Judge clears way for Obama center construction
TGIF, Illinois. I’m taking next week off and relaxing before jumping into the State Fair festivities (Details about the fair). Illinois Playbook will return to your inbox Monday, Aug. 16.
A federal judge denied a request Thursday to stop construction on the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s historic Jackson Park, issuing a blow to Protect Our Parks activists who are considering an appeal.
Roadwork in the park is expected to begin by Aug. 16 and groundbreaking would start next month on the $700 million center that is scheduled to open in 2025.
The Obama Foundation gave props to the ruling. “We know many in the city and community are eager for us to continue our work to bring jobs and investment to the South Side and the ruling today allows us to do just that,” a foundation spokeswoman said in a statement to Playbook. “We have appreciated the voices of the many leaders who weighed in on this issue with the court to move the [Obama] center forward as the city focuses on its recovery efforts and steps to build a more inclusive economy.”
And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said, “we are eager for work to move forward after today’s ruling. This project will revitalize Jackson Park with a world-class presidential museum and additional public amenities for recreation, while also fulfilling the city’s goal of developing a South Side Museum campus.”
Thursday’s one-page decision by U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey did not offer an opinion and only addressed the preliminary injunction requested by Protect Our Parks, whose members oppose the Obama center being located in Jackson Park. They say it would cause “irreparable harm” by tearing up roads, cutting down trees and diverting traffic into Hyde Park.
The parks group has separately filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois claiming the Obama Foundation failed to do full federal reviews of alternative locations. That case is still wending its way through court. (It’s the second version of a lawsuit that has already been denied by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Judicial experts say Thursday’s ruling makes the pending lawsuit an even greater hurdle for the parks group because judges are traditionally reluctant to stop a project once it’s underway. And sometimes plaintiffs lose interest. “So the denial of the preliminary injunction is a big loss for the plaintiffs,” said Marquette Law School professor Joseph Kearney, who has followed the case and written extensively about lakefront and public trust issues.
A spokeswoman for Protect Our Parks issued a statement: “While we are certainly disappointed in the court’s decision, we will review the full opinion and explore all available options, including immediately filing an appeal and seeking relief from the appellate court. In addition, we will continue to vigorously pursue and present our arguments in court in the coming weeks.”
Deep dive: As we wrote earlier this week, the battle over building the Obama center has created tension within the community and the city at large. Supporters of the Jackson Park location have accused the activists of trying to thwart a project meant to honor America’s first Black president. Protect Our Parks, meanwhile, has called it a David and Goliath story where a small citizen group is challenging a powerful alliance of the city, the federal government and the Obamas, who are beloved in Chicago.
Recently elected Peoria Mayor Rita Ali is working with former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on a plan to secure federal infrastructure funds to create high-speed passenger rail service for Peoria.
It’s all part of Ali’s goal to draw people and businesses to the central Illinois town of 113,000 residents. Peoria has struggled since the headquarters of Caterpillar Inc. left for Deerfield, north of Chicago. “We want to turn it around. There’s been an exodus of people and businesses,” Ali said in a recent Q&A interview. Here’s what else we talked about:
What’s your biggest challenge?
“It’s growing our population and business community and attracting new industries. We’re also working to address financial and socio-economic issues that led people to leave and are creating more poverty in the 61605 area. We’ve created the [city/county] Joint Commission on Racial Justice and Equity to address inequities and disparities based on race. [Composed of 156 citizens,] it’s looking at the determinants of equity: justice issues, housing, jobs and economic development, mobility and transportation, environment, youth and child development, information technology, and health and human services. We’ll use data to drive changes in policy and put system changes and practices in place. I’m encouraged by that.”
Can you talk about 61605?
“The 61605 ZIP code is our weakest link in Peoria. Poverty level is high in the city in general — at about 20 percent — but it’s much higher in the 61605 ZIP code area. Almost 50 percent of adults in the area don’t work, and 50 percent of properties aren’t maintained. Crime is high and in some census tracts, 85 percent of people live below the poverty line.”
