With a message of optimism, Lightfoot sworn in as mayor

By Jesse Wright | Published on May 20, 2019

On May 20, US District Judge Susan Cox swore in Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s mayor at a ceremony attended by thousands at the Wintrust Arena.

Lightfoot is the city’s first openly gay and African American female mayor, and the significance was not lost of Lightfoot.

“I can’t help but feel the spirit of the late great mayor, Harold Washington,” she said.  Washington was the city’s first African American mayor and he stepped into office in 1983 and left in 1987. Lightfoot’s mention of Washington drew a standing ovation.

But it was a historic day for others, too, as Lightfoot noted. Besides Lightfoot, Melissa Conyears-Ervin was sworn in as city treasurer and Anna Valencia was sworn in as the city clerk. All are African American women and this is the first time voters elected African American females to all three citywide positions.

The city’s aldermen were also sworn in.

For her first speech as mayor, Lightfoot’s message was an optimistic and firm promise to unite the city, and work for the betterment of those who need help. In addition, she promised to end aldermanic privilege after the inauguration ceremony.

“I’m looking ahead to a city of safe streets and strong schools for every child regardless of neighborhood or zip code,” she said. “A city where people want to grow old and not flee. A city of sanctuary against fear where no one must hide in the shadows. A city that is affordable for families and seniors and where every job pays a living wage. A city of fairness and hope and prosperity for the many, not just for the few, a city that holds equity and inclusion as our guiding principles.”

She made reference to recent anti-abortion laws passed in Alabama, and she promised that Chicago would fight for women’s rights.

“We must stand with women all across our country who fear for their basic rights and feel powerless in the face of the hateful legislation designed to control our bodies, our choices,” she said. “We cannot go back – not in Chicago, not as a nation.  We will join together and we will fight.”

This, too, drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

She also looked inward, at the problems within City Hall, an institution plagued by a history of corruption and she promised reform. She told the audience after the inauguration, she would sign an executive order ending aldermanic privilege, a tradition that allows aldermen to pass or block city government actions that could hurt or benefit their wards. Critics have charged the system allows for corruption, favoritism and inconsistent application of ordinances around the city.

“It means this,” she said. “It means ending their unilateral and unchecked control over every single thing that goes on in their wards. Aldermen will have a voice but not a veto. This is the time of for a new era of trust.”

This promise drew some of the loudest, most sustained applause.

Following the ceremony, City Hall hosted an open house for the public.

Travelle at the Langham to offer picnic baskets

(Published May 14, 2019)

Starting Memorial Day weekend, Travelle at The Langham launches picnic baskets for guests to enjoy outside the restaurant throughout the summer. Whether dining al fresco along the Chicago River, taking in a movie at Millennium Park, or traveling to Ravinia to enjoy a concert, these picnic baskets include everything needed for enjoying the warm weather in the great outdoors. With three different options to choose from, each picnic basket provides the perfect complement for savoring the beautiful summer days.

The contents of the picnic baskets range from stroll-worthy snacks and beverages to gourmet sandwiches and alcoholic pairings including wine and champagne.

  • City Tour Picnic Basket ($42 per person): The lightest of the baskets includes a variety of snacks and beverages for guests exploring the sights of Chicago during the day
  • Millennium Park Picnic Basket ($85 per person): Perfect for a sunny afternoon spent in the park, the standard package will include gourmet sandwiches and beverages with an option to add alcoholic beverages
  • Magnificent Mile Picnic Basket ($190 per person): Elevate an outdoor concert experience with an elaborate picnic basket including a delicious dinner for two complemented by wine or champagne

To order a picnic basket, please email Rachael at travelle@langhamhotels.com or call 312.923.7713; extension 4236.

West Side Story sizzles

By Elaine Hyde | May 5, 2019

Lyric’s Opera’s coproduction of West Side Story delivers such a punch, that it’s love at first sight, and not just for Maria and Tony.

Internationally acclaimed opera and theatre director, Francesca Zambello, successfully recaptures the ‘wow factor’ in the retelling of Romeo and Juliet’s story, set in the back streets of New York.

Lyric Opera Chicago West Side Story. Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

The nearly 100 cast members and musicians light up the show. West Side Story is a thoroughly immersive spectacle with captivating performances by Broadway star Corey Cott as Tony and rising star Mikaela Bennett as Maria. The talent of Brett Thiele as Riff, Amanda Castro as Anita, Manuel Stark Santos as Bernardo, and Adam Soniak who plays Action, authentically portray the complexities of friendship, loyalty and love.

