Pritzker closes schools, doesn’t dare on election
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.
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.