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Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson

Former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson advanced to an April runoff in the nine-way Chicago mayoral contest.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere and Anthony Vazquez

The Rundown: Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson debate

Hey there, it’s Wednesday and we’re somehow just days away from Chicago’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. What Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson need to do to win tonight’s debate

The first debate ahead of the city’s mayoral runoff election will be at 6 p.m. today and broadcast live on Channel 5 and Telemundo.

My colleague Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times asked several experts what the two candidates need to do to reach voters.

Seasoned political strategist David Axelrod told the Sun-Times that Johnson is a “better performer” and needs to use his time on stage to show he’s up for the job.

“He does that by talking with some depth and fluidity about the public safety issues, by talking about how the things he’s proposing will strengthen the city and not drive businesses from the city,” Axelrod said.

Political strategist Peter Giangreco said Vallas should hone in on Johnson’s lack of experience: “Paul ought to run against Lori Lightfoot, put Brandon in there and say, ‘We just did four years of a mayor who had never run anything. Do we really want to do that again — especially with someone who wants to take police off the street?’ ” [Chicago Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson today endorsed Vallas. [Chicago Sun-Times]

2. An Illinois lifeline program for suicidal kids has become a bridge to nowhere for many

Twenty years ago, Illinois developed a safety net program for children from low-income families with suicidal thoughts called Screening, Assessment and Support Services (SASS), but a WBEZ investigation found the system is buckling as demand has increased.

The percentage of suicidal children who arrived in Illinois emergency rooms increased nearly 60% over a nearly six-year period ending in 2021, report my colleagues Sarah Karp and Kristen Schorsch.

Although children experiencing a mental health crisis are supposed to get a SASS assessment within 90 minutes after a report is made to a hotline, WBEZ’s review of state records and data showed complaints of hourslong waits were up 50% in the last year.

“And the state doesn’t even know if all children in crisis screened by a SASS worker were connected to mental health support, typically inpatient or outpatient care, let alone whether they actually received treatment,” Karp and Schorsch write. [WBEZ]

Some families told WBEZ when they’re referred to outpatient therapy, they face long waitlists or can’t get therapy at all. [WBEZ]

WBEZ has a guide for how to find mental health resources for kids in Chicago. [WBEZ]

3. United Center concessions workers still don’t have a union contract and could strike ahead of the Big Ten tournament

A second strike could begin at any time after the arena’s concessions contractor and its unionized employees didn’t reach an agreement during collective bargaining, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Pensions and health insurance for union members are two of the issues yet to be resolved, the newspaper reports.

A spokesperson for the contractor told the Sun-Times the company will adjust food and beverage service during the Big Ten Tournament “to focus on fan favorites and top-selling items” if a strike gets called.

The tournament takes place at the United Center today through Sunday. [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Illinois legislation would withhold grants from public libraries that ban books

Democratic Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office also serves as the state librarian, initiated the bill in the Legislature, the Chicago Tribune reports.

As the Tribune reports: “The legislation, which has the backing of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, would allow the secretary of state’s office to deny state grants to public libraries, including those in schools, that don’t adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which holds, among other things, that ‘materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.’ ”

Opponents of the bill argue parents and local boards should make decisions for their communities.

Some states controlled by Republicans, such as neighboring Indiana and Missouri, have introduced measures that allow for educators to be prosecuted if books deemed obscene reach minors. [Chicago Tribune]

5. Puzzle-solving bumblebees suggest some insects might have culture

A new study found bumblebees can learn from each other to solve puzzles, NPR reports.

The finding shows social insects may have a capacity for culture, which is defined as animals learning from each other.

“These creatures are really quite incredible. They’re really, really good at learning despite having these tiny, tiny brains,” Alice Bridges, a behavioral ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University in England, told NPR.

Cultural behaviors often get passed from between generations. Humans do this when, for example, teaching children how to make matzo ball soup or dancing the merengue. [NPR]

Here’s what else is happening

  • A Department of Justice report says Louisville police routinely use “excessive force” and an “aggressive style of policing” against Black people. [CNN]

  • Elon Musk apologized after mocking a disabled Twitter employee. [AP]

  • The director of the Illinois Department of Corrections resigned. [WBEZ]

  • Chicago’s ARC Music Festival released this year’s lineup. [ARC]

Oh, and one more thing …

Here’s some nostalgia for longtime fantasy novel fans: Eragon author Christopher Paolini will have a new book this fall that is set a year after the events of the original series that came out almost 20 years ago.

In Murtagh, the titular character goes on “an epic journey into lands both familiar and untraveled” as he and his dragon Thorn confront a “mysterious witch,” The Associated Press reports. [AP]

Tell me something good ...

It seems like spring is right around the corner. What are you looking forward to doing as the weather gets warmer?

Rachelle writes:

“Those first few nice days of spring/summer when it’s warm and not raining, and I take a walk, and I’m bursting, so happy to see the sun again, on my face, chin raised up to it instead of hunched down into a scarf.

Then I pass someone on the sidewalk and we catch each other’s eye (because it’s Chicago, and that’s okay to do here), and we give each other a big goofy smile, and we don’t have to say a word. We both know, at this moment in the sun, that life is grand.”

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

The Latest
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