Afternoon Edition: Oct. 14, 2020

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

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Afternoon Edition

Chicago’s most important news of the day, delivered every weekday afternoon. Plus, a bonus issue on Saturdays that dives into the city’s storied history.

This afternoon will be partly sunny with a high near 74 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 47 degrees. Tomorrow will be mostly cloudy, with some sunshine in the afternoon, and a high near 58 degrees.

Top story

Cook County commissioner — an ex-pot regulator — admits ownership in cannabis firm

After serving as one of Illinois’ top cannabis regulators, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen confirmed yesterday she has an ownership stake in a company vying for the right to open multiple pot shops across the state.

A spokeswoman for Degnen told us the commissioner is part owner of Americanna Dream and was paid a stipend to write dispensary applications for the company.

The Highland Park-based firm submitted 36 perfect applications, beating out hundreds of other applicants to become a finalist in the state competition for the next round of dispensary licenses. The company has the maximum 10 spots in a lottery that will determine the winners of the 75 new licenses, each of which will likely be worth millions of dollars.

But Degnen’s ownership stake isn’t worth anything unless the company wins a license, according to her spokeswoman, who wouldn’t confirm how much Degnen’s been paid so far or what percentage of the company she owns.

The Chicago Democrat — who represents the county’s 12th District and campaigned on a promise to serve as a “full-time” commissioner — also issued a statement yesterday defending her work for the “majority Black-owned social equity dispensary applicant.”

However, she didn’t reveal the names of any other owners. State records show Americanna Dream’s only listed manager is a white real estate professional with ties to the state’s legal cannabis industry.

“I ensured I complied with all applicable laws governing transparency with respect to my involvement with this project, including completing a statement of economic interest form as required by Cook County, and exceeding any applicable state revolving door requirements by several years,” Degnen said after initially dodging questions we posed over the last few weeks.

We previously reported Degnen pitched herself as an expert last summer as she offered to write applications for another group seeking dispensary licenses. One of those applicants said it seemed like Degnen “knew what the application looked like before anyone else did.”

Before running for office in 2017, Degnen worked for four years as the deputy director of medical cannabis at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the state agency that will issue the dispensary licenses. Years later, she still has deep connections to Illinois’ weed industry.

Companies and individuals tied to the booming business have flooded Degnen’s campaign coffers with nearly $20,000 in donations, according to our analysis. Another $25,000 has come from a political action committee tied to attorney Brendan Shiller, who’s working on behalf of some of the other lottery contestants.

Read Tom Schuba’s full story here.

More news you need

  1. Early voting sites are now open in all 50 wards, with social distancing and other coronavirus protections in place, including clear plastic shields protecting poll workers and masks available for voters. Adam Mahoney has a dispatch from the first day of early voting in Chicago.
  2. Detectives were questioning a person of interest today in the South Side shooting death of a probation officer who was eight months pregnant. Doctors were unable to save Stacey Jones, but delivered her baby, who was in critical condition at Comer Children’s Hospital.
  3. Billionaire Jennifer Pritzker may have abandoned President Donald Trump for the Democrats, but she’s still siding with the Republicans on her cousin’s coveted graduated income tax proposal. The retired Army National Guard colonel contributed $500,000 to a group opposed to the “Fair Tax.”
  4. A unique and tragic, Chicago-based online exhibit, “The Sisterhood,” launched today, offering a glimpse into what it’s like to lose your child to gun violence through stories, photographs and testimonies. Maudlyne Ihejirika has a preview.
  5. Under a Lane Tech alumni association proposal, the school’s football field would be renamed after 1912 grad Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard, who went on to become the first Black professional quarterback and the first Black professional head football coach. The proposal will go before the school’s Local School Council tomorrow night.
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A bright one

‘Windy City Rehab’ carpenter Ari Smejkal on his newfound fame: ‘guys and girls hitting on me all the time’

Ari Smejkal, the can-do-anything-with-wood craftsman featured on HGTV’s “Windy City Rehab,” which concluded its second season last night, says his phone has been ringing off the hook lately.

“I’m getting 20 to 30 calls a day, everything from fixing a broken latch on someone’s cupboard their dad built 50 years ago to building multi-million dollar homes,” Smejkal said.

He’s been working seven days a week and is booked well into 2021 with projects, including a 26-foot outdoor trestle table made of 200-year-old reclaimed timber for a client in Hinsdale and the rehab of a 19th-century cabin in North Carolina.


Ari Smejkal and Alison Victoria of “Windy City Rehab.”

@thealisonvictoria on Instagram

Another byproduct of his fame: “Guys and girls hitting on me all the time,“ he said. “Some guys knocked on my door once and wanted an autograph. But my favorite is when young kids come up and ask, ‘How’d you get started?’ I’m really fortunate.”

Smejkal is an accomplished designer and builder in his own right — with everything from safe rooms for rich suburban executives to lavish man caves under his belt. He owns and operates Hammer Design Group and has built interior spaces for more than 100 restaurants in Chicago, including the Clark Street Ale House and Gene and Georgetti’s.

He’s also designed and built furniture for several decades. Chicago Blackhawk Brent Seabrook and actress Joan Cusack have bought pieces from him. “I love unique projects no one else can do,” he said.

Read Mitch Dudek’s full interview with Smejkal here.

From the press box

Friction between former White Sox manager Rick Renteria and team management had been growing before the two sides decided to part ways earlier this week, Daryl Van Schouwen reports. The in-game use of advanced metrics and a lack of activity at the trade deadline were among the sources of discord.

And while Le’Veon Bell hasn’t put up his usual numbers since leaving Pittsburgh, the Bears’ offense isn’t nearly good enough to pass up on a chance to pursue the three-time Pro Bowler, Jason Lieser writes. The Jets are expected to release Bell soon.

Your daily question ☕

Have you been watching “Windy City Rehab”? What did you think of the show’s second season?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: What’s your favorite thing about this time of year? Here’s what some of you said…

“Excellent running weather! Love it when it cools down, it makes runs more enjoyable. I love the feeling of that cool air filling up the lungs!” — Sandra Bailon

“Seeing the leaves change to beautiful colors and being able to open my windows and feel the breeze.” — Joyce Heiser

“Leaves turning color, crisp air perfect for hiking, football, great sleeping weather, pumpkin pies, Thanksgiving.” — Carol Wortel

“Apple cider and donuts.” — Larry Steinborn

“Chilly and raw college football Saturdays followed by sunny and crisp long-walk Sundays.” — Dave Miller

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