The Spin: Politics and Chicago’s hazardous air pollution | Ald. Carrie Austin says she has COVID-19

Christel Deskins

With no COVID-19 vaccine or surefire treatment in sight, the Chicago Marathon has been canceled for the second time in its history. It comes as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot watch spikes in cases across the country and offer their own reminders that people should wear a mask […]

With no COVID-19 vaccine or surefire treatment in sight, the Chicago Marathon has been canceled for the second time in its history.

It comes as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot watch spikes in cases across the country and offer their own reminders that people should wear a mask and take other measures as we see a slow rise in new cases here.

And we’re some 130 days away from the November election, but COVID-19 is already leaving its print on the ballot box in Chicago, where a record 121,000 voters have requested mail-in ballots.

And, if it makes any difference, Chicago’s Chance the Rapper is endorsing fellow Chicago musician and onetime MAGA-hat-wearing Kanye West’s long shot presidential bid.

My colleague Michael Hawthorne examines how Chicago just notched its longest streak of lung-damaging, life-shortening high-pollution days in more than a decade. While the Trump administration has agreed, on some level, that dirty air is part of a domino effect of climate change, the White House also has, year after year, rolled back clear air regulations.

And with all this Trump shade coming out of Chicago, the president returned the favor. At a White House law enforcement roundtable today, Trump pledged to lower shooting statistics in American cities “even if we have to go in and take over,” overstated Chicago’s weekend violence numbers and again compared the city’s violence with Afghanistan’s. It’s a bit of a refrain.

Welcome to The Spin.

Trump at White House: Chicago violence ‘worse than Afghanistan’

President Donald Trump spoke at a White House roundtable on law enforcement today and threatened to bring down shooting numbers in American cities “even if we have to go in and take over.”

The president also again compared the violence seen in Chicago with Afghanistan and said it was worse here.

From the Tribune’s John Byrne: “During the event, he turned his attention to Chicago, one of his favorite targets.

“The president cited erroneous numbers, saying there were ‘I guess 20 people killed and many, many shootings’ in the city over the weekend.

“In fact, 10 people were killed in shootings over the weekend. Fifty other people were injured in shootings across Chicago.” Read the full story here.

Chicago’s bad air days, and the Trump administration’s conflicting take on the environment

The Tribune’s Michael Hawthorne takes a look at that string of nine air-pollution days this month, writing: “Chronically dirty air is one of the consequences of extreme weather triggered by climate change.

“The Trump administration agrees, on paper at least. Its 2018 National Climate Assessment concluded that: ‘Midwestern populations are already experiencing adverse health impacts from climate change, and these impacts are expected to worsen in the future.‘”

Close to home: “The administration also overruled career EPA staff and trimmed the number of counties in the Chicago area required to adopt smog-fighting measures such as more stringent limits on industrial pollution, tailpipe-emissions monitoring and vapor controls on gasoline pumps,”

You can read more, including how a little clout may have helped northwest suburban McHenry County get its name taken off a list of smog violators, along with other political and legal challenges, here.

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Chicago sets record for vote-by-mail applications

“Chicago election officials have received a record 121,000 applications for mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 general election, even before the rollout of a state-mandated effort to offer vote-by-mail to anyone who voted in recent elections,” the Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes.

He adds: “The number of requests tops the 118,000 applications in advance of the March 17 primary as coronavirus restrictions were being put in place. It’s also higher than the number of requests made for the November 1944 election, when U.S. troops were fighting overseas in World War II.”

“Now, it’s just a matter of time before we see when Chicago voters may double, triple and maybe even quintuple those records from March 2020 and before that, November 1944 in World War II,” Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Executive Director Lance Gough said in a statement.

Mail-in ballots will start arriving at homes in late September. Chicago voters who provide an email when they apply for a mail-in ballot will receive updates on everything from when their application is processed to when the ballot is processed.

Like everything else, vote-by-mail — particularly efforts to expand it — has become part of the deep partisan divide across the country. While some Democrats have pushed to follow the lead of states that automatically mail out ballots to voters, an expensive prospect for some cash-strapped governments, some Republicans including President Donald Trump have raised concerns about voter fraud even though there’s little to back up that assertion. The president reiterated his concerns via Twitter last week.

Chicago connection: Chance the Rapper backs Kanye West’s presidential bid — The sort-of endorsement triggered a Twitter backlash, my Tribune colleague Lauren Leazenby writes. As reported last week, West announced he’s making a bid for the White House in a clear break from his onetime pal Trump. As the AP notes: West has already missed the deadline to qualify for the ballot in several states, and it’s unclear if he has the ability or willingness to collect the signatures required to qualify in others.

