The Spin: State Sen. Lightford got cash, trips via Loretto Hospital: report | Pritzker favors keeping $300 jobless benefit | Why Chicago vaccines initially went to affluent neighborhoods, suburbs despite push for equity

The Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair, Joe Mahr and Lisa Schencker dug into federal vaccination data and found that 1 in every 6 residents of north suburban Glencoe’s predominant ZIP code got their first dose from Chicago’s vaccine supply during the rollout’s earliest phases.

That’s true, too, for residents of some other affluent suburbs between December and mid-April, “when eligibility rules were still in play, people were desperate to find appointments and city officials were promising to steer doses to the hardest-hit neighborhoods,” according to their story.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose 20th Ward includes a large swath of Chicago’s Englewood community, said in part that until Black and Latino communities have the same access to health care as those on the North Side and suburbs, disparities like this will continue.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city health officials touted the use of safety-net hospitals in communities that saw particularly high rates of COVID-19 outbreaks. But Block Club Chicago reported about how one of those facilities, Loretto Hospital, held vaccination events at places tied to its executives, including Trump Tower, a suburban church and a Gold Coast jeweler.

Now Block Club Chicago’s Kelly Bauer and the Better Government Association’s David Jackson have teamed up on a piece about Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, who sits on the hospital’s board and defended Loretto’s hospital administrators as the embarrassing headlines piled up.

According to their joint reporting, Lightford has been the “recipient of perks and payments from the publicly funded hospital for years.” More below.

The Tribune’s John Byrne and Annie Sweeney write this afternoon: “As aldermen wait for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to finally unveil her own civilian police oversight plan, discussion Friday over a grassroots proposal she opposes presaged a likely knockdown, drag-out fight over control of the Chicago Police Department.” More on the back-and-forth below.

And the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to a new pandemic low as the nation continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, The Associated Press reports.

While Republican governors are moving to cut off a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit that they and many business leaders blame for discouraging the unemployed from seeking jobs, The Associated Press reports, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker told reporters this week he’s against slashing the supplemental jobless benefit.

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US jobless claims decline to a new pandemic low; many states cutting benefits, but Pritzker opposes move

From the AP: “The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 444,000, a new pandemic low and a sign that the job market keeps strengthening as consumers spend freely again, viral infections drop and business restrictions ease.

The data release coincides with rapid moves by nearly all the nation’s Republican governors to cut off a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit that they and many business executives blame for discouraging the unemployed from seeking jobs. Those cutoffs of federal jobless aid will begin in June. The AP has an analysis of what the states are doing, here.

On Monday, Gov. Pritzker pushed back against that narrative, pointing to Illinois’ jobs numbers that show the economy is improving and people are getting back to work. In the first quarter, 93,000 Illinoisans landed a job, Pritzker said.

There are myriad legitimate reasons for people remaining unemployed and “I don’t want to pull the rug out from under people that have certainly legitimate reasons for remaining on unemployment,” Pritzker told reporters.

How early vaccine shots went to residents of affluent suburbs and Chicagoans in low-risk areas, despite city’s push for equity.

The Tribune obtained vaccination data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a public records request. That data was compared with a list of ZIP codes categorized by city officials as having low-, medium- or high-vulnerability to COVID-19, based on demographic, occupational and epidemiological factors.

The Tribune’s analysis found less than 40% of Chicago’s shots were given to residents in high- or medium-risk communities, though nearly 60% of Chicago residents live in those neighborhoods. These communities, which were among the hardest hit by COVID-19 infections and death over the past year, are predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods on the West and South sides.

Some of the findings in this deep dive from Stacy St. Clair, Joe Mahr and Lisa Schencker:

*“With the majority of appointments hinging upon computer skills or an existing relationship with a big hospital system, the rollout favored the more affluent in those early months,” they wrote. “While those scheduling platforms were intended to put people on an equal playing field, they became an obstacle for residents without access to regular health care or the ability to sit in front of a computer for hours and hitting refresh.”

*“Walgreens was the second-largest provider of first doses in the city, but only about 26% of those shots went to people in high- or medium-risk Chicago ZIP codes. About 30%, meanwhile, went to suburbanites who struggled to find appointments closer to home. The pharmacy chain says it wasn’t told it had to confirm that patients lived or worked in the city until late March, though city officials said they had been clear about the eligibility guidelines from the start and noted their public directives.”

Full story here.

BGA and Block Club Chicago: State Sen. Kimberly Lightford got Caribbean trips, campaign donations and cash through Loretto Hospital

Loretto Hospital was chosen by the city as the first vaccination site in Chicago, and in March, Gov. Pritzker chose it as the site to sign a new health care bill into law.

