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Good Wednesday morning, Illinois. If watching Station Eleven teaches anything its that art and humanity survive even in a world falling apart.

TOP TALKER

In huge media news, WBEZs parent company last night approved the acquisition of the venerable Sun-Times.

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The deal, expected to be final Jan. 31, would create a new journalistic powerhouse, pairing the citys award-winning, top-rated morning news station with the gritty tabloid made famous by its corruption-busting investigations, Roger Eberts movie reviews and Irv Kupcinets gossip column, and crisp sportswriting, reports WBEZs Dave McKinney

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Joining forces: With a combined employee total of close to 300, the WBEZ-Sun-Times venture could be the largest nonprofit journalism organization in the nation, based on data from the Institute for Nonprofit News, reports the Sun-Times David Roeder

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About staffing: WBEZ and the Sun-Times would maintain their own newsrooms, own staff, and own editorial independence, according to the organizations.

What it means for politics: While WBEZ and the Sun-Times will continue as independent operations, the deal could change one newspaper tradition. Executives said that as a nonprofit, the Sun-Times can no longer endorse political candidates, Roeder reports.

On the board: Among the new Sun-Times board members is Kristen Mack, a former Chicago Tribune City Hall reporter who is now managing director for communications at the MacArthur Foundation, which is helping fund the nonprofit endeavor.

More financial support: Private-equity specialist Michael Sacks, a lead investor in the Sun-Times and current board member, will not sit on the new board. But hes among financial supporters of the nonprofit endeavor. Hes a familiar name as an unpaid adviser to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Also supporting the new nonprofit Sun-Times is the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, headed by former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Chicago Public Media, WBEZs parent company, has called the deal a historic partnership, notes media reporter Robert Feder, who has the text of the official announcement

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THE BUZZ

The big agenda item in yesterdays House Democratic Caucus meeting was how to handle the governors State of the Budget address planned for Feb. 2.

Gov. JB Pritzker would like to present it live in House chambers before lawmakers and reporters. After all, it makes for good talking points in the news cycle and on TV ads leading into election season.

But the pandemic is putting a damper on the plan. There are obvious concerns about meeting in person, Covid and all. Should everyone be there? The media, too?

A new budget negotiating team was also announced. House Majority Leader Greg Harris, the current House budgeteer, isnt running for reelection so this group will help guide a new set of leaders. Capitol News Beth Hundsdorfer has details on the group.

Lawmakers also talked about the current legislative session and when they might return to in-person meetings in Springfield. For now, thats up in the air. Committee meetings are being done virtually.

Like all caucus meetings held since Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch took the gavel, yesterdays was about an hour.

Welch posts an agenda for caucus meetings and tries to keep them to an hour. When lawmakers get off track, he steers them back.

There are lawmakers who always have something to say, and others who hold back, preferring to talk privately after a meeting.

Hanging over yesterdays virtual gathering: a deadline. Lawmakers have until Jan. 28 to introduce new bills.

Have a tip, suggestion, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other nugget for Playbook? Get in touch: [email protected]

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WHERE’S JB

At the Thompson Center at 2:30 p.m. for a Covid-19 update.

WHERE’S LORI

In Washington, D.C., at 10:45 am. For the opening press conference for the U.S. Conference of Mayors in D.C.

Where’s Toni

At 7100 S. Artesian Ave. at 10 a.m. to address violence prevention with family members of Tamiko Talbert, who was shot and killed last week on her way to work.

Covid-19 Update

Light at the end of the tunnel? Drop in Covid-19 deaths, hospitalizations leaves some experts cautiously optimistic:Nearly 700 fewer Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in Illinois Monday night than the states all-time record of 7,380 set on Jan. 12. Deaths dipped, too, Although hopeful, Northwestern Medicals Dr. Sajal Tanna warned, I wouldnt let my guard down, by Sun-Times Taylor Avery.

Cook County Health reopens first of three mass vaccination sites,by WGNs Alyssa Donovan and Meghan Dwyer

THE STATEWIDES

Pandemic worsens hiring woes at Illinois schools, with 88% of districts reporting teacher shortages in new survey: School districts also report more than 2,000 positions are either not filled or are assigned to someone who is not qualified more than double the amount of unqualified workers school districts reported during the last school year, by Tribunes Karen Ann Cullotta.

