May 22, 2024


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The Spin: Teachers Union, Mayor Lightfoot and a new game of brinksmanship? | Durkin says GOP candidates will use ComEd, Madigan as talking points in November election

Reopening schools for the looming new academic year already was gearing up to be a political brawl. But things amped up today as the Chicago Teachers Union — concerned that in-class learning would be dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic — was planning a House of Delegates meeting next week, a required move on the road to a potential strike.

Anyone who recalls the battles and brinksmanship that played out between union leaders and the mayor during last fall’s knows to brace themselves for a battle.

Parents and guardians were looking to a Friday deadline to inform Chicago Public Schools whether their students would attend in-person classes or stay home. But, as my colleagues reported, sources say CPS — whose CEO and Board of Education is appointed by the mayor — is expected to announce an all-remote learning plan as soon as Wednesday. A source told the Tribune the shift is not related to the potential strike, but the move nevertheless could avert a potential CTU labor stoppage for the nation’s third largest school district.

Still, many parents who want their children back in school say they’re part of a silent majority, pushed aside by school officials who are buckling to pressure from teachers unions, reporter Karen Ann Cullotta reports in a new piece.

And Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin said today during a wide-ranging virtual discussion that Gov. J.B. Pritzker is overextending his executive authority in dealing with the pandemic, the Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes.

Looking toward the November election, Durkin says the GOP legislative candidates will have to adopt “laser focused” messaging weighing President Donald Trump’s support, though embattled House Speaker Michael Madigan will be an overall focus of campaigns.

Welcome to The Spin.

Chicago Public Schools expected to announce all-remote learning plan as Chicago Teachers Union plans to convene its governing body next week: sources

From the Tribune’s Hannah Leone, John Byrne and Gregory Pratt: “Chicago Public Schools is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday an all-remote learning plan to start the school year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a move that could avert a potential Chicago Teachers Union strike, sources said.

“The switch to an all-remote learning plan could come as CTU leaders are planning to convene the organization’s House of Delegates next week and consider a process that eventually could lead to a strike if CPS doesn’t agree to start the school year with full remote learning, sources said Tuesday.

“A city source emphasized the decision had nothing to do with a potential teachers strike.” Read the full story here.

It sure sounds like a game of brinskmanship.

The background: Up to now, CPS administrators have yet to finalize fall plans, but a deadline was set for this week for parents to decide whether to opt out of a hybrid classroom-online learning program.

The battle: The teachers union staged another protest of CPS’ plans outside City Hall just yesterday, the Tribune’s Karen Ann Cullotta reminds. Yesterday’s rally had echoes of last year’s strike. As noted yesterday in The Spin, CTU President Jesse Sharkey blasted Mayor Lightfoot over the hybrid plan, saying any in-person learning isn’t appropriate “in an environment with raging contagion” and that “(t)he mayor does not have the guts to close the schools. They’re putting it on us to close the schools. That’s what we feel like is happening.”

Mayor’s response yesterday: “Since COVID-19 first reached Chicago, we have made a firm commitment to base our policies and initiatives on the science and data of this disease, and to communicate decisions to our stakeholders in an open and transparent way,” the mayor’s office said.

City view and the doctor’s opinion: Hours before the mayor’s office sent word of the remote learning plan, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, said during a morning news conference that if the city’s pandemic numbers look good, she felt CPS could handle in-person learning safely, the Tribune’s John Byrne writes in this piece.

Another perspective: Many parents have indicated they share the concerns expressed by CTU, but others have said that remote learning is a poor substitute for classroom instruction and that they trust school officials to mitigate the risks of coronavirus transmission, the Tribune’s Byrne reports in a separate piece. Indeed, some suburban parents feel like they’re part of a silent majority who want their kids back in the classroom.

Suburban snapshot: Officials in District 25, Barrington District 220, Wheeling-based District 21, Plainfield District 202, and Stevenson and Evanston Township high schools, among others, have all reverted from in-person or hybrid plans to an all-remote start to the new year, deciding the risks of bringing students and teachers together are too high with COVID-19 still far from contained, Cullotta writes in a new piece today about those parents who say kids should return to the classrooms.

Pritzker warns college students of COVID-19 risks as they prepare to return to campus: WMAQ-NBC5 has the story here.

University of Illinois will require two COVID-19 tests weekly for students and faculty with in-person classes at Urbana-Champaign campus: The Tribune’s Elyssa Cherney has the details here.

Class of 2020 college grads face a tough pandemic-era job market: Local colleges are trying to amp up job search support. Read the suburban Lake Forester piece here.

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As Chicago cases tick up, health officials warn of spread at social gatherings, in households

Arwady warned today of a shift in the way COVID-19 is being transmitted in Chicago, with households and social gatherings overtaking congregate settings such as nursing homes and the Cook County Jail as the most dangerous situations, the Tribune’s John Byrne reports.

She said households are now “10 times the risk of any other exposures,” and recounted a series of anecdotes about Chicagoans attending social gatherings where they and others were lax about wearing masks and social distancing, then came down with the virus.

People who live with high-risk relatives should consider social distancing and wearing masks within their homes after they have potentially high-risk exposures outside the home, Arwady said.

Data point: Chicago’s averaging just under 273 cases daily, Arwady says, and she’d like to see it fall below 200, but reminds that if it gets above 400, we could see restrictions reinstituted.

Illinois data: Health officials announced 1,471 new known cases of COVID-19 today and 19 additional deaths, including a teenager in Cook County. That brings the total number of known infections in Illinois to 184,712 and the statewide death toll to 7,545. Officials also reported 42,598 new tests in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide positivity rate is 3.9{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}.

