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The Spin: Looting in Chicago and the political blame-game | Economic fallout from D.C. stalemate over COVID relief | Campaign finance loophole

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago on July 9, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago on July 9, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

Not long after the looting and violence ended in downtown Chicago this morning, our elected leaders got in front of microphones and television cameras and started pointing the finger — in some cases at each other.

Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins laid partial blame at the feet of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown for the violence and property damage in his ward overnight, drawing an angry response from the mayor.

For their parts, Lightfoot and Brown pointedly called on the prosecutor’s office — run by mayoral political ally Kim Foxx — and Cook County judges to hold offenders responsible for criminal acts, suggesting that wasn’t the case when similar scenes played out earlier this summer after the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd. That drew a sharp response from Foxx.

Foxx’s comments follow a new Tribune report that found her tenure running the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has overseen a drop in felony cases involving charges of murder and other serious offenses at a higher rate than her predecessor.

The blame game didn’t end at the city limits. Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin took a vague swipe at Democrats in power in state government, issuing a statement: “It is time to bring in the National Guard and accept any and all federal assistance to stop the chaos that is destroying our state. No more excuses. No more failures.” Republican Senate leader Bill Brady echoed that sentiment on Twitter.

The mayor said she talked with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose family home isn’t too far from where the violence unfolded downtown, and they agreed there’s no need for a National Guard response. But she used the moment for a preemptive strike at President Donald Trump, a Republican, who frequently criticizes Democratic leadership in Chicago for the city’s trouble with violent crime.

A Chicago Police officer walks past Macy's on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago after the store and others in the area were looted early Monday Aug. 10, 2020.

A Chicago Police officer walks past Macy's on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago after the store and others in the area were looted early Monday Aug. 10, 2020. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

What happened: Hundreds of people swept through the Magnificent Mile and other parts of downtown Chicago early Monday, smashing windows, looting stores, confronting police and at one point exchanging gunfire with officers, authorities said. Read the full Tribune story here.

What prompted it: City officials said the seeds for the violent crime spree were sown on social media Sunday afternoon following an officer involved shooting in the Englewood neighborhood. Officers shot and wounded a 20-year-old man Sunday after he fired shots at them while being chased, authorities said. My Tribune colleagues have the story here.

Data point: A civilian and private security guard were shot and wounded in the unrest, more than 100 people were arrested, 13 officers were injured, including a sergeant who was hit by a bottle, according to police.

Police Superintendent David Brown said “This was not an organized protest,” Brown said. “Rather this was an incident of pure criminality. This was an act of violence against our police officers and against our city.”

Mayor Lightfoot doubled down, saying this wasn’t some kind of protest protected by the First Amendment: “What occurred in our downtown and surrounding communities was abject criminal behavior, pure and simple. And, there cannot be any excuse for it. Period.”

During a news conference later in the morning, Gov. Pritzker said, “These were criminals — people who broke in, and were shooting at people. We had 13, I believe, 13 Chicago police officers who were injured last night. This is criminal activity and those criminals need to be held accountable.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, in 2019.

Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, in 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

The Tribune’s Gregory Pratt, John Byrne and Jamie Munks offer a snapshot of the finger-pointing in this piece.

Ald. Brian Hopkins, who said he was on Michigan Avenue from midnight to 4 a.m., described a scene in which officers were overwhelmed by looters and apparently did not have much of a plan, my Tribune colleagues reported. He criticized Lightfoot for failing to develop an effective strategy following looting incidents in May and June.

“The real question today is, where was the strategy? What was the decision making at the highest levels?” Hopkins said. “That means the police superintendent and the mayor, who’s a very hands-on mayor when it comes to these kinds of decisions.”

Lightfoot fired back, saying, “Alderman Hopkins has a penchant for letting his mouth run before he actually gets the facts I don’t think there’s any reason for me to say anything further — our Police Department got the intelligence acted on it’ (and) quickly (brought) 400 officers downtown.”

Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, also criticized Lightfoot, Brown and Foxx, saying, “This is a failure of leadership. A failure of law enforcement & state’s attorney not on the same page.”

Not waiting around for President Trump to take aim at Chicago — one of his favorite targets — over the unrest the mayor has fought President Donald Trump’s insistence that federal troops are the best way to restore order in troubled American cities and said she doesn’t need military assistance now.

“We do not need federal troops in Chicago. Period. Full stop,” she said, a clear reference to federal agents dispatched to Portland where protests and law enforcement clashed. “I’m sure the president will have his way with this incident, but I’m calling upon him to do the things that we do need, we need common sense gun control.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at City Hall in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

During a news conference this morning, both Lightfoot and police Superintendent Brown implicitly criticized Foxx and the court system, saying there weren’t consequences for looters earlier this summer when the city saw unrest over the Minneapolis police killing of a handcuffed George Floyd.

“I call upon our state’s attorney and courts to make sure that these individuals who are arrested and those who come are held accountable, put your best people on this,” the mayor told reporters during a morning news conference.

The mayor vs. the media: Lightfoot, who endorsed Foxx for reelection, became angry when asked follow-up questions about Foxx’s handling of cases and told a reporter not to bait her.

“What we’re saying is, as a result of what happened last night, there have to be consequences,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got teams of people that are aggressively out there identifying the people responsible, looking at the plates, and we’re going to bring them to justice.

“But when we do make those arrests, our expectation is that this is going to be treated with the level of seriousness it should be. Period,” she said. “Don’t try to bait us, mischaracterize, pit one against the other, we’re not playing that. We’re in a serious situation here and we need a serious response. That’s what we’re saying.”

