Pritzker closes schools, doesn’t dare on elec­tion

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It wasn’t easy for him, but Illi­nois Gov. J.B. Pritzker did the smart and pru­dent thing on Friday by can­cel­ing school in the wake of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

But weirdly, Tues­day’s pri­mary elections will go on as planned. Hey J.B., where’s the logic in this? “It’s easy to let ru­mors take hold and let fear drive us,” the gov­er­nor said as he closed all of the state’s schools, pub­lic and pri­vate. “I will not look back and say we didn’t take im­me­di­ate ac­tion soon enough.”

Clos­ing the schools was the right move by Pritzker. The health of the stu­dents, their teach­ers and par­ents are para­mount. And as the husband of a teacher, and the fa­ther of a teacher, I’m thank­ful. Schools are places of learn­ing, yes, but they’re also petri dishes made of brick.

And ev­ery spouse of a teacher knows this. The teach­ers build up un­be­liev­able im­mu­nity, but the spouses don’t.

Chicago Mayor Lori Light­foot had hoped to keep the schools open. Then the Chicago Teach­ers Union de­manded the schools be closed, and Pritzker wound up agree­ing with them. His­tory tells us that all chaos rolls down­hill and Light­foot is now at the foot of the hill look­ing up.

So, where are we? The world­wide coro­n­avirus pan­demic in­ten­si­fies, the pres­i­dent de­clares a na­tional emer­gency, the fi­nan­cial mar­kets fall, and politi­cians and me­dia that have wanted Trump gone since the mo­ment he won the White House seek their ad­van­tage in the panic and chaos, just as he would if he were chal­leng­ing an in­cum­bent.

And now school’s out in Illi­nois. But houses of wor­ship, too, are clos­ing due to the pan­demic. And the ma­jor league sports have shut down. That means no White Sox, Cubs, Bulls, Black­hawks, not even the beloved Chicago Fire. They’ve all sus­pended their sea­sons just to be safe, to pro­tect us from the virus, and to pro­tect them­selves and their leagues from law­suits.

The pan­demic is se­ri­ous busi­ness. It is deadly and I am not mak­ing fun of it, nor am I go­ing to weaponize it and poke at this politi­cian or that one. I’m in an im­muno­com­pro­mised group, a di­a­betic in my 60s. I know it’s se­ri­ous.

But af­ter all the virtue sig­nal­ing from politi­cians about keep­ing us safe, there’s one thing the Illi­nois po­lit­i­cal class hasn’t can­celed in the wake of the coro­n­avirus: Vot­ing.

Isn’t that odd? That’s al­most as odd as peo­ple hoard­ing toi­let pa­per to bat­tle a res­pi­ra­tory (not in­testi­nal) virus. It’s even more than odd. But hu­mans are strange crea­tures when afraid, and if hoard­ing toi­let pa­per makes some­one feel safer, I’m not go­ing to ar­gue.

But Illi­nois elected of­fi­cials have been virtue-sig­nal­ing for days, telling us all to be re­spon­si­ble and to avoid so­cial con­tact.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” Pritzker said. “This isn’t for­ever. This is a sac­ri­fice in the short term. And ev­ery­one will make a sac­ri­fice.”

In­clud­ing vot­ers and elec­tion judges.

The Illi­nois po­lit­i­cal class wants you to go to the polls and stand in line with strangers — who may or may not cough — in tight places along with mostly el­derly elec­tion judges and cast your bal­lots on Tues­day.

Illi­nois politi­cians might like sports, they might not. They might be re­li­gious or ir­re­li­gious. They might be baf­fled about the epi­demic of toi­let pa­per hoard­ing, or they might un­der­stand it as a peo­ple ex­press­ing fear of the un­known, ir­ra­tionally seek­ing some mea­sure of con­trol over ran­dom chance.

But there’s one thing our politi­cians hold dear. Those votes. With­out them, where are they?

At a news con­fer­ence a few days ago, Pritzker, Light­foot and Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle in­sisted that votes will be cast on March 17. Pritzker said elections are “the back­bone” of our so­ci­ety.

Boss Toni said it was your duty to vote.

“We should not let fear im­pact our abil­ity to carry out our ba­sic civic du­ties and gen­eral op­er­a­tions,” Preck­win­kle said in her usual se­vere, clipped tone.

Chicago can­celed the St. Pa­trick’s Day pa­rades out of con­cern that large crowds of mostly young peo­ple would con­tract and spread the virus. But the young aren’t the group health pro­fes­sion­als say they’re most wor­ried about.

I don’t have statis­tics on the age of elec­tion judges in Illi­nois, but af­ter about 6,000 years of cov­er­ing pol­i­tics around here, my ex­pe­ri­ence is that most are in their 70s or older. They are mostly re­tired and have the time and con­cern about do­ing their “ba­sic civic du­ties” to sit there at polling places and serve as elec­tion judges.

They set­tle squab­bles, deal with po­lit­i­cal work­ers hang­ing around polling places try­ing to shape the vote one way or an­other, and try to prevent the dead from vot­ing, and so, in the main, they do a great job. And few, if any, vot­ers have the de­cency to go to a good Pol­ish-Lithua­nian bak­ery and pur­chase a few dozen ba­con buns for the judges, just be­cause.

Now they’ll be sit­ting or stand­ing at a ta­ble look­ing at doc­u­ments, and vot­ers will walk by and touch the ta­ble, touch their own faces, touch the ta­ble again, cough, touch their hands, touch the pens, for hour upon hour, so politi­cians can get their votes.

As I un­der­stand it, de­lay­ing elections might re­quire a change in state law. But Boss Madi­gan, who runs Illi­nois, and Boss Toni, the Cook County Demo­cratic chairman, know that elections aren’t a sport. Elections aren’t pa­rades or re­li­gious wor­ship.

Elections are pol­i­tics. And in Illi­nois, there is noth­ing as se­ri­ous as that.

TER­RENCE AN­TO­NIO JAMES/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Gov. J.B. Pritzker an­nounces Friday in Chicago that all schools statewide will be closed through March 30 in an ef­fort to cur­tail the spread of COVID-19.

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