This isn’t the first time Chance the Rapper, whose given name is Chancelor Bennett, has offered endorsements in high-profile political races. Bennett initially backed Amara Enyia as his pick in the 2019 Chicago mayor’s race before throwing his support in the city’s runoff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who lost to Lori Lightfoot.

Speaking of the November election, Illinois Democratic Party leaders gather in Springfield for an in-person meeting — with social distancing requirements in place — to choose electors who become part of the 538 members of the Electoral College, which formally selects the president and vice president in December.

Illinois is allotted 20 electors, one for each of the 18 congressional districts, plus two at-large electors for each of its U.S. Senate seats.

The Republicans also pick 20, but in a winner-takes-all system, the party that prevails in the popular vote heads to the final round of voting in the Electoral College.

It’s a civics reminder that when we go to the polls and make our choice for president, we’re actually voting for a party slate.

The state party’s delegate selection plan can be found here. And read the list of Republican and Democratic electors from the 2016 election, courtesy of Illinois Public media, here.

Counting on people: Mayor Lightfoot trots out “census cowboy” to boost participation: Donning a 10ish-gallon hat, the mayor introduced the cowboy — on horseback, no less — and said he’ll be striding into the 10 neighborhoods where census response is the lowest. Right now, Lightfoot says the city’s response is at 55% ahead of the Halloween deadline and that it’s below 40% in some parts of the West and South sides.

“It’s time to giddy-up – let’s do this Chicago,” she said.

The mayor reminded those assembled that a census count decides how much federal funding the city receives. It also determines how many seats in Congress the state has; right now, experts fear Illinois could lose as many as two seats. You can fill out the census form here.

“Chicago ranks relatively well among response rates compared to the nation’s other biggest cities,” Crain’s A.D. Quig writes. Read the full story here.

Pritzker, Lightfoot concerned as COVID-19 cases creep up in Illinois

The Tribune’s John Byrne and Luisa Chu write: “Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration closed a West Loop bar and cited a handful of other venues over the weekend for flouting COVID-19 capacity or social distancing rules, part of her promised crackdown on violators aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus cases throughout the city.

“With images of long lines of maskless patrons in Wrigleyville and other Chicago entertainment districts continuing to flood social media and the state announcing increases in recent days in the number of COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate, Lightfoot on Monday said she remains concerned Chicago might follow other hot spots around the country that have seen massive virus spikes.” Read the story here. And for the latest data and other news on COVID-19 in Chicago and across the state, read here.

Eyeball Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Twitter feed and it’s clear his administration is hammering home similar concerns, writing over the weekend, “I know everyone wants to get back to normal, but we can’t wish away the virus or pretend the pandemic is over. It’s not. We all have to do our part” as well as “We remain concerned cases are rising and positivity rates are inching up. Now more than ever, we must rely on what the science is telling us. Wearing a face covering is an effective tool in the fight against #covid19.”

Veteran Chicago alderman announces she has coronavirus: Far South Side Ald. Carrie Austin wrote in a letter on her 34th Ward website that she has been “stricken by COVID-19 1/4 u2033 and is “currently progressing toward full recovery.” Read John Byrne’s full story here.

COVID-19 mobile testing site in Lake Zurich this week following spike in youth cases: The Tribune’s Darcel Rockett has the story here.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul joins lawsuit against Trump administration on foreign student visa rules

From The Associated Press: Massachusetts and 17 other attorneys general, including Illinois’ Kwame Raoul, filed a federal suit today challenging the Trump administration’s new restrictions on international students.

The suit challenges a Trump administration directive that says international students cannot stay in the U.S. if they take all of their classes online this fall. In a statement from Raoul’s office, he and other attorneys general say the rule is a “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the entire rule from taking effect.

“ICE’s arbitrary new rule harms both international students and the institutions where these students contribute to creating a diverse and culturally-vibrant academic environment. Announcing this rule in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional confusion and upheaval for students and universities already facing uncertainty caused by the pandemic,” Raoul is quoted as saying in a statement from his office. “As the son of immigrants and the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I am committed to fighting the administration’s anti-immigrant policies.”

Chicago connection: The AP also reports that last Wednesday, a DePaul University student was prevented from entering the country after arriving in San Francisco as a result of the directive, according to a legal briefing filed by nearly 60 universities.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at [email protected].

Twitter @byldonovan


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