As the characters tumble head first towards the “rumble”, we are taken on a musical journey with iconic songs like “Tonight”, “America”, “I feel Pretty” and “Maria” that display the talent of the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by James Lowe.

Lyric Opera Chicago West Side Story. Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Raw and edgy, the scene is powerfully set by the two gangs sparring against a steel punctuated backdrop of New York City. The famous ‘balcony’ is obvious, and meaningfully painted red, with colorful costumes contrasting against a grey background.

Arguably, the dance-off was invented in West Side Story and choreographer Jerome Robbins artfully blends tough-guy athleticism with the sauciness of Anita, played by Amanda Castro, who’s authentic and spicy performance stole the show.

West Side Story will leave audiences spellbound and reasserts the enduring potential of the story of star struck lovers.


Lyric Opera’s West Side Story is a coproduction with Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Festival. Performances run through June 2.

Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased at lyricopera.org/wss or by calling 312-827-5600.

Not Your Average Mother’s Day

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Treat mom to a unique Mother’s Day experience that goes beyond brunch.

Family Game Night Out

Does mom love family game night, but is often stressed playing host? Try Family Game Night Out in Lakeview, which takes the pressure off mom. Invite the whole family, from 6-24 guests, to play familiar party games in a private room that includes a host. Family Game Night Out is BYOB and welcomes guests to bring snacks. $45 per person for a 2-3 hour experience, depending on the number of guests. Make reservations in advance. Recommended for game players 18 and up.

gamenightout.com

2828 N Clark St., Chicago

312-448-724

Donut Tour

If mom is a pastry fan, then the Chicago Donut tour will be a treat. The Underground Donut Tour has two Chicago-based tours, one of which covers downtown, the other covers Wicker Park. The downtown tour encompasses two miles and each donut shop stop includes samples. Tours run Thursday to Sunday and begin at 9 a.m. The downtown tour is $35 for adults and $15 for children.

undergrounddonuttour.com

Freeze and Float

For a relaxing Mother’s Day, take mom to River North’s Freeze and Float, a recently opened spa specializing in cryotherapy treatments, infrared saunas and flotation therapy. Cryotherapy hyper-cools the body for three minutes, with temperatures in the chambers reaching -184F. According to the Freeze and Float website, Cryotherapy has rejuvenating effects, similar to the benefits of icing inflamed muscles. Infrared saunas improve circulation and help with injury recovery. Floatation therapy in Epsom-salt filled water is a meditative experience. They also offer classic massages, facials, and beauty treatments. For pricing and more information, visit Freeze and Float’s website, or call them.

freezefloatspa.com

371 W Ontario St.

312 809-7008

Windy Kitty

For the cat-lover mom, Windy Kitty is the place to go. Windy Kitty is a cat cafe in Wicker Park, where mom can hang out with some rescue cats, while having a snack or coffee. Cats at the cafe are available for adoption, but enjoy being visited too. Windy Kitty also features a kitten nursery, available to visit for those over 10. Windy Kitty strongly suggests reservations. Admission is $14 per person per hour. For parties of five people or more, Windy Kitty recommends a private party reservation. They often have fun events, such as Yoga with Cats or Painting with Cats. For more information, visit their website, or email them. w

1746 W North Ave

Let it Out

Moms often are subject to a lot of stress. To give mom a way to let go of that stress, take her to The Rage Room, in River North’s Escapades Escape Room. For those over 18, the Rage Room allows visitors to break as many items, such as televisions, crockery, and computer equipment, as they desire. The Rage Room provides safety wear to go along with a baseball bat, crowbar or golf club. The room can be shared with up to 15 people in a party, but only one person goes in at a time. Experiences can last up to 2 hours, or can be as little as 15 minutes. Prices vary. Online reservations required. Visit their website for more information.

www.escapadesescapegames.com

153 W. Ohio

312-526-3072

Learn Something New

For the jack-of-all-trades mom, check out Dabble, which has classes available in a variety of subjects. Pasta making, archery, glassblowing and soap making are just a few available on Dabble in the upcoming weeks. They also have food tours, architecture tours and drinking tours. Prices, locations, and times vary. Dabble’s website has a list of classes and is constantly updating new times, dates, and experiences.

dabble.co/chicago/

GPAC elects new leaders, even as former GPAC group announces it’s not going anywhere

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

In April, the Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) that is officially recognized by the Chicago Park District elected a new board, even as the ousted Grant Park Advisory Council continued to meet.

The GPAC advises the city on park usage and programs and takes input from the public.

