Axios Chicago

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๐ŸŽธ Happy Thursday! On this day in 1967, the greatest Chicago band ever was formed. The Big Thing later changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority and eventually to Chicago.

๐Ÿ“บ Situational awareness: Meet some Emmy winners, maybe try some good food and get paid! Season 3 of "The Bear" begins filming in Chicago soon, and they're looking for extras.

๐ŸŽ‚ Happy birthday to our Axios Chicago member Don Moseley!

Editor's note: Axios published "Chart of the day: Gender dysphoria" in the Jan. 22 newsletter. After publication, the source behind the story, Definitive Healthcare, retracted its report andย removed the linkย to the findings. As a result, Axios no longer has confidence in the report.ย Read more.

Today's newsletter is 931 words โ€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Why down-ballot voting matters

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

As Chicago's early voting kicks off today, voters will be asked to make decisions on races from U.S. president to ward committeeperson. But data suggests that many voters won't make it to the bottom of the ballot.

Why it matters: This "undervoting" often lets a small share of voters determine the winners of races that arguably have the most direct impact on local lives.

By the numbers: During the 2020 primary election, 38% of eligible Chicago voters cast a ballot, and national data suggests that about a third of them probably left some part of their ballot blank.

Reality check: Yes, this is just a primary. But keep in mind that, in deep-blue Cook County, Democratic primary winners often become the winners, period.

What's happening: To help voters better understand important but often overlooked down-ballot offices, we talked to former alder and UIC emeritus political science professor Dick Simpson.

The intrigue: Many of these offices, he notes, had historically served as sources of patronage jobs, a situation that has changed some in the era of reform.

๐Ÿ—ณ Cook County Circuit Court clerk: The clerk oversees a $124 million budget and 1,400 employees who collect fees and maintain the records for the largest court system in the state.

Context: In 2018, while Dorothy Brown served as clerk, the office was placed under federal oversight, known as Shakman monitoring, to clean up patronage hiring practices.

  • It was freed from oversight in late 2022 under current clerk Iris Martinez, but a recent Tribune investigation raised concerns over ongoing campaign contributions to the clerk from her employees, many of whom had recently received raises.

๐Ÿ‘€ What to look for: "Someone with some executive experience, who can manage an office with several hundred employees and supervise important technological upgrades," Simpson tells Axios.

Go deeper: Cook County Board commissioner, committeeperson and more

2. What to know about voting

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Early voting starts today in Chicago, and there are several key dates coming up before the March 19 primaries in Illinois.

Register to vote: In Illinois, you can register online through March 3, but if you want to do it by mail, it has to be postmarked by Feb. 21.

Yes, but: Illinois has several ways to register to vote after the deadline, including at the polling place on the day of election.

Sample ballots: There were some issues with proofreading and a delay due to a court hearing, but sample ballots are available, starting today.

Early voting: Some counties began early voting on Feb. 8, but the Chicago supersite downtown opens today. Sites in suburban Cook County won't open until Feb. 21.

  • More early voting polling places will open around the state two weeks prior to the primary. Find a location here.

Mail-in ballots: There are several ways to submit mail-in ballots, but you must apply to receive a ballot by March 14, and your ballot must be returned or postmarked by the day of the election.

  • Right now, there are only two locations (downtown) but boxes will be accepting ballots in every ward starting March 4.

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3. Tips and hot links: Lurie's coming back online

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

โ˜Ž๏ธ External email and some phones have been restored at Lurie Children's Hospital, but the online patient portal is still offline. The call center (1-800-543-7362) is still in operation. (WGN)

๐Ÿˆ Girls flag football is officially an Illinois High School Association- sanctioned sport, allowing teams to compete for the state championship in October. (Peoria Star Journal)

๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago workers announced plans to form a union, joining similar efforts at museums including the Field Museum and Art Institute of Chicago. (Crain's)

Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun-Times editorial cartoonist Jack Higgins died Saturday. He was 69. (Sun-Times)

4. Old Orchard gets a facelift

Rendering of Westfield Old Orchard courtesy of URW

The owners of Westfield Old Orchard shopping center have announced plans to transform the north suburban mall into a mixed-use residential community.

The big picture: Skokie is among several Chicago suburbs teaming up with developers to reimagine existing mall space, instead of letting them close or become dead malls.

What's happening: French commercial real estate firm Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) is partnering with the Chicago development company Focus to build approximately 400 luxury apartments inside the mall, as well as new street-level retail.

  • The space will encompass a new park and an event space, which would bring in concerts, festivals and farmers markets.

Context: Skokie set up a business district in 2022 to provide additional infrastructure to Old Orchard, the largest contributor to the village's sales and property tax base.

  • The plan to build residential units is in addition to current modernization plans, which include a medical center, new anchor tenants and improving the common areas.

Keep reading

Rendering if a courtyard of a mall at nighttime with people walking around and sitting down.
Rendering of Westfield Old Orchard courtesy of URW
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5. Food Fight: ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Oaxacan tamales

Tamale from 5 Rabanitos. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Chicagoans are blessed to have daily access to dozens of different tamales from many Latin American countries (and even paper- and plastic-wrapped corn-roll tamales from hot dog stands).

  • But today we're fighting over one of our favorite versions: Oaxacan-style tamales.

Justin's pick: 5 Rabanitos in Pilsen serves its pork tamale simmered in morita sauce, smothered in black bean sauce and covered with pickled veggies, queso fresco and crema ($12.50).

  • It's the best in town, hands down.
Tamale on top of banana leaf
Yvolina's. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Carrie's pick: As a vegetarian, I'm always on the hunt for classics that don't use lard, and Yvolina's in Pilsen is it. I go for the poblano and cheese ($8), which is as big as a burrito.

  • They have meat options, too, and the guacamole is a great add-on.
Tamale in an opened banana leaf
Tamales Mi Chula. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Monica's pick: The chicken mole tamale ($3.99) from Tamales Mi Chula in Albany Park.

  • This banana leaf-wrapped beauty features silky masa around tender chicken and a sweet and savory mole poblano that knocked my socks off.

๐Ÿ“ฌ Tell us: Where's your favorite spot for Oaxacan tamales in Chicago?

Edited by Alexa Mencia and copy edited by Rob Reinalda and Yasmeen Altaji.

๐ŸŽต Carrie is encouraging music and film fans to check out the CIVL Fest starting today with shows and events at Chicago's great indie venues.

๐ŸŽจ Monica is looking forward to checking out the Faith Ringgold exhibition at the MCA before it closes on Feb. 25.

๐Ÿซ Justin is going to scour the stores for leftover Valentine's Day candy. Or is that not a thing anymore?

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