The Rundown: Can the CTA get back on track?

Plus, a new poll in Chicago’s mayoral election. Here’s what you need to know today.

A CTA station in late December.
A CTA station in late December. Michael Gerstein for WBEZ
A CTA station in late December.
A CTA station in late December. Michael Gerstein for WBEZ

The Rundown: Can the CTA get back on track?

Plus, a new poll in Chicago’s mayoral election. Here’s what you need to know today.

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Good afternoon! I can’t stop watching videos about old-timey furniture with built-in secrets. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Everybody’s late and everything smells like weed: What nearly 2,000 CTA riders told us

The Chicago Transit Authority, the second-largest transit system in the nation, hopes to solve a host of problems that have collectively resulted in a crisis of faith among commuters: unreliable service, filthy conditions, staffing shortages, a spike in crime and a massive cultural shift toward remote work.

“I can’t rely on it anymore,” said John Wilmes, a professor at Roosevelt University. “I’ve always been a defender of the Chicago Transit Authority. I’ve always said, ‘Actually, it’s not that bad. It’s actually one of the good things about living here. It’s pretty reliable.’ That’s no longer true. And the city doesn’t seem to care.”

Nearly 2,000 commuters vented to WBEZ about delays, ghost buses and safety, but they also expressed gratitude and empathy for CTA workers. [WBEZ]

We then asked a CTA spokesman some of the more pressing questions from commuters, like why are bus and train trackers consistently inaccurate? [WBEZ]

2. A new poll shows García ahead in the mayoral race with Lightfoot in second

U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García and incumbent Lori Lightfoot appear to be the frontrunners in next month’s mayoral election, according to a poll of 1,000 likely voters.

The poll, conducted by Impact Research, found García ahead with 28% and Lightfoot with 21%, reports Greg Hinz at Crain’s Chicago Businesses, adding the findings are “pretty consistent with other, private polls conducted for candidates and other interest groups that I’ve heard about.”

There are two big caveats. The poll was taken last month, before some candidates began airing TV ads. And it was conducted before the Lightfoot campaign solicited public schools teachers for student volunteers, a move now under investigation by the top watchdog at Chicago Public Schools.

Unsurprisingly, the Impact Research poll found crime, at 48%, was the major issue among voters surveyed. [Crain’s Chicago Business]

A televised debate among the candidates will take place this Thursday on ABC7 at 7 p.m. [ABC7]

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., endorsed Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for mayor. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police seeks to win power on new oversight councils

Voters in Chicago next month will elect who they want to serve on new police district councils touted as a step toward establishing civilian oversight of the Police Department.

And the union representing rank-and-file officers is aiming to extend its influence into these councils, reports my colleague Anna Savchenko.

Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police has paid $25,000 to two election attorneys who are trying to kick candidates off ballots in some of the police district races.

“We have created a law that gives people in communities of color an opportunity to elect folks to district councils that represent the communities, not the police,” said Frank Chapman, a longtime civil rights activist who spent years pushing for the new councils. “In other words, it empowers them to address police misconduct.”

John Catanzara, the president of Chicago’s FOP, did not return messages seeking comment. [WBEZ]

4. How restaurant workers unknowingly fund efforts against raising the minimum wage

Cooks, waiters and other food service workers in Illinois, California, Florida and Texas have to pay around $15 for an online food safety class.

“But in taking the class, the workers — largely unbeknown to them — are also helping to fund a nationwide lobbying campaign to keep their own wages from increasing,” reports The New York Times.

That’s because the company overseeing the online classes also doubles as the fundraising arm for the National Restaurant Association, which has long fought against raising the minimum wage on the federal and state levels.

“More than 3.6 million workers have taken this training, providing about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010,” the Times reports. “That was more than the National Restaurant Association spent on lobbying in the same period, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.” [New York Times]

5. The Alamo Drafthouse opens its first Chicago location next week in Wrigleyville

Some great news for movie lovers: The trendy Alamo Drafthouse will open a six-screen, dine-in theater on Jan. 27 that includes a separate bar and grill.

The lineup for the opening weekend includes two Chicago-centric movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the original Candyman, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Alamo Drafthouse founder and executive executive chairman Tim League said he has been eyeing Chicago for quite some time.

“A number of deals have fallen through for a number of reasons. But Chicago has long topped the list of cities we weren’t in yet,” he told the Tribune. “The Alamo does best in cool, dense cities. And that’s Chicago.” [Chicago Tribune]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago are on strike. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • A gay-owned restaurant in Rogers Park was targeted in a suspected homophobic attack. [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Illinois cannabis growers face multiple obstacles, from state regulations to financing. [WBEZ]
  • England moves to ban single-use plastics. [New York Times]

Oh, and one more thing …

As Chicago and other major cities saw a spike in crime during the pandemic, officials have turned to anti-violence workers as one way to help combat shootings.

My colleague Patrick Smith, in a new season of WBEZ’s award-winning Motive podcast, takes a deep dive into how a growing army of former gang members is trying to bring peace to the streets of Chicago.

The first episode comes out Jan. 26, but the station today released a trailer for the new season. Give it a listen and feel free to let me know what you think. [WBEZ]

Tell me something good …

Today is yet another cold and gloomy day in Chicago, a painful reminder that, yes, it is winter in the city. What are some ways you are making the most out of this season? Are you trying anything new? Picking up hobbies?

For me, I’ve been trying to be more present with friends and family members after my colleague Araceli Gomez-Aldana wrote about “hygge,” a Danish expression commonly associated with comfort and joy.

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