After working in education and employment training, how did you come to be a politician?
“I’ve been volunteering in the community since I was 14. I served on the police community relations commission, and then four years ago I decided to try to get a seat at the table. I ran for a City Council seat in the 5th District, which is predominantly white and about 80 percent Republican. It was a close race and a discovery recount showed I lost by one vote. I conceded then two years later decided to run citywide and won.
Another two years later, people in town encouraged me to run for mayor. I kept saying no because I had a big full-time job [as a VP at Illinois Central College]. I knew I couldn’t do both. Even though Peoria mayor is classified as a part-time job, it’s not. Peoria has so many needs. It requires so much leadership. So I decided to retire early from ICC if I was elected. My campaign theme was about being a full-time mayor for all the people of Peoria.”
You credit women supporters with helping you get elected. How do you rely on women to advise you?
“My core campaign team was comprised of all women. Strong, passionate women. Smart women. We worked very well together, and I listened to them because they had great ideas, paid attention to details, and unwavering commitment. I had many men supporters as well but most of them worked in the background of my campaign — influencing, raising money, advising. The women were on the front line proving that women can lead as I hope to do in my new role as Peoria’s first woman mayor.”
What’s the next big initiative you hope will play in Peoria?
“I want to make Peoria a Smart City. Smart Cities enable technologies that reduce carbon emissions, improve energy and waste management, and overall sustainability. Smart Cities collaborate with key stakeholders to leverage resources and build strong economies that generate new jobs and financial opportunities. [Electric vehicles] are a big part of Smart City development so we’ll need to make investments in infrastructure and technology to support this initiative.”
Have a tip, suggestion, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other nugget for Playbook? Get in touch: [email protected]
No official public events.
In West Garfield Park at 11:15 a.m. for the ribbon cutting of the new Community Plaza and Roller Rink that’s part of the Neighborhood Activation Violence Prevention Initiative.
No official public events.
— Delta blues: Variant’s spread across Illinois sparks infection rate rivaling days when few were vaccinated: “Turn on the TV and look what’s happening in Florida and Texas and a couple other states, even Missouri, and you can see that if you don’t take action, if you’re not acting swiftly to keep people protected in ways that you know are effective, then you’re going to fill up the hospital beds,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. Sun-Times’ Mitchell Armentrout reports.
— Health officials urge Covid tests for Lollapalooza goers, Tribune’s Angie Leventis Lourgos and Alice Yin report
— Chicago area hospitals open clinics for Covid-19 long-haulers, by Tribune’s Lisa Schencker.
Longtime AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka dies, remembered by Chicago-based union leaders: “President Joe Biden eulogized Trumka from the White House and said the labor leader had died of a heart attack while on a camping trip with his son and grandkids,” by the Associated Press.
— Secretary of State Jesse White tells employees to get vaccinated or undergo regular Covid testing: “White last week announced that everyone entering driver services facilities, the Illinois Capitol or other buildings under his jurisdiction is required to wear masks. Pritzker followed suit with an order covering all state buildings,” by Tribune’s Dan Petrella.
— Pritzker signs legislation increasing access to feminine hygiene products, by WTTW’s Kristen Thometz.
— Noncompete agreements are about to get more prickly: “A bill awaiting Pritzker’s signature is lauded by some as a workers-rights breakthrough at a time when people are rethinking their employment options. Others, however, see danger ahead,” by Crain’s Elyssa Cherney.
— Pritzker urges lawmakers to act on energy bill: “This is not something that’s left to interest groups to decide. This is a decision that gets made by the legislature and by the governor,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference Wednesday. “And here we are. This bill has been put together after much negotiation over many, many months. And we now have a piece of legislation that is ready to go and it needs to be called in the legislature and voted on.” Capitol News’ Peter Hancock reports
— Lightfoot announces new neighborhood violence response strategy modeled after coronavirus efforts: “The center is meant to help government and community members work together to solve challenging violence using a ‘whole-of-government approach,’ Lightfoot said,” by Tribune’s Stephanie Casanova and John Byrne.
