The Rundown: An ideological battle for the City Council

Plus, one Chicago address got $1.4 million in pandemic relief loans. Here’s what you need to know today.

The Rundown: An ideological battle for the City Council

Plus, one Chicago address got $1.4 million in pandemic relief loans. Here’s what you need to know today.

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Hey there! Thanks for reading the newsletter this week. I know the news isn’t always great, but hopefully sometimes you feel like you’re sitting in the back of the classroom with me, cracking jokes when the teacher isn’t looking. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. A battle between Chicago progressives and moderates could soon go into high gear

The upcoming city elections could give us a sense of how far to the left areas of Chicago swing. Several self-styled progressive groups, such as United Working Families, are hoping to boost the number of City Council members who align with their priorities.

At the same time, a business-focused group called the Get Stuff Done PAC is raising big bucks to promote more moderate candidates.

The group ended last year with more than $447,000 in the bank, and is expected to announce today it raised another $700,000, reports Crain’s Chicago Business.

The Get Stuff Done PAC hasn’t said who it will endorse yet. But Crain’s reports it will likely back incumbent council members Nicole Lee, 11th Ward, and Anabel Abarca, 12th.

The group is also expected to work against Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who represents the 25th Ward and is a member of the council’s Socialist Caucus, Crain’s reports. And the group may back someone against Nick Ward, who is endorsed by the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America in the crowded race for the 48th Ward. [Crain’s]

2. ‘The council had been shifting a little bit to the left of center’

So big picture, how many council races could be swayed by this ideological fight?

My colleague Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times reports 39 of Chicago’s 50 wards have contested races.

“The council had been shifting a little bit to the left of center. I’m assuming it’ll be a little bit more. That seems to be the culture of the city at this point,” said outgoing Ald. Tom Tunney, who added he will take an “active role in trying to make sure that the council and the next administration is respectful of the business community.”

Spielman also mentions another stake in these elections: whether Chicago will get “another rubber-stamp council or if it ends up with the strong-council, weak-mayor form of government outlined in its municipal code.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. Clusters of pandemic relief loans went to the same Chicago addresses, including homeless shelters

That’s according to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were created to help keep businesses afloat during the pandemic.

But there’s growing evidence of widespread fraud in the $800 billion program.

The federal government “sent $1.4 million of pandemic relief checks to a single address a few blocks north of Garfield Park, a major red flag that should have triggered scrutiny by the lenders that approved them,” experts told the newspaper.

Most of the shady loans were approved by “fintech,” or financial technology that faces less stringent regulation than traditional banks.

The Sun-Times reports criminals “cashed in on the bonanza, too. Sources say Chicago gang members got checks to buy guns, believed to have been a contributing factor in the city’s explosion of violence during the pandemic.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Blood donation restrictions on gay and bisexual men could be relaxed

The Food and Drug Administration today proposed easing restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men.

The draft guidelines, if finalized, would ditch the current three-month abstinence requirement. Instead, potential donors would be screened through a questionnaire that evaluates their individual risks for HIV, NPR reports.

But, and this is a big one, anyone taking HIV prevention medications like PrEP would not be eligible.

LGBTQ rights organizations have long opposed restrictions on who can give blood, saying it discriminates against gay and bisexual men. These policies date back to the AIDs epidemic and were designed to protect the nation’s blood supply from HIV. [NPR]

5. Chicago’s top doctor is still standing

Fatigued public health leaders across the country have left their posts in droves, driven out by political frustrations, long days and nights and public pushback as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on.

But not Dr. Allison Arwady, who was confirmed as Chicago’s public health commissioner nine days before the city confirmed its first coronavirus case, reports my colleague Courtney Kueppers.

Now, Arwady is focused on what’s next now that the pandemic isn’t demanding her attention 24/7.

“It’s not the moment of the pandemic anymore, but it’s this next part that is going to set us up for the next 20 years,” Arwady says, nodding to the public health agenda she’s finally unspooling. “I’ve never been one to run away from a fight.” [WBEZ]

Here’s what else is happening

  • A video is expected to be released today showing five Memphis police officers beating a Black man whose death prompted murder charges. [NPR]
  • The death of a migrant in the Chicago area highlights mental health challenges asylum seekers could face. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Gov. JB Pritzker made several endorsements in Chicago’s City Council races. [NBC5]
  • Alamo Drafthouse opened its first Chicago movie theater, which pays tribute to John Hughes. [Block Club Chicago]

Oh, and one more thing …

The deteriorating conditions of the Chicago Transit Authority were a big issue for many people who took WBEZ’s People’s Agenda survey, a tool launched by the station to help guide our coverage of the upcoming city elections.

Crime and public safety were, unsurprisingly, the top issue. But nearly one-third of respondents said making the CTA safer, cleaner and more reliable was their top issue. [WBEZ]

Earlier this month, WBEZ heard from CTA riders about what really grinds their gears, with the amazing headline “Everybody’s late and everything smells like weed: What nearly 2,000 CTA riders told us.” [WBEZ]

That resulted in one of my all-time favorite Reddit comments on a WBEZ story: “I’m all for enjoying yourself, but God damn, switch to gummies if you’re getting high while running errands.” [Reddit]

Tell me something good …

What’s a small thing that gives you joy?

Shelagh writes:

“My small thing for today — actually two small things— are my cats, one of whom is staring intently at the bird feeders that I have strategically placed in the tree just outside my picture window, and the other who is purring on my lap as I type this.”

And Irving writes:

“In the last few years, I’ve encountered a bunch of coyotes: on the Midway in Hyde Park, sitting on the river bank across from California Park, and my favorite: running across the route during the Lincolnwood Turkey Trot in November.

“They weren’t intentionally reintroduced here, they’re natives to this area that found their way back. It’s a kind of scrappiness and beauty that I think we should celebrate as very Chicago. Every time I see one, it makes me happy.

“And the enemy of the rat is my friend.”

Thanks for all the responses this week. I’m sorry I couldn’t share them all, but it was nice hearing from y’all.