New law allows donation of unused medication in Illinois. But it could take some time to get started:Only medications that are unopened and unexpired, such as an inhaler or tube of skin cream, may be donated. Pills may be donated if they are individually packaged, such as when pills are in individual compartments covered with foil. Loose pills in typical amber-colored bottles wont be accepted, by Tribunes Lisa Schencker.

Illinois now allows pharmacists to dispense contraception, by WTTWs Amanda Vinicky

Illinois Senate Republicans hope to pass voter empowerment plans this spring: Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie says a package of proposed constitutional amendments would give voters a more active role in state government, by WGEM News Mike Miletich.

CHICAGO

Lightfoot back in action with a mask and headed to D.C. a week after Covid diagnosis:The mayor said Covid-19 kind of felt like a cold a bad cold. Lightfoot said she luckily recovered quickly and feels strong enough to attend the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., by Sun-Times Fran Spielman.

Cook Countys top judge rejects Lightfoots request for more people to be jailed awaiting trial:Evans office said he sent a letter Tuesday criticizing the request, a response by Lightfoot to the citys 20-month-old gun violence surge, which lifted last years homicide total to 836, the most in a quarter century. The chief judge is opposing Lightfoots drive for a temporary moratorium on releasing defendants on electronic monitoring, known as EM, if they face offenses including murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, sex crimes, carjacking, kidnapping and illegal weapons possession, by WBEZs Chip Mitchell.

CPD leaders say theyve lost faith in Supt. Brown:The department has been in a constant state of reorganization since Brown arrived, which is evidence that he has no strategy and doesnt know what hes doing, one police supervisor said. Sun-Times Tom Schuba reports.

Black neighborhoods in have water debt 10 times higher than white areas: By April 2020, of the total amount in water debt owed to the city, half came from new charges and the other half from delinquent bills. The analysis also found that 20 percent of customers with delinquent water bills owe more in debt than a years worth of water bills. Fueled by a new water-sewer tax, the debt increased between 2017 and 2020, by WBEZs María Inés Zamudio.

Mayor escalates war of words with former watchdog she inherited, then pushed out:Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized Joe Fergusons surprise decision to write a letter to senators considering the appointment of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel as U.S. ambassador to Japan emphatically stating that there is no evidence that Emanuel covered up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, by Sun-Times Fran Spielman.

7 Chicago public spaces to receive upgrades as winners Of ‘Chicago Works Community Challenge,’via CBS VIDEO

Homeless in a pandemic-stricken Chicago, by Sarah Gelbard for the Reader.

THE JUICE

JESSE SULLIVAN NUMBERS: Theres been a lot of hype about the political operatives behind Richard Irvins GOP gubernatorial bid having previously led formerGov. Bruce Rauners campaign and the effort to defeat the graduated income tax.

But recent campaign donations show that two big donors to those efforts are behind Jesse Sullivans GOP bid for governor.

Richard Colburn and Michael Keiser have donated $50,000 and $5,000 respectively to Sullivans campaign.

Colburn gave $500,000 to the group that helped defeat the graduated income tax measure backed by Gov. JB Pritzker, and he gave $10,000 to Citizens for Judicial Fairness, which helped defeat former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbrides retention effort.

Keiser gave $25,000 to the effort to stop the graduated income tax plan. And both he and Colburn donated to Rauners 2018 bid for governor.

Sullivan is reporting $9.1 million in the bank,

according to the latest campaign filings, though the bigger news is that he has yet to name a running mate.

He cant gather signatures until he can list a lieutenant governor on his petitions. Playbook hears that announcement will be soon.

MORE JUICE

The Democratic Party of Illinois raised a total of $701,723 in the fourth quarter of 2021, including $251,903 in federal fundraising and $449,820 in non-federal fundraising. The DPI began 2022 with a total of $3.9 million cash on hand.

Republican Darren Bailey reported $707,000 in the bank

at the end of the quarter in his bid for governor.

SOS RACE: In the competitive Democratic secretary of state contest, Alexi Giannoulias logged just over $4 million in the bank

at the end of the fourth quarter, and Anna Valencias had $883,000 cash on hand.

Becky Levin has raised $26,000 in her bid for the 13th District state House seat now held by Rep. Greg Harris.

In the race for DuPage County Board chair, Greg Hart ended the quarter with about $526,000 cash on hand, and Pete DiCianni ended with $431,000 in the bank.