… From the Sun-Times: “When Lightfoot learned Black Chicagoans were dying from COVID-19 at seven times the rate of ‘any other demographic,’ she knew she could not reveal those startling statistics without presenting ‘concrete solutions.’”
— Nearly 19% of Chicago restaurants have closed since start of pandemic: All Chicago-area counties (minus the city) have seen 12.3 percent of restaurants close, according to market researcher Datassential. WGN/9’s Jenna Barnes reports
— Aldermen: ‘Chicago Park District must do better’ for lifeguards who allege abuse: “Two prominent Chicago aldermen on Thursday criticized the Chicago Park District’s handling of a long-running investigation into complaints of widespread sexual violence against lifeguards at the city’s public beaches and pools,” by WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos.
— Cubs unveil plans for Wrigley Field sportsbook: “The Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the team’s proposal for a two-story addition on the southeast corner of the ballpark,” by Crain’s Danny Ecker.
— Muddy Waters home gets final Landmarks Commission approval, moves to City Council, by Sun-Times’ Maudlyne Ihejirika.
— CPS is offering remote learning for students with medical needs: “So far the district has received few applications,” reports Tribune’s Tracy Swartz.
— ‘Why force it?’ 2 upcoming Chicago street festivals cancel due to Covid-19, by WGN/9’s Gaynor Hall
— Still a threatened species in Illinois, the osprey has made a comeback in Cook County: “Their return is credited to an environmental cleanup that includes the 1972 ban of the pesticide DDT, and to human help: For decades, platforms on top of towering poles have been added throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve District to create a safer version of the birds’ preferred treetop nesting habitat,” by Tribune’s Morgan Greene.
— Dolton police chief releases video of police fatal shooting of 19-year-old: “It is important for the public to see both sides of the incident,” he said. “This is the recorded version as opposed to other narratives that are on the street.” Daily Southtown’s Jeff Vorva reports
— Legal folks call Blagojevich’s lawsuit ‘frivolous’: “Rod Blagojevich used to joke that “he barely knew where the law library was” as he earned his law degree from Pepperdine University amid surfing the Pacific Ocean and mingling with movie stars in Malibu. Judging by the lawsuit the disgraced former Illinois governor filed this week challenging a ban on him running for state and local office, Blagojevich still has a penchant for skipping his legal homework, said experts who dismissed his action as baseless,” writes Tribune’s Rick Pearson.
— A sex-abuse enterprise? Breaking down the unusual racketeering case against R. Kelly: “Unlike the singer’s previous criminal trial in Cook County over a decade ago, which centered on a single sex tape and ended in acquittal, the expansive indictment in New York accuses him of being the head of a criminal enterprise that for decades used his celebrated musical talents to not only sell records, but also to abuse and enslave girls, produce child pornography and satisfy Kelly’s personal sexual urges,” by Tribune’s Jason Meisner and Megan Crepea.
— Chicago police officer who shot man in CTA Red Line station in 2020 is hit with criminal charges: “Reaction to the shooting by city officials had been swift last year, no doubt spurred by the quick dissemination of cellphone video taken by a CTA customer. Mayor Lori Lightfoot immediately called it “extremely disturbing” and disciplinary charges came within weeks,” by Tribune’s Megan Crepeau and Jeremy Gorner.
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch is giving out 25 Cubs-Sox tickets to youth members of the Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network Internship program. The donation is part of the Democrats for Illinois House Fundraiser. The kids going to the game have never been to a big-league game so this one is special, Rev. Albert Johnson, a board member with the youth group, said in a statement. For his part, Welch said spending an afternoon in the park “with two of Chicago’s esteemed baseball teams is an exciting moment.”
