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Mayor Lori Lightfoot participates in a panel discussion with Chicago and NASCAR officials in July after the announcement that NASCAR will hold a race in the city each year for three years, starting in 2023.

Ashlee Rezin

The Rundown: So why is NASCAR coming to Chicago?

Hey there! I can’t stop thinking of the Season 2 finale of The White Lotus, and some colleagues and I were joking about where the “Chicago White Lotus” would be located. Anyway, here’s what you need to know today.

1. Chicago’s deal with NASCAR provides ‘minimal financial benefit’ to the city

That’s according to a WBEZ analysis of a contract forged between Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration and the racing giant.

The contract provides “few specifics about who will pay for substantial related costs, from police to secure the event to cleanup crews to put downtown back together again,” reports WBEZ contributor Mark Guarino.

“Such questions about who could be left with the tab and whether Lightfoot overreached with the hasty deal could likely become a flashpoint in the mayoral race that’s heating up, as opponents look for openings to criticize Lightfoot’s record.”

The mayor’s office said in a statement the Chicago NASCAR race will have a “positive impact” on downtown businesses as fans dine at restaurants and stay in hotels. [WBEZ]

2. The Chicago City Council cracks down on illegal firearms amid a debate over the most effective way to tackle violence

Through some parliamentary maneuvering, the City Council this week approved a plan to heavily fine and impose jail time on anyone in possession of an illegal firearm in the city, reports my colleague Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times.

“First-time offenders face a $5,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail,” Spielman reports. “A second offense would carry a fine of up to $20,000 and 180 days in jail.”

The news comes as city officials face pressure to address violence that has risen during the pandemic, an issue that is expected to dominate the upcoming city elections.

But the ACLU of Illinois, the Cook County Public Defender and other legal and civil rights groups say the “vast majority” of people accused of possessing illegal firearms are “already poor and live in low-income communities of color.”

“Many of the people ordered to pay fines would be parents, whose wages or other income could be garnished and sent to the city instead of providing for their children,” the groups said in a letter. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. Do sex toys belong in high school sex ed?

That’s a question at the center of a debate at one of Chicago’s elite private schools, Francis Parker, after a viral video showed an administrator discussing the school’s approach to LGBTQ sex education.

The video was secretly recorded by Project Veritas, a far-right group that seeks to shame or discredit left-leaning groups and mainstream media organizations. In the video, the dean of students for Francis Parker is seen discussing the inclusion of sex toys in a one-time session for high school students.

Several parents of students at Francis Parker told WBEZ they support the school’s approach to sex ed.

“Sex education in a more heteronormative way doesn’t really apply to my kid,” said Stacia Garriott Kass, whose youngest son is gay.

But other parents, who asked not to be quoted, said sex toys should not be in the classroom, and they are disappointed with the school for not publicly acknowledging it as an issue. [WBEZ]

4. Blocking a bike lane in Chicago could set you back $250

In response to a series of fatal pedestrian and bicycle accidents over the summer, the City Council this week increased the fine for blocking a bike lane from $150 to $250, with the possibility of being towed, reports Block Club Chicago.

“This is just the beginning of a number of pieces of legislation that we’re all working on,” said Ald. Andre Vasquez of the Northwest Side 40th Ward, who pushed for the increased penalties.

He told Block Club at least 439 bicyclists have been hit by vehicles between 2020 and July of this year. [Block Club Chicago]

Among the most dangerous areas for bicyclists is a bike lane along Milwaukee Avenue, according to an investigation by Block Club Chicago and the Illinois Answers Project. [Block Club Chicago]

5. Free COVID tests are available by mail again

Starting today, Americans can request four more free COVID-19 tests through the mail. It’s part of the Biden administration’s efforts addressing an expected rise in cases as the holidays approach.

“The tests can be ordered on and will start to ship the week of Dec. 19,” reports NPR. “The government is urging people to test themselves when they have symptoms, and before visiting with family.” [NPR]

Meanwhile, China will likely face the world’s largest surge of COVID-19 of the pandemic, reports NPR. Chinese health officials say 800 million people could be infected with the coronavirus over the next few months.

“That means about 10% of the planet’s population may become infected over the course of the next 90 days,” the network reports. [NPR]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Public transportation officials are creating passes that can be used on both CTA and Pace suburban buses. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • ComEd will spend $40 million to make thousands of homes more energy efficient. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • A federal lawsuit was filed over Cook County’s property tax sales system. [Chicago Tribune]
  • Henry Cavill will not return as Superman as previously expected. [CNN]

Oh, and one more thing …

I love going to the movies, and there’s no shortage of great theaters in this city.

So I’m excited to check out the new Alamo Drafthouse that’s opening across from Wrigley Field sometime next month. As Block Club Chicago reports, it’s the city’s first theater from the Texas-based chain. [Block Club Chicago]

A big reason why I love seeing movies in the theater is the, um, “audience participation.”

One time, when I saw Thor: Ragnarok, some dude fell asleep and started snoring so loudly that he got kicked out. And when I saw Black Panther (see a trend here), the guy sitting next to me yelled “bye Felicia” after one of the more important fight scenes, causing me to explode in laughter.

Tell me something good ...

It feels like the holidays are speeding toward us. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Ruth writes:

“I first have to explain that we grew up knowing about Santa, but knew he wasn’t real. We opened our presents on Christmas Eve.

“My favorite Christmas tradition memory is my dad decorating the living room on Christmas Eve. He would put up sheets between the living room and dining to make it a surprise. He put tinsel, lights and ornaments on a tree that reached the ceiling; put up a nativity scene that filled a card table; and decorated the mantel with evergreen branches, candles and reindeer.

“Of course we sneaked looks between the sheets to get a peek! And with 10 kids, there were lots and lots of presents under the tree. After dinner, he would take down the sheets and we would go in, in awe of the beauty and wonder of it all. We would read the story of Christmas and the meaning of the Christmas tree, sing songs and finally open presents. Anyone up for Midnight Mass went, full of the happiness of the evening we had.”

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.

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