Leslie Recht, a founder of the original GPAC, is the new president, Jim Wales is vice president, John Talbot is secretary and Richard Ward is the treasurer.

“As the four newly elected officers (recognized by the CPD), we are learning and listening, so that we can be as knowledgeable and transparent as possible into the future,” Ward said in an email.

The original GPAC board came under scrutiny a year ago by the Chicago Park District over impropriety allegations against its former president Bob O’Neill. The CPD removed O’Neill and in February the CPD inspector general’s office released a scathing report that accused O’Neill of using the nonprofit Grant Park Conservancy he heads as a personal piggybank by illegally re-selling park permits at an exorbitant rate.

O’Neill disputes the allegations. He added the conservancy is overseen by a board the includes several attorneys and the board and the CPD were aware of how he was managing the conservancy.

O’Neill has agreed to step away from the GPAC group he once led. Council spokesperson Omari Jinaki said Roman Sanders is the new president. He added the group will continue to meet because the CPD ignored the GPAC’s bylaws when it removed O’Neill and the  recent GPAC election was also illegal because it violates bylaws.

“With very little notice, the CPD proposed an April 10 election, which is also outside of the GPAC election period. Moreover, the CPD never held a valid February 2019 meeting which is the requisite meeting timeline for the nominations for GPAC officers,” Jinaki wrote.

In the meantime, Recht’s group is planning a redesign of the website with a new domain name. Recht said she hopes attendees will go to her group’s GPAC meetings.

“Everyone who has been going to the Bob O’Neill meetings is welcome to come to the GPAC meetings. We welcome them,” she said.

Recht said she wants the community’s input on a framework plan of what the park needs. One urgent need is an updated dog area.

“The dog friendly area is really behind the times,” she said.

Recht said besides house pets, some TSA security dogs live in the area and use the park as well.

“It’s not just residents; there are a number of people who need space to run their dogs,” Recht said.

Recht said the first meeting will be May 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Maggie Daley field house and this will be an organizational meeting.

Grant Park still has two advisory councils, though the city recognizes only one. Photo by Jesse Wright

Get to know Sen. Robert Peters

(Published April 30, 2019)
By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Following Sen. Kwame Raoul’s election win as attorney general, the 13th District Democratic Legislative Committee appointed community organizer Robert Peters to the role in the Illinois Senate. By state law, a term of less than two years will be filled by appointment instead of by a special election. District 13 includes Streeterville and New Eastside.

Peters will be up for election in 2020 in the Democratic primary and his term ends in 2021.

How is the session going?

The session has been going well. To see millions of Illinoisans get a pay raise with the minimum wage increase was truly special.

I’m most proud to be doing work that is focused on breaking the systemic crisis of incarceration. So much of this work is driven by advocates and organizers that care deeply about changing this world.

What issues are important to you?

I was born deaf with a massive speech impediment and my biological mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol and I was put up for adoption. My adopted parents were a social worker for a mom and a civil rights lawyer for a father. My social worker for a mother died with $300,000 of debt and with mental health issues and alcoholism.

I see all of these parts of my story not as my own, and only my own, but that right here in Chicago people share these experiences all the time. Some talk about it, most don’t, but they feel these experiences. I work on issues that are rooted in both my experiences and the experiences of the directly impacted.

You were appointed rather than elected, so does the lack of a mandate make it harder to legislate?

I was appointed and it’s my job to earn the trust and support of the voters of the 13th District. I have to show to folks that not only am I qualified for the job but that I will have an open and honest process since there is an understood distrust with our politics.

Do you expect to run for re-election?

I just want to keep growing as a legislator first. I do plan to run for election in 2020.

You represent a district once represented by Barack Obama. Any big plans of your own for the future?

I just want to make the most of this session and line up with some great advocates for some strong legislation for next year too.

What’s some trivia that’s not well known about you?

When I was a kid, my dad used to sit me down every Saturday and make me watch “Rudy” and then every morning before school yell “Rudy” to me and say, “never give up and always try.” He never meant it in winning or losing but just that so many people told him he shouldn’t have adopted me and they told me the same thing. It was like his old-Irish version of “screw the haters, Robert.”

Also, I’m a die-hard “Rudy” fan.

[Robert Peters speaks at a recent event. Photo courtesy Robert Peters]

Get to know Rep. Kam Buckner

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

After State Rep. Christian Mitchell accepted appointment as deputy governor in January, he left his seat open with two more years to go in his term.

