The Spin: Mayor Lori Lightfoot says Chicago’s Columbus statues ‘temporarily’ removed | CPD blasted for slow pace of police reform | Ex-Madigan campaign worker seeks to change Illinois’ political climate with new PAC

Lisa Donovan, Chicago Tribune

Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered a middle-of-the-night removal of two Christopher Columbus statues, including one downtown that was at the center of a violent clash last week between protesters and the police. While Lightfoot said her decision was intended “to protect public safety” it also carries a bit of mystery.

She tweeted this morning that statues of the explorer in Grant Park and in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood were “temporarily” removed “until further notice.” So they’ll be back? The mayor’s office didn’t answer my question about that.

Whatever the case, it underscores the power of activists who have taken to the streets to demand symbolic and systemic changes in government and society, amid a new chapter of this nation’s civil rights movement. Activists around the country point to the Italian explorer’s mistreatment of Indigenous people after he landed in the Americas in 1492.

The mayor is facing another threat of legal action, my Tribune colleague Dan Hinkel writes, over the Chicago Police Department, as a lawyer for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Friday blasted the city for falling behind on court-mandated reform.

And earlier today, I spoke with ex-campaign worker for House Speaker Michael Madigan who has launched a political action committee that serves as her attempt to change Illinois’ political climate after federal prosecutors detailed an alleged Commonwealth Edison bribery scheme that has implicated one of Illinois’ most powerful and longest-tenured politicians.

Welcome to The Spin.

Mayor Lightfoot ‘temporarily’ removes Columbus statues in Grant Park

My Tribune colleagues, who first reported the news about the statue, wrote: “Hoping to avoid another high-profile confrontation between police and protesters like the clash that happened last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the statues of Christopher Columbus removed from Chicago’s Grant and Arrigo parks early Friday.

“Not all Italian American leaders in Chicago are on board with the decision, but it has received the blessing of key politicians including Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato. By taking the statues down in the middle of the night, Lightfoot drew criticism from those who believe she caved to activist demands.”

Lightfoot’s abrupt move in the dark of night was an about-face for the mayor, who has opposed taking down statues of the Italian explorer on the grounds that it would be erasing history. Lightfoot also said the city would soon announce “a formal process to assess the monuments, memorials, and murals across Chicago’s communities, and develop a framework for a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity.”

Reaction: Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, whose ward includes parts of downtown, said the mayor decided to remove the statue “unilaterally,” my Tribune colleagues reported last night.

Far Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st, blasted the move on social media calling it a reaction to the “ignorance of the socialist cancel culture yet no immediate action has been taken to fight crime, lower homicides, reopen and save businesses — those have all been slow rolled.”

Southwest Side Ald. Ray Lopez, 25th, a regular mayoral critic, also tweeted, “What has become of Chicago? We have a mayor forced into submission by anarchy & mob-rule? No more public process, official discourse, or on-the-record debate.”

Northwest Side Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd, praised activists, saying they forced the issue, while also criticizing Lightfoot. In a tweet, she wrote “It’s coming down because of the activism that has led to this moment. Indigenous, Black and Brown people have been fighting for so long to see this happen. It’s also a balancing act, the Mayor just accepted Federal Agents from Trump.”

Marching on the mayor’s home turf: Hours before the statues were taken down, protesters gathered near Lightfoot’s Logan Square home to criticize the police. Drawing loud cheers, hugs and applause, an activist informed the crowd over a megaphone that Lightfoot would be removing the statue.

Ex-Madigan campaign worker Alaina Hampton sets up PAC, calls on lawmakers to donate contributions from ComEd

Days after federal prosecutors here publicly unveiled a criminal complaint charging ComEd in an alleged “years-long bribery scheme” involving jobs, contracts and payments to Madigan allies, a fed-up Alaina Hampton — once a campaign worker for the House speaker’s political operation — set up the Majority Justice Movement PAC with a stated purpose of “working to elect more ethical and accountable elected officials,” according to the state election board.

It shouldn’t be lost on people that the PAC’s acronym — MJM — also is the speaker’s initials.

Hampton said she is digging through state election board filings — the reports candidates and elected leaders submit regularly, listing who has donated to their campaigns and how much — and on Monday will “start calling through to legislators who have taken money from ComEd and asking them to donate that money to this PAC,” she told The Spin earlier today.

