The Rundown: A potential Lightfoot challenger emerges

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference on Feb. 4, 2021. WBEZ
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference on Feb. 4, 2021. WBEZ

The Rundown: A potential Lightfoot challenger emerges

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Hey there! It’s Thursday, and I watched Don’t Look Up last night and I’m glad my job doesn’t include discovering a planet-killing comet. I’ll just write about it after the apocalypse. Here’s what you need to know today.

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1. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he’s considering a run for Chicago mayor

Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Chicago Sun-Times today that he is being urged to run against Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the 2023 election.

“I will absolutely look at this as we go forward long-term. If I think I can make a bigger difference in another seat, I’ll absolutely look at that,” Duncan said.

“I’m not running for anything right now. But I am deeply concerned about where we are as a city. Nobody feels like we’re in a good place. … Our city’s in a really tough spot. I’ve lived here all my life. I love this city. As I talk to folks, they’re probably more concerned now than at any time that I can remember.”

Duncan, a former CEO for Chicago Public Schools, served as education secretary in the Obama administration. Just three months ago, he told reporters he was not interested in running for mayor and wanted to continue hiss violence-prevention work. [Sun-Times]

2. Chicago’s current COVID-19 surge isn’t causing the same rate of deaths as previous waves

That’s according to a fascinating analysis from my colleague Alden Loury.

He writes: “While the number of COVID-19 deaths have increased in recent weeks, the number of deaths in relation to the number of cases reported has declined. According to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County medical examiner, the ratio of COVID-19 deaths to cases is less than half for the four-week period since omicron compared to the immediately preceding four-week period.” [WBEZ]

This is in line with early data suggesting the highly contagious omicron variant is not as severe as previous strains. Because of this, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts have said hospitalizations, not case counts, are the best way to measure omicron’s impact.

In Chicago, hospitals are nearing capacity — and the vast majority of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

According to city officials, just about 11% of intensive care beds were available as of yesterday. The city is reporting a seven-day average of 112 hospitalizations per day, up 14% from the previous week. [COVID Dashboard]

3. Parents and students remain in limbo amid the latest standoff between Chicago officials and the teachers union

Classes at Chicago’s public schools were once again canceled today as city officials and the teachers union negotiate over how to safely reopen schools.

It is unclear if classes will be canceled tomorrow, but it appears likely. In an interview with WBEZ yesterday, Mayor Lightfoot said she opposes allowing teachers to go remote for eight days while negotiations continue.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said last night that support and academic services would be available for students in schools tomorrow, and each school would decide its offerings depending on how many staff returned to schools.

He suggested students may get in-person instruction, packets to take home, help with college applications or virtual lessons.

The Chicago Teachers Union earlier this week voted to resist working in-person amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases. In response, the mayor and CPS canceled classes. [WBEZ]

4. Police leaders in Chicago were reportedly told to step up arrests and solve more murders — or be demoted

Mayor Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown told police leaders they’ll lose their jobs if they don’t do more to stem a record wave of violence, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, citing two sources with knowledge of the high-level meeting.

Police brass were also told to engage more with community residents and generate more positive interactions.

One source told the Sun-Times the tone was “threatening.” Lightfoot and Brown reportedly did not present a clear plan for their goals and told police leaders to “make due with what you have to get more arrests.”

Neither the mayor’s office nor Brown responded to the newspaper. [Sun-Times]

5. A look at the far right in Illinois on the anniversary of Jan. 6

A year after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, right-wing groups have seen their ranks grow in the Chicago area and at least 20 Illinois residents have been charged in connection to the insurrection, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

And U.S. Rep Mary Miller provides a “snapshot of the far-right hardline movement in Illinois.”

Miller, who was endorsed for reelection last week by former President Donald Trump, appears to consider defendants in the Capitol attack political prisoners. And she has questioned the integrity of elections without providing any supporting evidence. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack by forcibly denouncing Trump and his “web of lies” about the 2020 election. Biden said he will not allow Trump and his allies to place “a dagger at the throat of democracy.”

Vice President Kamala Harris made the case for a sweeping voting rights bill that has stalled in the Senate.

“We cannot sit on the sidelines. We must unite in defense of our democracy,” she said. [NPR]

Here’s what else is happening

  • A Russian-led military force arrived in Kazakhstan after dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured in violent protests over rising fuel prices. [NPR]
  • Federal authorities say an Italian man tricked authors and industry insiders into sending him hundreds of unpublished manuscripts. [NPR]
  • Pope Francis says couples shouldn’t choose pets over children as birth rates drop. [Washington Post]
  • Comedian Jon Stewart clarifies that he does not think J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter movies are anti-Semitic. [A.V. Club]

Oh, and one more thing …

Chicago authorities are investigating loud explosions in the Rogers Park neighborhood that might be linked to a TikTok “challenge” involving homemade bombs, reports Block Club Chicago.

The website reports the “homemade bomb or ‘bottle bomb’ trend sees social media users film themselves making explosives out of household chemicals and products.”

Rogers Park residents have been complaining about loud explosions for months. They became so common that a person behind a popular neighborhood Facebook page reportedly banned posts on the issue. [Block Club Chicago]

Tell me something good …

What are you looking forward to in 2022?

Renuka writes:

“Looking forward to a big huge bash featuring mariachi, tacos and laughs from every corner of the city for my fall burrday!”

Feel free to email me at or tweet me at @whuntah, and your responses might be shared here this week.

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