Democratic committeemen from the 10 wards in Illinois House District 26 appointed Kambium “Kam” Buckner to the position. Buckner is a former college football player who holds a law degree. He has worked for a number of politicians though had never held political office. Buckner will be up for election in 2020 in the Democratic primary and his term ends in 2021.

How has the session been going? What are you proudest to work on this term?

This session has been highlighted by the desire to tackle some very big ticket items. The raising of the minimum wage in the very early days of the session set a tone of ambitious legislative action that addresses policy issues, much of which are long overdue. I am most proud of my work this session on consumer protection. I have filed legislation that addresses predatory lending that unduly affects our elderly residents. I am also very proud to have worked to create a better atmosphere for Chicago Public School students by co-sponsoring bills to create an elected school board and increase bargaining rights.

More generally, what issues are important to you and what would you like to work on?

As a Chicago Public School alum and the son of a 30-year CPS educator, education is of the utmost importance to me. I think Springfield has to do a better job of supporting school districts. I also am very focused on transportation and infrastructure. Illinois has underfunded our roads, bridges and tunnels for far too long.

You were appointed rather than elected. With the lack of a mandate, does that make it harder to pass legislation?

In my situation, it was important to hit the ground running. It was helpful that I already had a pretty good understanding of the workings of the legislature and the things that I wanted to accomplish.

What inspired you to get into public service?

My parents. My mother was a teacher and her penchant for working for others trickled down to all of her children. My father spent decades as a police officer and the dedication and passion that I saw him exhibit through his work, made it very clear to me that your life’s work should exist in that nuanced spot where your passions, skills and experiences converge with the needs of others.

Looking forward to 2020, do you expect to run for re-election?

Over the years we have seen a major decline in our infrastructure, education and innovation while we have seen increases in people fleeing the state and we have an opportunity, not to make Illinois the state that it used to be, but to give it a chance to be the state it has always deserved to be and I want to be a part of that solution.

Finally, what’s some trivia that’s not well known about you?

Most people are aware of my background in sports, as I played football at the University of Illinois, but they don’t know about my affinity for the performing arts. I took ballet for a number of years as a child and still occasionally sing with a blues band.

Brandon Brown is the New Eastside doorperson of the month

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

Doorperson Brandon Brown, at the Coast since 2017, works to make the humans feel at home as well as the dogs.

Not only does he know the names of residents, he knows what sort of treats the dogs like and he hands them out accordingly.

“We have a jar for everyone,” he said. “This is a dog friendly building. I keep my lint brush handy.”

Besides navigating the world of canines, Brown said his job keeps him busy.

“We have over 500 residents; we have a pretty stocked building,” he said. “We are over 95 percent occupied with over 400 units.

“Most days from 7 a.m. it’s pretty busy,” he said. “It’s not just sitting at the desk pushing the button. It’s a lot of thinking. You have to think quick on your feet.”

During the shift, he interacts with the outside world—dealing with deliveries and maintenance workers—and the inside world, helping residents who work from home or helping residents get ready for their day in the morning.

“I have actually seen some of these families grow,” he said. “I’ve seen them go from not having any kids to having kids. You see it from the beginning to the end here.”

Brown said he tries to put positive energy in his job and he suggests anyone who works a door job do the same.

“I always say the energy you put out is the energy you will receive,” he said. “I try to preach that throughout the day to my guys here. Everyone has tough days but if you put your best foot forward it will come out your way.”

Last year Brown was promoted to lead doorperson and with that came a more permanent daytime schedule, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said he was happy for the promotion and likes the job.

Prior to being a doorperson, Brown was in property management and he started work as a doorperson as a temporary gig, he said. Over time though, it became permanent.

“I have grown to love it,” he said.

When not at work, Brown said he’s usually spending time with his son or with friends.

“My son just turned 2, and he keeps me busy,” Brown said. “I like to bowl and bowling is one of my favorite things to do.

Brown also spends time working on the hair brush company he and friends launched four years ago.

“I also have a small brush company called Candy Life, he said. “We provide hair brushes with colored bristles.”

Brandon Brown is the doorperson of the month for May, and he works at the Coast. Photo by Jesse Wright

Peregrine falcons find a home in Chicago

(Published April 30, 2019

Abhinanda Datta, Staff Writer

If you spot a mid-sized raptor swoop in at incredible speed and catch another bird in flight, don’t be surprised—it is just a peregrine falcon.

Found throughout the world, these birds have found a home in the Midwest, with more than 20 American peregrine falcons in the Chicagoland area.

With a body length of 15 – 20 inches, the peregrines can attain a speed of 200 mph when diving on their prey.

