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The Rundown: Dark money in the mayoral race

Good afternoon! I’m still adjusting to the time change, and staying up late last night to watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish didn’t help. But it’s amazing to see the sun out at, like, 6:30 p.m. Anyway, here’s what you need to know today.

1. A new super PAC opens the door to dark money in Chicago’s mayoral race

A veteran political consultant has created an independent PAC to help Paul Vallas, and it will “likely allow a new wave of dark money to flow into the April 4 mayoral runoff campaign,” reports Crain’s Chicago Business.

The PAC is called Priorities Chicago, and the man behind it is Greg Goldner, the founder and manager of Resolute Public Affairs.

Goldner has a lot of experience with these kinds of moves.

Ahead of the 2011 election, Goldner created the For A Better Chicago PAC to help elect allies of Rahm Emanuel to the City Council. And he was involved with another committee that supported U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García’s mayoral campaign in last month’s election. [Crain’s Chicago Business]

2. More than 2 million Illinois residents are seeing their federal food benefits shrink

An emergency boost to federal food benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic ended last month — just as more Cook County residents are seeking help amid stubbornly high inflation, reports my colleague Elvia Malagón.

“Chicken is high, everything went up — even vegetables,” said Willie Mitchell as he visited a Chicago food pantry for the first time. “That’s why I really came in here — I need vegetables.”

Social service organizations have anticipated an increase in demand as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, a program once known as food stamps, scales back.

“Things haven’t really gotten better for folks during the last three years,” said Jennie Hull with the Chicago-based food pantry Nourishing Hope. “And so then you’re pulling away this safety net for people that they’ve grown to rely on. We’re just concerned how that’s going to impact people who need our services. We are already seeing an increase in people, and how many more will we see that need that support now.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. Secret recordings in the ComEd bribery trial will be provided to the media

Today is the first day in the trial of four former political players accused of bribing Michael Madigan, the once powerful Illinois House speaker, to benefit the utility giant ComEd.

And the federal judge presiding over the trial reversed course and ruled secret recordings of Madigan and his allies can be given to the media after they are played for jurors, report my colleagues Jon Seidel and Tina Sfondeles.

Just last week, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he would not make the recordings more publicly available for fear they would “sensationalize the trial more than we want.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

If you don’t know much about the bribery case, the Sun-Times has an easy-to-read guide on the key players and events that have led up to the trial. [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Pritzker and business leaders say they will foot the bill if the DNC comes to Chicago

Chicago is competing against New York City and Atlanta to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

And to help Chicago’s odds, Gov. JB Pritzker and influential business leaders are “pledging to make sure the DNC can walk away debt-free,” reports Politico.

Also behind this pitch are former Commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, businessman Michael Sacks, Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts and Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea.

“We have a strong fundraising community that will be able to raise the money for the convention and not create any debt for the DNC, the city of Chicago or the state of Illinois. It would be a win for everyone financially and electorally,” Chicago Federation of Labor President Robert Reiter told Politico. “And it would put thousands of people to work.” [Politico]

5. A more empowered City Council could be emerging

An early test of a new mayor’s political clout is reorganizing the City Council, and they typically give allies cushy committee seats. That’s one reason why critics have long derided the council as a rubber stamp for the mayor.

But that could be changing. Three influential council members are working behind the scenes to reorganize the city’s legislative body, reports my colleague Fran Spielman.

Ald. Scott Waguespack, the current chairman of the Finance Committee, said the goal has nothing to do with self-preservation but to create a more independent council.

“I wouldn’t mind having Finance again after what we’ve done to try to clean it up. People want to see it continue to move in that direction. But it’s not really about that. It’s more about empowering the council to be stronger,” Waguespack said.

“Both of these candidates have said that they want to see the council pick their own committees. On Vallas’ website, it says, ‘Empower the City Council to select its own chairs.’ ” [Chicago Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • President Joe Biden today signed an executive order aimed at strengthening background checks to buy guns. [AP]
  • Illinois workers will be guaranteed at least five days of paid leave starting next year. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Chicago’s next mayor will have to live with the controversial decision to lease land intended for public housing to the Chicago Fire soccer club. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • The EPA today proposed limiting the amount of toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water. [AP]

Oh, and one more thing …

Remember when Chicago almost became the home of the so-called Star Wars museum?

After what feels like a million years, George Lucas’s $1 billion museum is finally taking shape in Los Angeles, but it won’t be fully operational until 2025, reports The New York Times.

“Its huge expanse of curving gray metal hovers over the landscape like a low-flying spaceship, or perhaps the unfinished Death Star being built in Return of the Jedi, a fitting tribute to its namesake and patron, who created the Star Wars franchise,” the Times reports. “It stands five stories high, with enough gallery space to fill one-and-a-half football fields, and it takes 15 minutes to walk across its sprawling campus.” [New York Times]

Tell me something good ...

What’s something small you’ve come to love and appreciate?

Jacqueline M. writes:

“Since moving back to Chicago after living in California for 42 years, I fly back-and-forth to the Bay Area every month for work.

“Last February, I was fortunate to catch a cab from Midway with a driver named Joe. We talked nonstop from the time he picked me up until he dropped me off at my apartment.

“Now, every month, he’s waiting for me at Midway Arrivals to drive me home after a long work week, and we catch up on our lives. He’s a friendly face in a sea of strangers!”

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

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