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The Spin: Pritzker’s running for reelection | Lightfoot, grassroots activists strike deal on civilian oversight of police | Cook County commish retaliated against staffer who reported sexual harassment by her supervisor, watchdog says

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, July 20, 2021  |  Article  |  Lisa Donovan

Pritzker, J.B.

In one of the least surprising political announcements of the year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he’s running for reelection.

The 56-year-old billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune made it official on Twitter this afternoon. “Big News: I’m running for re-election,” he tweeted from his political account, borrowing from his inaugural campaign slogan of plans to do “big things” for Illinois.

While he’s got the money, name recognition and a line of legislative victories to campaign on in a blue state, the Illinois’ top Democrat has faced some serious backlash over his COVID-19 shutdown orders.

Right now he’s the only Democrat running and is expected to easily win the primary. A smattering of Republicans are seeking the party’s nod to unseat him, including state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and suburban businessman Gary Rabine.

Meantime, two lower-profile politicians are making headlines after staffers reported workplace sexual harassment in one case and racial discrimination in the other only to see their jobs upended, the staffers say.Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, a Democrat from south suburban Posen, was identified by sources as the official who, according to the findings of an inspector general’s investigation, retaliated against an employee after the staffer complained that her supervisor sent her unwanted, sexually explicit texts and groped her.

The report issued last week by the Office of the Independent Inspector General Patrick Blanchard concluded there was an “abrupt change” in the employee’s job duties “in relation to her sexual harassment complaint to the elected official.” The Tribune’s Alice Yin and Gregory Pratt have the full story.

A Black congressional staffer has filed a federal lawsuit against the office of U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation by a supervisor in his office, the Tribune’s Robert McCoppin writes.  More below.

And Mayor Lori Lightfoot has struck a deal with grassroots police reform activists on civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, the Tribune’s John Byrne reports.

The long-sought deal comes after both sides failed to gain sufficient support in City Council for their individual plans. And this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a done deal.

The mayor retains the power to veto police policy decisions and she’d get to name members of the inaugural panel until community elections are held. Meantime the deal gives the seven-member board the ability to take no-confidence votes against the police superintendent. which could put pressure on the top cop’s boss — the mayor. The panel, too, will have the authority to appoint and remove the chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. COPA investigates police shootings as well as excessive force complaints, and recommends disciplinary action.

Welcome to The Spin.

The Tribune’s Rick Pearson and Dan Petrella write: “Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his widely anticipated bid for reelection Monday and acknowledged his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the overarching issue in the 2022 race.”

In announcing his bid for a second term, Pritzker released a roughly three-minute video that stressed he was an elected leader in the tough position of leading a state through a pandemic. He also cast himself as a politician who followed the science while taking a swipe at former President Donald Trump, saying “In Washington, science took a back seat to politics.”

The video included everyday folks and elected leaders from across Illinois applauding his response and an earnest Pritzker, perhaps acknowledging the criticism from some other quarters, saying at one point, “Look I may not have gotten every decision right, but at every step along the way I followed the science” in the name of protecting the lives of residents.

Pritzker’s decision was widely expected, particularly after he put $35 million of his own money into his campaign account in March. But then he went silent about his reelection plans, a move to show he was more focused on the pandemic and governance than politics.

“Now, with less than a year until the state’s newly moved June 28 primary, the wealthy heir to the Hyatt fortune believes the state is far enough along in dealing with COVID-19 to issue his first reelection campaign message,” Pearson and Petrella write. Full story here.


After a weekend of “productive negotiations” Mayor Lightfoot and a group of police reform activists hammered out an agreement to create a civilian oversight panel of the Chicago Police Department. Full story here.

History lesson: Civilian oversight first emerged here under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he was forced by court order to release video footage showing an on-duty white Chicago police officer fatally shoot Black teen Laquan McDonald.

Emanuel created a police accountability task force, chaired by Lightfoot. Among the dozens of recommendations to emerge was a call for civilian oversight of the Police Department with substantial input from the community.

After Lightfoot turned to politics, making a successful bid for Chicago in 2019, she pledged to present a civilian oversight plan within 100 days of taking office: Later, Lightfoot said it was more important to get it right than to hit that deadline.

What’s next: The Public Safety Committee is set to meet tomorrow night to consider the plan. If a police oversight ordinance passes the committee, the full council could consider it Wednesday morning. But several members of City Council, including Southwest Side. Ald. Ray Lopez, say the timeline is too fast.

MORE CITY HALL NEWS - Fatal shooting of teen by Chicago police could result in $1.2 million settlement for boy’s family, the Tribune’s John Byrne and Jeremy Gorner write.


The Tribune’s Jeremy Gorner writes, “Chicago police Superintendent David Brown on Monday announced the department has expanded its firearm investigation efforts, separate from a federal strategy unveiled by President Joe Biden’s administration.

