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Reset’s Jenn White Breaks Down the Top 5 News Stories of 2019

Written by on December 19, 2019

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Jenn White is the host of Reset on WBEZ.

Jenn dropped by the Vocalo studio to chat with our very own Jill Hopkins about five of the most impactful stories of the year.

From Chicago mayoral elections to Chance the Snapper, these are stories that made an impact on 2019 and will have a lasting effect on the new decade …


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1. Lori Lightfoot.

So first of all, she’s the first black woman to be elected mayor in the city of Chicago. She’s also the first openly gay Mayor the city has had. This is the first elected office that Mayor Lightfoot has held. Of course, she’s known for her time working the police board. So she’s she’s a familiar figure, but she’s never held elected office, and she was running against Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle who has a lot of experience and deep roots in Chicago politics. She’s also the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. She was endorsed by CTU.

But it’s not just the fact that Lori Lightfoot won this election, it was that she won all 50 Wards. She went over 70% of the vote. It was just a decisive victory. But we saw from the earliest days of her tenure, that she was going to set some pretty strict boundaries with City Council, rolling back aldermanic prerogative, clashing with the longest serving alderman Ed Burke, who we should mention is under federal indictment right now. There was this really striking moment at the first city council meeting, where she just sort of  sat alderman Burke down and told him “When I want to hear from you. I’ll let you know.”

It was striking when you think about the first black mayor in Chicago, Harold Washington and how alderman Burke was part of this contingent that really tried to block Mayor Washington’s agenda. So here’s Mayor Lightfoot coming in and saying it’s a new day. Have a seat.

I was following the debate about the marijuana law in city council yesterday. One of my colleagues tweeted “I’m witnessing the most sustained parliamentary debate in years at the City Council, and alderman Ed Burke, the 14th has not spoken once.” It’s really an interesting moment in Chicago politics where you see the shift in the power dynamics. It’ll be interesting to watch how her political power shapes itself over the next few years.

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2. R.Kelly.

R Kelly is facing multiple federal and state charges. He’s currently being detained, but this is something we’ve been following for years really. I have to shout out my colleague Jim Derogatis here at WBEZ … who was talking about the allegations against R. Kelly, long before it bubbled up into media in any significant way. Before the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” premiered on Lifetime he’d been banging this drum. Jim was insisting that somebody needs to look at this., somebody needs to investigate this. The police need to be on top of this.

The reason why this bubbled up for me was because the most recent charge against R. Kelly is for bribery, related to his marriage back in 1994, to singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old. The charge against him is for it’s bribing officials to get fake IDs for Aaliyah that they could falsify a marriage document.

I’m a native Detroiter as was Aaliyah. So I remember when that news first came out and how everybody sort of looked at each other like … that’s weird.  It didn’t raise the sort of alarms that it should have you know. Now here we are 2019 and he’s being charged with a crime related to this marriage. It’s also been really fascinating to me to watch over the course of the year people still defend him. When I hear people defending him, it’s not that they say he didn’t do it. Their argument is that these girls are “fast girls” and I just want to encourage anyone who has that perspective to do some reading about adolescent brain development. That’s why it’s important for us to hold adults accountable for actions and not placed the burden of responsibility on young people whose brains and executive functions are not fully formed. There’s a reason why we do that.

So we’ll see what happens with R. Kelly’s trials, this is going to be a story that continues to play well into 2020.

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3. CTU Strike.

First of all, you’re talking about a huge school system. But I think the other thing that really made this story reach national attention is that this was not really a fight about salary and benefits, it started to be more about the quality of education we are providing for kids. CTU was arguing that class sizes were too big. They argued that they didn’t have the kind of support staff they needed. They were forming an argument about the students. It wasn’t about salary.

Then you had folks running for the Democratic presidential nomination coming in … you had Elizabeth Warren stopping by to support the CTU, you had Bernie Sanders coming in to support the CTU.We can’t ignore the fact that school support staff represented by SEIU 73. They were also out on strike with real concerns about low pay, they are some of the lowest paid workers and argued that they don’t have enough resources to provide adequate support for students. They often times work with students who have special needs.

So I think it was this larger conversation about what we want our schools to be.. What does equitable education look like in Chicago and across the country? What’s interesting is that CPS CEO, Janice Jackson and the mayor have now formed this working group to look at how we fund schools in Chicago more equitably. It’s not a question that’s limited to Chicago, you have to talk about the state funding model as well. But they’re starting to look at that and figure out, you know, why do we have pockets in the city where schools have more money than others when, arguably, you know, all kids should should have what they need. So that’ll be something we watch into 2020.

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4. Impeachment.

It’s historic because it’s the only the third time in history a sitting president has been impeached.

Back in 1868 the first impeachment of a sitting President was Andrew Johnson. He was impeached in the house but avoided being removed from office by the Senate in 1868. The second was Bill Clinton. People often lump President Richard Nixon in but he was actually never impeached, he resigned before the house got the chance to vote.

So beyond the fact that this is happening for only the third time in US history, it’s also happening in the midst of a presidential election cycle. I had to listen to a good chunk of these proceedings, it’s sort of just playing in the background for me a lot of times at work, and what you hear is two completely different realities playing out in the house as congress were debating this issue. You have Democrats saying that the President tried to commit a crime or obstructed justice, and that that is an impeachable offense. Then you have Republicans saying what the President did is not an impeachable offense, that his actions don’t reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

During the debate yesterday, the rhetoric was just so over the top at 11!  Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk, from Florida, compared the impeachment trial to the trial of Jesus under Pontius Pilate. It was just a day of really impassioned speeches from both sides. Another first in history was Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii, voted “Present” rather than yes or no on impeachment. She’s also a Democratic Presidential candidate so it will be interesting to see how that all plays out in 2020.

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5. Chance The Snapper.

I think part of it was just the mystery of how did he get there and is he okay? Just seeing the city rally around this little like four or five foot alligator hanging out in this lagoon. The focus was on getting this alligator, Chance, to a place that was safe. Seeing people really rally around and celebrate this, it seems so unimportant but it made my heart glad to see people rally together around Chance the Snapper in the midst of a year that felt like one negative story after another. So now Chance is in Florida, at St. Augustine, and we have heard he’s doing great. Chilling out and enjoying his best life.

A nice addendum to this story, Frank Rob the alligator rescuer and his glorious beard apparently found a lady friend. He got to turn on the colored lights at Buckingham Fountain, he threw out the first pitch at a cubs game, he’s like a Chicago celebrity. That man hasn’t paid for a drink anywhere in months. We don’t get stories like that very often that just have a happy ending. The collective creative energy around this whole story is just amazing. And I think people were looking for something to celebrate, something that we could share, just be happy about and rally around. It made my heart glad.


Listen to the full conversation:

Edited for Length and Clarity by: Seamus Doheny