CAMPAIGN MODE

Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi announced endorsements from statewide elected officials for his reelection including: Illinois AG Kwame Raoul, Secretary of State Jesse White, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, and state Treasurer Mike Frerichs.

Scherer to seek reelection in Decatur-Springfield House district:The five-term incumbent, who currently represents portions of Macon, Sangamon and Christian counties, said theres more work to be done in Springfield, by Herald & Reviews Taylor Vidmar.

Morton doctor makes bid for state House seat in Rep. Keith Sommers former territory:Emergency physician and anesthesiologist Dr. Bill Hauter is a member of the Tazewell County Board. The 87th District includes portions of Tazewell, McLean, Logan, Sangamon, Macon, and DeWitt counties, by WCBUs Maggie Strahan.

Column: Pondering Aurora Mayor Richard Irvins not so surprise run for governor:It took Irvin three attempts before finally becoming Auroras mayor and even then he beat his opponent by only 170 votes. Five years later, hes aiming to be the states top general. So even if youre not a fan, credit Irvin with a healthy ego and/or boatload of confidence. Both are critical when taking on the Democratic governor of Illinois, by Aurora Beacon-News Denise Crosby.

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CORRUPTION CHRONICLES

The Illinois Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case today brought by Chicago Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) to stop elected officials from using campaign cash to pay for lawyers.

Sigcho-Lopez filed a complaint in 2019 with the Illinois State Board of Elections against his predecessor, former Ald. Danny Solis, for using more than $200,000 in campaign funds in a corruption investigation involving Ald. Ed Burke (14th). This mornings 9 a.m. hearing will see attorney Adolfo Mondragon defending Sigcho-Lopez to reverse a lower courts decision dismissing the aldermans complaint.

DAY IN COURT

Ex-Chicago Bears star Dan Hampton gets one year probation in Indiana drunken driving case,by Tribunes Meredith Colias-Pete

Reader Digest

We asked for tricks to keep warm walking in below-freezing weather: Timothy Thomas Jr. sacrifices style for comfort with a balaclava. John Straus says the Covid mask helps. Jim Strickler says I head into the wind to start so that I have the wind at my back on the way home. And petition circulator Sharon Rosenblum, says, I try to walk on the side of the street where buildings block the wind.

What prompts you to donate to a candidate’s campaign fund? Email [email protected]

THE FIFTY

THE FIFTYlooks at how Omicron ruined new mayors honeymoons

. The surge didnt just upend mayors inaugural fetes. Its overtaken their first days and weeks in office, jeopardizing their approval ratings before they get a chance to push their agendas, reports POLITICOs Lisa Kashinsky, with Julia Marsh.

THE NATIONAL TAKE

How Bidens first year became a tale of two presidencies,by POLITICOs Jonathan Lemire

Latino Dems warn about midterm fall-off,by POLITICOs Sabrina Rodriguez

Abortion pill fight could ensnare Bidens FDA pick,by POLITICOs Alice Miranda Ollstein and Lauren Gardner

TRANSITIONS

Nate Jackson is an account supervisor on the New York Public Affairs team at BerlinRosen. He previously was comms director for Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison.

Janet Lindeman is of counsel at Quarles & Brady LLP. She previously led real estate legal work as an assistant general counsel at Ulta.

Jim Hirsch is executive director of Bright Promises Foundation. He most recently headed Chicago Sinfonietta and before that Old Town School of Folk Music.

IN MEMORIAM

Janet Smith, University of Illinois Chicago professor of urban planning and policy and co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, has died after a long battle with cancer. Nik Theodore, who heads the department, emailed colleagues and students yesterday, saying: Janets research and practice epitomize one of the hallmarks of UICs mission: To create knowledge that transforms our views of the world and, through sharing and application, transforms the world.

Keith Taylor, graphic designer and prolific political cartoonist, dies,by Tribunes Bob Goldsborough

TRIVIA

TUESDAYs ANSWER: Congrats to Ronald Michaelson and John McLeod or correctly answering that John (Jack) Lanigan was a Republican state senator who also served on the State Board of Elections. Also correct: former state Sen. Robert DiTuri, who was the GM of Stefani’s restaurant, worked for the State Board of Elections, too.

TODAYs QUESTION:Who were the two LaRouche candidates in the Democratic primary in 1986 who won?Email [email protected]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Cook County Dems executive director Jacob Kaplan, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, analyst Adam Sege, retired legal secretary Linda Morris, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Futures Emily Berman Pevnick.

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