Then came news that executives were lining up vaccination events for staff at Trump Tower. Board member and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, defended the hospital’s Trump Tower event, arguing many of the employees vaccinated were South and West Side residents whom she referred to as “essential workers,” though they didn’t meet the qualifications set forth by the city or state for vaccination.

Now, Block Club’s Kelly Bauer and the BGA’s David Jackson are reporting Lightford had “been paid by an insurance firm owned by Loretto, which also paid for her to travel to the Caribbean for firm meetings, records show. During some of those trips, she stayed at a luxury hotel and used campaign funds to cover the cost.

“Lightford’s campaign fund also has accepted more than $38,000 in contributions from the hospital’s key management contractor, records show.”

While Lightford declined to comment, her website “touts that she has steered $26 million in state grants to the hospital, which has put her name above its emergency room front door.” Full story here.

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Chicago aldermen consider civilian police oversight plan while awaiting Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s alternative proposal

This afternoon, the City Council Public Safety Committee heard testimony but took no action on a compromise ordinance pushed by two organizations that want an elected civilian board to have broad powers to dictate the Police Department’s policies, leadership and budget, my Tribune colleagues Byrne and Sweeney write.

“This is truly an effort in collaboration and how it should be done,” South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston said of the compromise plan. “Everyone did not get what they wanted, but we got to a point where we could agree with something that would be best for the city of Chicago.”

Of course, we’re still waiting on the mayor to introduce her proposal which she said she’d deliver shortly after her election in 2019. That’s expected any day now.

Byrne and Sweeney explain: “The version designed by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability calls for Chicagoans to vote on a referendum to create a 11-member civilian board — with nine elected members and two members appointed by the board itself — that would have authority to hire and fire the police superintendent. It also would be able to submit the Police Department budget and negotiate contracts with the Fraternal Order of Police.” Full story here.

For a second time, Cook County commissioners consider a resolution targeting policing, jail funding: ‘We have to say out loud that Black lives matter’

From the Tribune’s Alice Yin: “Cook County commissioners are set to debate a symbolic resolution this summer that calls for the latest federal aid to be withheld from being spent on policing or incarceration, the second time they have weighed a declaration against law enforcement spending following the high-profile murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

“The nonbinding proposal has no legal weight behind it but it would encapsulate some county officials’ outward stance against what they see as increasingly bloated law enforcement budgets that do not represent the values of marginalized constituents,” Yin notes. “It also has the backing of a coalition of activists who fear the county’s federal stimulus aid would again go toward the sheriff’s office, which controls Cook County Jail and a police force of more than 500 officers.”

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a Chicago Democrat, is the sponsor, Yin notes. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who supports the resolution, broke from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker when she announced support for curtailing law enforcement spending. Full story here.

Also: “Dozens gathered in Logan Square on the second anniversary of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration to raise issues with her policies on policing, housing and education,” the Tribune’s Sarah Freishtat writes.

“Displaying ‘people’s report cards’ that gave Lightfoot ‘F’ grades for policing, education, the environment, housing, health and COVID-19,” the group “marched from the Logan Square monument to the intersection of Kimball and Wrightwood avenues, near the mayor’s house, chanting and occasionally hurling expletives at the mayor or police,” Freishtat notes. Full story here.

Illinois Supreme Court issues ruling in legal weed case that had hints of David versus Goliath — with the big guy winning

Steve Lord of the Aurora Beacon-News writes: “An Illinois Supreme Court ruling will allow Curative Health Cultivation LLC to continue growing marijuana at its Aurora facility.” It started out producing medical marijuana in Illinois, then expanded to recreational cannabis once the state legislature passed a law making it legal in 2020.

Medponics Illinois LLC, which had hoped to develop a Dutch-style hydroponics greenhouse in Zion, had filed suit and won an initial court ruling that Curative should be stripped of its license, Lord notes. Medponics’ suit centered on an alleged zoning violation.

The rules: “Both Zion and Aurora are in the same district for marijuana cultivation facilities. Only one license can be issued in each district.”

Big guy versus small operation: “New York-based Columbia Care, which acquired Curative Health after it won the license, is one of the largest cannabis operators in the world, with 100 facilities in 18 jurisdictions in the United States and Europe, including dispensaries in Chicago’s Jefferson Park community and west suburban Villa Park,” Lord writes. “In contrast, Medponics is an upstart challenger, trying to get its first and only cannabis license.”

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