As Americans resist COVID-19 restrictions, U.S. nears 5 million infections: Read the Associated Press story here.

Puerto Rico added to Chicago’s travel list: That means people coming into the city from the U.S. territory, which a large chunk of Chicagoans and suburbanites call their ancestral home, must adhere to the city’s order to quarantine for two weeks after they arrive. John Byrne has the details here.

Related — In search for COVID-19 treatments, consumer group pushes drugmaker Gilead to test alternative to remdesivir: The Tribune’s Hal Dardick has the details here.

One of the biggest hurdles for COVID-19 patients is breathing. Respiratory therapists help make it happen, but the field is dwindling: Read the Tribune story here.

Law and order — Reputed mob boss Michael ‘the Large Guy’ Sarno wants out of prison 12 years early because of the pandemic: The Tribune’s Sophie Sherry has the story here.

Pandemic forces Open House Chicago to shift to exterior and online tours: The Tribune’s Blair Kamin has the details here.

Durkin accuses Pritzker of overreach in response to pandemic, says Republicans statewide will campaign on Mike Madigan’s woes

Speaking at a virtual event for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin commended Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial response to the pandemic. But, as Rick Pearson reports, Durkin contended the governor didn’t work with restaurant and retail officials earlier “to find a common ground to be able to ensure that businesses would be able to maintain a high level of health and safety but allowing them to keep their cash registers open.”

He also faulted Pritzker for the problems surrounding the Department of Employment Security’s handling of a record number of benefit applications due to the stay-at-home and business closure orders.

On the November election, “Durkin acknowledged the varying popularity of Trump throughout the state, more so in central and Southern Illinois and less so in northeastern Illinois and more urbanized areas and how that could affect campaigns,” Pearson writes.

“As a result, he said Madigan will be a top focus of Republican candidates after the longtime speaker was implicated in an agreement by ComEd with federal authorities to pay a $200 million fine for a near decade-long bribery scheme aimed at winning influence with the speaker. Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has denied any involvement.‘” Read the full story here.

Road to November 2020

The Democratic and Republican parties are holding their presidential nominating conventions later this month, and details are trickling out about what to expect. It’s all seemingly anti-climactic, given the GOP will pick its incumbent, Trump, and the Dems will line up with the last man standing in the once huge field of contenders: former Vice President Joe Biden.

But for political junkies, they will be historic given the scaled-back nature of the gatherings, which are typically big made-for-TV spectacles.

The Democratic National Convention: It was to be a big to-do in Milwaukee — close enough to Chicago that we could be on the fringes of the limelight. But it’s been scaled back because of the pandemic. Deadline reported over the we
ekend: “Democrats are planning just two hours per night for each of the four nights of their event starting on August 17, with Joe Biden accepting the nomination in Milwaukee but in a smaller venue before far fewer people in person.

“Speeches by former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are expected, and there have been reports that John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, was tapped for a slot” to showcase GOPers who have peeled away from Trump, the party’s candidate. “Also being planned are some entertainment performances, along with remotes across the country in what the party has dubbed the “convention across America.” Read the full story here.

The Republican National Convention: Axios got the scoop on the Aug. 24-27 event in North Carolina, also scaled back amid the pandemic, reporting that it will be a “four-night spectacle including still-under-wraps venues, a 10 p.m. ‘nightly surprise’ and guests and themes playing to ‘the forgotten men and women of America.’” The news outlet got that from two Trump campaign officials involved.

That’s 9 p.m. Chicago time — a good time if you’re hoping to make headlines on the 10 p.m. newscasts. Then again, the event is closed to the media in Charlotte.

Axios also reports that “(t)he messaging will focus heavily on ‘very granular details’ of what a second term for President Trump would look like — answering a question Trump left hanging in a Fox News event earlier this summer — and attack cancel culture, ‘radical elements’ of society and threats to public safety.” Read the full story here.

Tomorrow: Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Neal Wolin, who grew up in Evanston and is the former deputy secretary of the Treasury in the Obama administration, will hold a virtual talk about the issues shaping not just the race for the White House but also control of Congress amid COVID-19, the economic fallout from the pandemic, in an era of deeply partisan politics. The event will be moderated by Patti Solis Doyle, a Chicago native who for a time led Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 campaign and joined Obama’s after Clinton’s concession. The event is moderated by Wolin and Solis Doyle’s public relations firm, Brunswick Group. Register here for the hourlong event, which gets underway at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow.

In a sweeping lawsuit, 42 Chicago businesses seek insurance coverage for COVID-related business losses

Hundreds of businesses have filed lawsuits against insurers over the last several months as the health crisis, and shutdowns mandated by the government, slashed revenues.

But the one filed last week in Cook County Circuit court, my colleague Alexia Elejalde Ruiz writes, is notable for its breadth: There are 42 plaintiffs, mostly Chicago restaurants, and 18 insurers listed as defendants.

The plaintiffs, represented by the powerful law firm Jenner & Block, include a diverse roster of restaurants, from the chain Roti Mediterranean Grill to neighborhood businesses such as Wicker Park’s Bangers & Lace and the South Loop mainstay Manny’s Deli. The DuSable Museum of African American History and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum also are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. Read the rest of the story here.

Customers of Allstate, Geico and other insurers suing for larger premium cuts: Large auto insurers are facing lawsuits alleging they failed to sufficiently reduce premiums to Illinois policyholders who, like so many, stayed off the roads amid coronavirus-related shutdown orders. Read the 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 [email protected].

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