“The Police Department announced that a dedicated 50-person unit, which started work over the weekend and consists of already-existing teams of cops, will go after illegal gun traffickers. This includes straw purchasers — those who buy guns for people not allowed to own them — and “unscrupulous” licensed firearm dealers, according to Brown.” Full story here.

On June 23, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced that in the next 30 days local U.S. attorneys in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C., would work with federal and local law enforcement to launch strike forces to stem the illegal gun trade fueling violence in those communities.

We’re nearing the 30-day mark and Mayor Lightfoot, herself a former federal prosecutor, has said she’s been talking with the U.S. attorney’s office here about unfolding plans.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would also lead the multijurisdictional effort, which includes Chicago police, aimed at curbing gun violence that has soared in the last year.

Federal law enforcement-led efforts to stem the flow of illegal guns in Chicago and elsewhere isn’t new.

As the Tribune’s Paige Fry reminded last week, under President Donald Trump’s administration, Chicago and other cities last year received a surge of federal agents to fight violence as part of Operation Legend, named in honor of 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed in Kansas City, Missouri. In Chicago, the operation involved a few hundred federal agents from the ATF, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service. More here.

City officials have dropped Cinespace CEO Alex Pissios as the keynote speaker for a city-run small business expo this week, after realizing he was the guy who cooperated with federal investigators in a sting against Teamsters boss John Coli Sr.

Coli later pleaded guilty to extorting $325,000 from Pissios at Cinespace.

The city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection began promoting Pissios as the keynote speaker at the event, but then stopped doing so after the Tribune noted his involvement in the Coli sting.

Business Affairs spokesman Isaac Reichman confirmed Monday that Pissios is no longer taking part in the event.

“We weren’t aware of his background,” Reichman said.

“We didn’t want him to be a distraction at an event meant to help small business entrepreneurs start or grow their businesses,” he said. (John Byrne)

ALSO: A $60 million film studio could soon be under construction in the South Shore area, after the proposal led by the producer of the TV show “The Chi” was OK’d by the Chicago Plan Commission last week, the Tribune’s Ryan Ori writes. It’s a preliminary step toward full zoning approval from the full City Council, he reminds.

Ori writes that the seven-acre site is along South Stony Island Boulevard, East 77th Street and South Chicago Avenue on the South Side.


Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims in 2013. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Alice Yin and Gregory Pratt write: “A Cook County elected official retaliated against an employee after she complained that her supervisor sent her unwanted, sexually explicit texts and groped her, according to the findings of an inspector general’s investigation.

“The high-ranking staff member who was the subject of the complaint violated the county’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment, the investigation concluded, and received a ‘verbal admonishment’ and anti-harassment training, the report states.

“The report issued Thursday by the Office of the Independent Inspector General doesn’t name the elected official, but sources identified her as longtime County Board Commissioner Deborah Sims, a Posen Democrat. The unnamed high-ranking staff member was also found to have retaliated against the employee who made the complaint, according to the report.” Full story here.

ALSO: “A staff member has filed suit against the office of U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation by a supervisor in his office,” Robert McCoppin writes.

“Patrice Campbell, a constituent services representative in Lincolnshire and the office’s only Black employee, according to the federal lawsuit, claimed that on March 3, supervisor Karyn Davidman, while talking about using lanyards to secure face masks, told her, ‘You are going to have to get a rope and put it around your neck.’

“Taken aback by what she took as a reference to lynching, Campbell objected and said that she cannot say things like that, and explained that the “rope” to which Davidman referred is called a lanyard, the suit stated.

According to the lawsuit, Campbell found the “rope” comment offensive in relation to white lynchings of Black people, and filed a complaint over it.

Since then, she was assigned only to complicated and “onerous” tax cases, rather than the broad range of cases that she worked previously, making her the frequent target of callers’ anger. Full story here.

Matt Fried, a spokesman for Schneider, D-Deerfield, issued a statement that reads: “To be clear, the office took prompt and appropriate corrective action to address Ms. Campbell’s initial complaint. However, the federal lawsuit filed ... by Ms. Campbell does not provide a complete or accurate representation of the issues or her treatment by any office personnel. There is another side to the story.”


Former North Side Ald. Bernie Hansen, who served on Chicago City Council from 1983 to 2003, has died and memories from those mentored by him — from U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley to state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz — are flooding in.

At once lauded for championing progressive causes for a 44th Ward that increasingly became the home of LGBTQ activism during his tenure, Hansen was a product of former Richard J. Daley’s machine and was a member of the “Vrdolyak 29″ — the group of white Chicago aldermen who in the mid-1980s blocked the agenda of the city’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington.

The Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes that Hansen considered his greatest accomplishment to be passing the anti-discrimination Human Rights Ordinance, Pearson notes, adding that Hansen “regularly backed measures promoting gay rights, including providing health and other benefits for the partners of city workers involved in same-sex relationships some 18 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriage.”

Pearson also writes: “Upon his retirement from the council for health reasons in 2003, he picked Tom Tunney as a replacement, making Tunney the city’s first openly gay alderman.” Full obituary here.