Foxx called her own noon hour news conference and

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx greets U.S. Rep. Danny Davis on Thursday, June 4, 2020 during an event in the Austin neighborhood. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx greets U.S. Rep. Danny Davis on Thursday, June 4, 2020 during an event in the Austin neighborhood. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune) (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

The night of looting and violence comes as a Tribune analysis found that during her first three years as Cook County’s top prosecutor, Foxx’s office dropped all charges against 29.9% of felony defendants, a dramatic increase over her predecessor, the Tribune found. For the last three years of Anita Alvarez’s tenure, the rate was 19.4%, the Tribune notes in a new report. You can read the deep dive here.

My Tribune colleagues write: “In an interview, Foxx did not dispute the Tribune’s findings but said her office’s higher rate of dropped felony cases gives an incomplete picture of her commitment to keeping the public safe. She said her office has dismissed cases against low-level, nonviolent offenders so prosecutors can concentrate on crimes of violence.

“However, the Tribune found that Foxx’s higher rates of dropped cases included people accused of murder, shooting another person, sex crimes, and attacks on police officers — as well as serious drug offenses that for decades have driven much of Chicago’s street violence.” Read the full story here

O’Brien pounced on the findings: “Cook County residents deserve better than Kim Foxx. Her entire tenure in the state’s attorney’s office has been a miserable failure,” he said in a statement. “From not prosecuting those who do the most harm to our community to her role in the Jussie Smollet case, Cook County residents know that the time is now to fire Kim Foxx and bring in new leadership at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon in Springfield on Jan. 29, 2020.

House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon in Springfield on Jan. 29, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

One of the biggest items in a decade-old legislative package established “statewide limits on campaign contributions, a measure Illinois was one of the last states to adopt,” according to a Better Government Association report from Sandy Bergo and Chuck Neubauer.

The players: “House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored the legislation, hailed it as a way to ‘help restore public confidence in Illinois government,’ ” Bergo and Neubauer write. “State Sen. Don Harmon, the Democratic sponsor in the Senate, praised it for enacting ‘historic contribution caps, real disclosure requirements and strict enforcement measures.'

“But years later, Madigan and Harmon are using a controversial loophole written into the reform bill to raise millions of dollars above the limits the legislation set. Their Republican colleagues have also blown past the limits, as all four men have collected a combined $44 million more than the contribution limits allow, a Better Government Association examination shows.”

The Tribune reported about the loophole in a 2009 story about then-Gov. Pat Quinn signing the measure into law, noting that Democratic and GOP leaders in both chambers would be allowed to spend unlimited sums of money from their special leadership campaign accounts on individual legislators in highly competitive general election races.

While good government types shake their head at the news, the four leaders in the House and Senate are unapologetic about taking advantage of it and explain it in the just-published BGA story here.

Rauner joins board of Jeb Bush’s pro-school choice organization

Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has joined the board of directors for the Florida-based pro-school choice group ExcelinEd, founded by fellow Republican Jeb Bush, the onetime Florida governor.

Rauner, who lost his bid for reelection in 2018 to Pritzker, has long backed school choice efforts, including a voucher system. His signature 2017 education package aimed for that but ended up inking a compromise plan that offered a private school tuition scholarship tax credit.

Bush founded the organization in 2008.

“Gov. Rauner is a bold champion for students and their success,” Bush said in statement.

“I am excited about the decades of public policy, business and philanthropic leadership he brings to our board, “Bush said.

Dark clouds and heavy rain sweep over the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Aug. 3, 2020, as Tropical Storm Isaias pushes toward the Mid-Atlantic coast.

Dark clouds and heavy rain sweep over the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Aug. 3, 2020, as Tropical Storm Isaias pushes toward the Mid-Atlantic coast. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Consumer confidence is key to getting the economy back on track and the stalemate in Congress over a new coronavirus bailout package is a “very important and unfortunate development,” Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday morning.

‘We’ve not got control over the virus’: Host Margaret Brennan asked Evans about the effect on the economy and he said, “I would say that fiscal policy has been unbelievably important in supporting the economy during the downturn that we’ve been experiencing. The economy closed down in March and April and fiscal policy swung into action very quickly with the CARES Act. And that’s helped ensure that people could stay at home, be safe, pay their rent, increase food security, all kinds of things for vulnerable populations. And now that continues to be important because we’ve not got control over the virus spread. I think that public confidence is really important and another support package is really incredibly important.”

President Trump issued an executive order that provides a lifeline to the unemployed and businesses but doesn’t address funding for local government — and that could trigger more layoffs: “States have to balance their budgets,” Evans told Brennan. “They are experiencing reduced tax revenues. And so there will be employment reductions. State and local governments account for about 10% of employment in the United States. And so that’s really another leg down, I think. Trump’s order would defer payroll taxes for employers and extend supplemental federal unemployment benefit to the tune of $400 weekly — down from $600 weekly — but some governors were balking over his directive to have states kick in 25% of that money or $100 because they can’t afford it.”

Asked whether he agreed with the Minneapolis fed chief’s call to shutdown the economy to bring COVID-19 under control, Evans said: “I think a very strong program like that would have the opportunity to get on top of the virus, but it would come at quite a lot of hardship for small businesses,” Evans said. “It would require tremendous fiscal support. If the, you know, national U.S. government were willing to do that, I think we could knock down the virus’ spread. ... What we need is public confidence so that people feel good about going back to work. They feel safe. They can go out to retail establishments and enjoy leisure and hospitality and activities, put more people back to work. So while that could work, I’m not optimistic that that would be actually adopted.”

ICYMI: Montrose Harbor blocked by police, fence after Mayor Lightfoot shuts down large beach party that violated coronavirus restrictions: Read the Tribune story here.

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