementary and special education students started returning — after a year out of the classroom — in February under an agreement with the CTU, Leone notes.

With a plan in place to revert to remote learning if COVID-19 cases hit certain metrics, “I see no basis for delay and it’s my expectation we will open high schools as indicated by CPS,” the mayor, who controls CPS, told reporters at an unrelated news conference. Full story here.

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Tuesday’s election results: Two suburban mayors entangled in law enforcement probes cruising to victory; Oak Park voters reject ‘defund police’ referendum

Two southwest suburban mayors entangled in law enforcement investigations each seemed headed to another term in office after Tuesday’s municipal elections, early returns showed.

My Tribune colleague John Keilman writes, “In south suburban Crestwood, voters appeared to be backing Mayor Lou Presta’s attempt to win a third term despite facing federal charges that he accepted a $5,000 bribe to promote the red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC, then lied about it to the FBI and IRS.”

Also: “Lyons Mayor Chris Getty has also faced federal scrutiny, with agents raiding his private insurance office and village hall in 2019 as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation, but appeared to be cruising to reelection,” Keilman notes.

Meantime, Mettawa Mayor Casey Urlacher, brother to former Chicago Bear Brien Urlacher, will have to wait until later this week for write-in votes to be counted to see how he fared against challenger Jess Ray, Steve Sadin writes for the Lake County News-Sun. “Urlacher did not initially file for reelection in December because he was under indictment for sports-related gambling charges,” Sadin reminds. “He was pardoned by former President Donald Trump on Jan. 20 and became a write-in candidate.”

Flossmoor residents elect town’s first female mayor — Michelle Nelson appeared to win with 58% of the vote over Lakshmi Emory with all nine precincts reporting. Mayor Paul Braun did not seek another term.

It looks like Waukegan did, too: Ald. Ann Taylor, who represents the North suburb’s 9th Ward, declared victory Tuesday night in her bid to become the city’s first female mayor. She was ahead of first-term Mayor Sam Cunningham, the city’s first Black mayor, according to unofficial election results. Sadin has more on that in this Lake County News-Sun piece.

Kristal Larson declares victory in bid to become first transgender person elected to nonjudicial office in Illinois, James T. Norman writes for the Lake County News-Sun. According to an unofficial tally, Larson, 45, says she’s won the Avon Township clerk’s race, which would make her the second transgender person ever elected in Illinois, according to the Washington, D.C.-based LGBTQ Victory Fund. More here.

Roundup: Southland voters weigh in on taxes, libraries, park land purchases and term limits, the Daily Southtown reports.

Oak Park: Unofficial results of a controversial referendum show a strong majority of voters in the western suburb rejected the idea of defunding the village’s Police Department, Steve Schering writes for the Oak Leaves. Results will not be official until April 27.

Here are the results from municipal elections in the Chicago suburbs. And if you want to go deeper, checkout the lineup of stories about the contests and early results, here.

Voter turnout: “Despite the heated national debate about voting rights, the vast majority of suburban Chicago voters did not cast a ballot in Tuesday’s municipal elections for key local decision-makers, including mayors and school boards,” the Tribune’s Clare Proctor writes. On the lower end, McHenry County reported a voter turnout of 9.5%, and Kankakee County topped voter turnouts across the counties at 18.6%.”

Proctor adds: “In Cook, DuPage and Lake counties, turnout was 14.7%, 15.6% and 13.7%, respectively.” Full story here.

Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell formally announces Democratic bid for Illinois secretary of state

From the Tribune’s Rick Pearson: “Ald. Pat Dowell formally announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state on Wednesday and pledged not to use the office in its traditional role as a steppingstone for higher office.”

“I can absolutely take a pledge today that I would not seek higher office from the secretary of state position,” said Dowell, 63, who has represented the South Side 3rd Ward since 2007.

Pearson notes: “Over Illinois’ history, the office has served as a launchpad for bigger political careers, even when it was an appointed post in the 1800s. Stephen A. Douglas briefly served in the office in 1840 before moving to the U.S. Senate where he later defeated future President Abraham Lincoln.” Full story here.

Dowell joins a growing list of Democrats who’ve announced they’re contenders including former state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state Sen. Michael E. Hastings of Frankfort. Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia has all but thrown her hat in the ring while Chicago Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who considers Secretary of State Jesse White a mentor, has been mulling a bid.

More state news: “Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Tuesday that could speed plans by a New Jersey-based company to buy and reopen Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, which closed after a 2019 legal battle,” the Tribune’s Lisa Schencker reports. Full story here.

Also: Rudy Acosta Jr., a longtime political operative and precinct captain for indicted Chicago Ald. Edward Burke “appears slated to plead guilty to federal charges of misleading the FBI,” the Tribune’s Megan Crepeau and Jason Meisner write, citing court records. Acosta was interviewed by authorities as part of a sprawling federal corruption investigation. Full story here.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at ldonovan@chicagotribune.com.

Twitter @byldonovan