— GOP governor candidate Gary Rabine skews Danish study’s findings to attack Pritzker’s school mask mandate: “Republicans in Illinois were largely critical of Pritzker’s mask mandate, contending it should be up to local school boards… But Rabine went further, [falsely] contending a Danish study in 2020 found that people who wore masks ‘were just as likely to get Covid-19 as those who didn’t,’” reports Tribune’s Rick Pearson.
— You heard it here first, and now Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering is making it official. She’s running for Illinois Supreme Court District 2 (Lake, Kane, Kendall, DeKalb and McHenry counties). An attorney for over thirty years, Rotering, a Democrat, was the first woman elected Mayor of Highland Park and is currently in her third term.
— DuPage County Board member Greg Hart to run for board chairman: The Hinsdale board member “the financial support of the current chairman,” reports Patch’s David Giuliani.
— Gun safety groups to Biden: Do more to get your point man confirmed, by POLITICO’s Anita Kumar
— Jan. 6 select panel takes over House probe of Trump DOJ, by POLITICO’s Betsy Woodruff Swan and Nicholas Wu
— AFT president says union is now ‘looking at vaccine mandates,’ by POLITICO’s Juan Perez Jr.
Their careers and romance took root in politics: “Henry Connelly, the communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Samantha Warren, the chief of staff for Representative Bill Foster, became fast friends and confidants when they met in Washington,” via the New York Times.
John E. McNeal, a prominent lawyer and a stalwart of the conservative movement and the Republican Party in Chicago.
THURSDAY’s ANSWER: Congrats to former state Rep. Ken Dunkin for being first to correctly answer that Hardin County has the smallest population based on the most recent census data (new numbers coming soon!).
TODAY’s QUESTION: How many coal power plants are in Illinois? Email to [email protected]
Today: State Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin (38th), former state Rep. Kathy Ryg, McGuireWoods government relations VP Arielle Maffei, Business Leadership Council chief engagement officer Cory Thames, and Mike Milstein, deputy director of community policing at the Chicago Police Department.
Saturday: Congresswoman Mary Miller (15th), Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino, Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), former Senate candidate Alan Keyes, Duckworth community outreach coordinator Chad Phillips, Rush University Medical Center communications manager Polly Tita, former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Sunday: Cook County Circuit Court Judge Marian Perkins, former state Sen. Bill Haine, election attorney Michael Dorf, Chicago Cubs assistant GM Craig Breslow, Chicago Public Library Foundation President Brenda Langstraat, and attorney Antonio Romanucci.
Next week: state Sen. Sue Rezin, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Greg Ahern, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, Chicago activist Ja’Mal Green, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives President David Doig, Cook County Government chief of staff Kara Highfill, essayist Elaine Soloway, Cor Strategies’ government affairs director Rich Carter, noted broadcaster and U. of I. director of constituent engagement Andrea Darlas, MWRD policy aide Richard Greenfield, 1st District Appellate Court Judge Mathias Delort, TV producer and host Catie Keogh, businessman and former U.S. Civil Rights Commission chair Marty Castro, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Joanne Rosado, Ald. Samantha Nugent’s chief of staff Erika Wozniak, SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, state Sen. Ann Gillespie, LBH Chicago political fundraiser Liz Houlihan, journalist Michael Miner, America’s Voice comms director Doug Rivlin, attorney Tom Skallas, former state Rep. Adam Brown, JPMorgan Chase Midwest philanthropy chief Charlie Corrigan, Lakeview Pantry CEO Kellie O’Connell, Heidrick & Struggles partner Sonya Olds Som, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois comms consultant Nicole Stickel, financial adviser Jeremy Wynes, former state Rep. Steven Andersson, former Congresswoman Judy Biggert, CME Group Chairman and CEO Terry Duffy, and grassroots activist and loyal Playbooker Bill Hogan.