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Dr. Olusimbo Ige the new Commissioner, for the Chicago Department Of Public Health sits at her desk

Dr. Olusimbo Ige, the new commissioner for the Chicago Department Of Public Health.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

The Rundown: A renewed focus on mental health in Chicago

Good afternoon! It’s Thursday, and this list of 50 “wonderful things from 2023” reminded me of all the great pop culture moments this year. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Mental health is the top priority of the city’s new public health commissioner

Olusimbo Ige, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s public health chief, is echoing the mayor’s campaign promise to address the city’s rise in mental health cases, my colleague Brett Chase reports for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Johnson said during his campaign he would reopen six mental health clinics shut down by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and fire Alison Arwady, the public health commissioner who led Chicago through the COVID-19 pandemic.

City data show the estimated number of Chicagoans experiencing “serious psychological distress” jumped almost 70% between 2018 and 2022. Nationally, about a quarter of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in early 2021, the Sun-Times reports.

“When stresses mount, the crisis balloons,” Ige said. [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. Brandon Johnson joins other mayors in again calling for federal help with the migrant crisis

Mayor Brandon Johnson joined the mayors of New York City and Denver yesterday to say their cities are at a “critical point” in the migrant crisis and in need of “real, significant intervention immediately.”

The mayors want the federal government to provide financial aid, expanded access to work authorizations and a federal system to better move migrants around the country.

“We cannot continue to do the federal government’s job,” Mayor Eric Adams of New York said. “We need action and we need it now.”

The federal government granting just one of their requests would make a significant difference, the mayors said.

“If all three of those fail, we’ll have to dramatically look at reducing city services,” Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said. “Those are the hard scenarios we think we and other cities would face.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. The CTA and Metra will offer free rides on New Year’s Eve

CTA riders can get on Chicago buses and trains without tapping their cards from 10 p.m. Sunday through 4 a.m. Monday.

The program is meant to encourage Chicagoans to take public transportation to get to and from their celebrations.

Miller Lite is sponsoring the program, paying the cost of all rides taken and helping offset the operating costs to run CTA service during the six-hour period.

Metra will offer free rides on trains arriving or departing downtown stations after 6 p.m. [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Invasive plants could be headed to Illinois

New research shows that invasive plants will inch northward as climate change transforms growing zones across the country, Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco writes for WBEZ.

Invasive plant species, such as Japanese honeysuckle and buckthorn, can take over entire landscapes and siphon away resources from native species that have no way to compete.

Annette Evans, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told WBEZ the shift means more work for resource managers.

“The climate for a lot of species is going to remain suitable,” Evans said. “But there’s going to be a whole boatload of new invasive species that we’re going to have to start managing as well.” [WBEZ]

5. Six destination cocktail bars in Chicago

Chicago’s food and drinking culture often thrives in spots the average passerby may overlook.

To find a few great off-the-beaten path destinations, WBEZ’s Cassie Walker Burke called up Lauren Viera, author of 500 Secrets, which catalogs hidden Chicago gems from bars to bookstores to places for a late-night bite.

Viera, who has covered the spirits and cocktail industry for local and national publications, including The New York Times, offered up six off-the-mainstream-radar spots to try in 2024.

Among her recommendations were the Queen Mary Tavern in Wicker Park, The Milk Room inside the Chicago Athletic Association and Bernards inside the Waldorf Astoria. [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Here’s what to know about changes coming to the tax credit for electric cars in 2024. [NPR]

  • Independent lawyers began prosecuting cases of sexual assault and other crimes in the U.S. military. [AP]

  • The New York Times is suing the creators of ChatGPT for allegedly using the newspaper’s stories to train the chatbot. [NPR]

  • Illinois DCFS is working on fixing decades of systemic issues. [WBEZ]

Oh, and one more thing …

This was a particularly great year for movies, with hardly a week going by without at least one good film coming out, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper writes.

Roeper’s standout picks include Oppenheimer, which he says he expects to win at least half a dozen Oscars.

There’s also Killers of the Flower Moon, which Roeper says had multiple scenes that are “destined to live forever.”

You can see all 10 of Roeper’s picks — and some bonus films that didn’t quite make the cut — in the link. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Tell me something good ...

What are your goals for the new year?

Renuka says:

“I will always keep gifts or use them. This is my New Year fight song. A change is coming.”

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

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