According to Mary Hennen, collections assistant in the Bird Division at the Field Museum, an estimated 400-500 pairs of Peregrines once nested in the Midwest and eastern United States. But by the 1960s, the species had been wiped out regionally.

“The primary cause was the buildup of DDT and its byproducts in the birds,” she said. “These accumulated chemicals caused abnormal reproductive behavior in adults and thinning of shells, which led to egg breakage.”

The Chicago Peregrine Program began in 1985 as a cooperative effort between the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois Department of Conservation and the Illinois Audubon Society, with the aim of restoring the population.

From a single breeding pair at a Chicago-Wacker site in 1988, Illinois had 12 breeding pairs in over 23 different territories by 2011.

“Although Peregrines still remain endangered in some states, in Illinois, the population has rebounded. In fact, our Peregrine status has been upgraded from endangered to threatened,” Hennen said.

In May, eggs that were laid during March-April, are incubated for about 30-32 days. The male and the female take turns looking after the eggs. Hatching begins in mid-May or around Mother’s Day.

“This is also the time period where the adults are most defensive of the nest site. Males will spend most of their time hunting in order to feed the female and chicks,” Hennen said.

In the coming months, especially around mid-June to July, people can see the peregrine fledglings’ first flight as they glide down from the nest site. People can also observe the birds through the Illinois Peregrine Webcams found on the Field Museum website. For more information, visit fieldmuseum.com.

A peregrine falcon from a 2018 webcam in Rockford. Photo courtesy the Field Museum

Summer fun for all: Parents have plenty to choose from in local summer camps

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

With summer around the corner, schools, museums and even watersport companies are offering summer camps for kids.

At Camp GEMS, kids can explore the city through a six-week program that mimics the school’s curriculum, although the program is open to all kids, even non-students. Through the camp, kids explore the whole city and the build and design the city features. Each week is $475 or $2,700 for six weeks. Camp Gems is open to kids 3-12.

Taneal Sanders, a GEMS teacher, said Camp GEMS aims to benefit the entire student.

“We focus on keeping the kids’ minds and bodies active,” she said.

Each week has a different theme, and students learn lessons based on each theme. The first week is “who we are,” the second weeks is “where are we in place and time,” the third week is “how we organize ourselves, the fourth week is, “how the world works,” the fifth week is “sharing the planet” and the final week is “how we express ourselves.”

Throughout the camp, kids explore the city, design model cities, visit a theater and visit various markets and festivals in the city.

“On Fridays, we do a share-out where all age groups come together and we kind of have a little assembly where we share what we learned during the week,” Sanders said.  

Last year, kids took a water taxi to Chinatown and on another day they visited the Field Museum.

“We don’t just stay right in the neighborhood,” Sanders said. “With the younger campers, we stay close to school, but for the older kids, we venture out on public transportation.”

In addition to the cultural diversity, Sanders said Camp GEMS is staffed by GEMS teachers and the ratio is five students to one teacher, ensuring the kids are learning as well as enjoying the city.

“It’s not just for GEMS students,” Sanders said. “We love that it brings in different people and different perspectives.”

A variety of other day and week camps are available for kids.

Sailing and STEM camp

The Chicago Park District is hosting its annual sailing and STEM camp in May, June and July.

Kids can learn to sail at Monroe Harbor, with no experience necessary. The camp is for 5th-8th grade students in Chicago and it requires a $250 donation, though low-income applicants can get in free. To apply for a spot, visit endeavourchicago.org.

The four day-sessions (Monday-Thursday) go beyond  sailing. Students will learn science, technology, engineering and math curriculum. The course opens May 4 and meets every Saturday at 9 a.m. A June camp runs from June 24 to Aug. 1.

Visit EndeavourChicago.org for more details and to apply online. Scholarships are available.

Urban Kayaks paddle and kayak camp

Urban Kayaks summer paddle and kayak camp kicks off July 29. The camp runs weekly from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is aimed at kids ages 10 to 16. The course, at $550 per week with a 25 percent discount for siblings, is located at Monroe Harbor. For more information, visit urbankayaks.com or call 312-965-0035

Navy Pier’s Wiggleworms music program

While not a camp, Navy Pier is again hosting Wiggleworms, a free music program for children every Friday beginning June 21.

Wiggleworms, Old Town School of Folk Music’s early childhood music program, introduces young children and their families to a musical world. The program is at the Polk Brothers Park stage and it runs Fridays from 10 to 11:45 a.m.

Camp GEMS gets campers out and into the city for lessons. Photo courtesy GEMS

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