She acknowledges she decided to do it once the case came to light and that, no doubt, her past troubles with Madigan’s political operation also fueled it: Hampton, a onetime campaign worker, filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 accusing Madigan’s political operations of retaliation after she reported inappropriate behavior by Kevin Quinn, a veteran aide whom the speaker has ousted.

Hampton, an ex-campaign worker, reached a legal settlement with Madigan’s political committees in November.

The settlement was announced shortly after the Tribune reported that Madigan’s longtime confidant Michael McClain, an ex-lobbyist for ComEd, had orchestrated for some current and former ComEd lobbyists to give Quinn contracts after Madigan fired him amid scandal.

Documents laying out the federal prosecutor’s case against ComEd made clear that the nexus of the federal investigation into the utility and Madigan’s operation is McClain. Read my full story here.

The former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore steps down from Motorola’s Board: She abruptly exited as head of the utility’s parent company last fall, as details began emerging about the federal probe of ComEd’s lobbying activities at the Illinois State Capitol. Crain’s has the details here.

Lightfoot administration threatened with legal action over slow pace of police reform

The Tribune’s Dan Hinkel writes: Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces another threat of legal action over her management of the Chicago Police Department, as a lawyer for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Friday blasted the city for falling behind on court-mandated reform.

Attorney Alicia Weber said during a federal court hearing conducted by phone that her office would seek court intervention if the city failed to promptly show a plan to catch up on the requirements of the consent decree, a broad court order designed to change the way the troubled police force treats people. Weber noted that the city has moved sluggishly to enact changes, missing more than 70% of its deadlines in the first year under the order.

A private lawyer hired by the city, Allen Slagel, said the Lightfoot administration is committed to reform and would share a plan to make up ground by the end of the month.

Both protesters and the union representing Chicago police officers have pointed the finger at each other over abusive behavior at the protests. Read the full story here.

1,532 new known COVID-19 cases and 19 more deaths reported as state says 4 counties are at ‘warning level’

Illinois health officials on Friday announced 1,532 new known cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 168,457 and the statewide death toll to 7,385 since the start of the pandemic, my Tribune colleagues are reporting. The seven-day statewide positivity rate is 3.4%.

The latest figures come as state health officials announced that four Illinois counties are considered to be at a “warning level” for COVID-19. Adams, LaSalle, Peoria and Randolph all “saw outbreaks associated with business and risky behavior,” officials said.

Counties at warning levels are those identified as having two or more risk factors for increased COVID-19 cases. The warnings don’t necessarily change a region’s lockdown level, but are meant to be a guide for local officials and residents regarding “personal and family gatherings, as well as what activities they choose to do,” according to a state news release. Read the the latest on the outbreak in Illinois here.

The headache of Illinois’ unemployment system

Earlier this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the Illinois Department of Employment Security — the headache-inducing unemployment office dealing with a record number of applications as the pandemic weakens the economy — had uncovered a fraud scheme impacting the state’s federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) programs. It’s apparently happening in other states, too.

Reminder from the state: PUA provides federally funded unemployment benefits for those not traditionally covered by a state’s regular unemployment insurance program, including the self-employed.

Republican criticism of Democrat Pritzker has grown louder over IDES’ cumbersome filing system and an inability for applicants to reach someone when they have an issue with their unemployment application; the offices have been closed amid the pandemic. Pritzker has repeatedly said he inherited the problem and is working to fix it, but recently called the effort “vexing.”

During a video conference with reporters today, a group of Illinois Republican elected leaders discussed problems at IDES. During the course of the discussion, one lawmaker said a Downstate U.S. congressman reached out to her after he was sent paperwork along with a debit card to make purchases, even though he didn’t apply for benefits.

“One of my constituents is Congressman Mike Bost. Mike received a letter as well as a bank card and immediately called my office ... and immediately report it to the (state’s unemployment) fraud unit and we’re learning now it’s almost impossible to get through to the fraud unit,” said state Rep. Terry Bryant, of Murphysboro.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos will hit the virtual campaign trail for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this weekend: The Moline Democrat will be part of a roundtable discussion tomorrow about building up the caregiving and education workforce, according to the Biden campaign.

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

Twitter @byldonovan


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