All posts by Arionne Nettles

How prisoners count: the politics of prison gerrymandering in Illinois

By Joel Jacobs
Medill Reports

In Illinois, each person’s vote is not counted equally. A single vote for a state representative in Cook County is likely to wield less influence than one in Randolph County downstate.

Why? Because Randolph County is located in Illinois House District 116, which is home to the Menard and Pinckneyville prisons. They hold about 4,500 inmates, half of whom were sentenced from Cook County, around 300 miles away.

These prisoners cannot vote, but they are counted as residents of the 116th District by the census, giving each voter in the district a bit more power. During the last round of redistricting, each Illinois House district was drawn to include approximately 109,000 people based on census counts, meaning that prisoners account for more than one in twenty-five residents of Illinois House District 116.

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Facebook groups establish community in one of Chicago’s newest neighborhoods

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

Nicole Rohr Stephens moved back to Chicago from Alabama last year and almost immediately found out she was pregnant. The 34-year-old marketing manager had previously lived on the city’s North Side, but after relocating to the South Loop, she realized she had no idea where she would eventually send her unborn child to school. “When we moved back, we were joining like a completely different neighborhood, different vibe,” she said. “We didn’t know our neighbors; we didn’t know anything about the area.”

Stephens did what many people do today to solve a problem: she turned to Facebook. She first found a local dog walker and veterinarian on the “South Loop Dog and Pet Owners” Facebook group before turning to “South Loop Parent’s Group” for daycare recommendations. Stephens even began walking around the block after work with other pregnant women she met from that group. Now that they all have babies all around the same age, “that’s been kind of cool to like, you see everybody hitting the same milestones with their kids at the same time after we spend time walking together,” she said.

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The evolving, not disappearing, presence of ethnic cuisine in Chicago

By Annie Lin
Medill Reports

“What is authentic?” Rooh’s executive chef Sujan Sakar remarked. “Nothing is authentic.”

“I am having a hard time with the definition of authentic anyhow,” said longtime Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel. He thinks that it is going to be impossible to find authentic or traditional restaurants.

In recent years, the $30.1 billion restaurant industry in Illinois has seen an emergence of restaurants marketed as contemporary, modern, fusion, and globally inspired. This raises the question of whether these new restaurants are replacing traditional, family-run ethnic restaurants.

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How Chinatown’s public library is adapting to its senior population, along with others around the country

By Michael Lee
Medill Reports

On the second floor of the Chicago Public Library Chinatown branch, a group of older men huddled around tables in a study room playing Chinese chess, a strategy board game often played in China.

Wearing beanies, ball caps and winter coats, they slid the circular, wooden pieces around the board consisting of two rectangular four-by-eight grids. When the game ended, they swiftly realigned the pieces and started again.

Every afternoon for four hours, older, Chinese men gather at the library to play and watch others play Chinese chess — focused but chatting.

Since opening in 2015, Chinatown’s library has become a hub for seniors in the community during the day to socialize, play board games and participate in other activities. Like other public libraries nationwide, it is adapting to the changing needs of their residents in addition to its traditional role as a resource for books, periodicals and DVDs.

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Becoming ‘social equity’ is nearly a must for opening an adult-use cannabis dispensary in Illinois

By Yun Hao
Medill Reports

With “the status of social equity applicant” worth one-fifth of the entire 250 points of the state’s evaluation, many applicants seeking an adult-use cannabis license in Illinois are now trying to affiliate with individuals or groups that can qualify them as social equity applicants.

A social equity applicant, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, either has at least 51% ownership and control by one or more individuals from disproportionately impacted areas, or has more than 10 full-time employees, more than half of which are from disproportionately impacted areas.

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A grandfather’s battle against the lead in drinking water

By Henry Ren
Medill Reports

Hyde Park resident Gordon Berry had never imagined that the drinking water in his century-old house could be contaminated by lead, until his 2-year-old granddaughter, who resided with him, had a routine blood test in January 2016.

“They found lead in her blood,” Berry said.

Horrified by the result, Berry “immediately” called the city to test the water. He didn’t hear the test results from the city until an investigative reporter knocked at his door in early May 2016.

“She said, ‘did you know this house has the highest lead content in the water of any house measured in Chicago?’”

“And we would never have known but for her,” Berry said.

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Incumbent doesn’t object to challengers’ nominating petitions despite their expectations

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

“We know the games that they unfortunately play and the tactics they utilize to basically try to silence the voices of anyone who dares to challenge the establishment,” said Anthony Clark, Democrat candidate for Illinois’ 7th U.S. Congressional District in the March 17, 2020 primary election.

Sure enough, Kina Collins, a challenger candidate in the 7th Congressional District, has had her nominating petitions challenged. However, it wasn’t by incumbent Danny K. Davis as expected but by lawyers connected to another challenger candidate, Kristine Schanbacher.

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Leaders prepare for census throughout city, focus on hard-to-count areas

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

City officials are teaming up with civic organizations to prepare for the 2020 Census, especially in hard-to-count neighborhoods like predominantly Latino Humboldt Park. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago households responded to the 2010 census at a rate of only 66% whereas 74% of households responded nationwide.

A key consideration for organizers is that the2020 census will differ from years past by allowing households to respond electronically.

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No more rubber stamps: How city council’s new left is embracing socialism and calling for change

By Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

Mayoral budgets have a history of sailing through the Chicago City Council with little to no opposition. Rahm Emanuel’s first budget saw unanimous support, and in his last year the controversial mayor had a lone dissident. Only one year of his contentious time in office did opposition rise above single digits, as a result of a four-year property tax hike.

So when Mayor Lightfoot’s inaugural budget, which overcame an $838 million deficit with a marginal property tax increase and millions in efficiencies, was approved last Tuesday by the Chicago city council, the 11 no votes signified a sea change.

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Community drives three independent bookstores to thrive despite digital-heavy environment

By Hannah Farrow
Medill Reports

Between same-day shipping and instant Kindle ebooks, Amazon dominates book sales. Borders went out of business in 2011. Barnes & Noble was sold this year after its worst year in sales to date; they’ve also closed over 150 stores in the last decade. Yet the entire country is seeing a spike in independent brick-and-mortar bookstores and their sales. In Wicker Park alone, a neighborhood known for the arts, three thrive: Volumes, Myopic and Quimby’s.

“Myopic is the used books. Volumes is the family friendly. And we’re the weirdos,” said Liz Mason, 45, manager of Quimby’s. “We all have different vibes, and we all fulfill different needs. Honestly, in my mind, it feels like I have collaborators in getting Wicker Park to be more literary.”

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