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Lightfoot won’t challenge governor’s indoor dining ban

One day after voicing her concern about the devastating impact on Chicago restaurants, the mayor held an hour-long meeting with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and came away resigned to the rollback.

Outdoor dining tables sit empty outside Tavern On Rush and Carmine’s, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.
Tables sit empty outside Tavern On Rush and Carmine’s on a chilly Tuesday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she is not asking for “special favors” for Chicago restaurants and has no plans to challenge Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order banning indoor dining in the city.

One day after voicing her concern about the devastating impact on Chicago restaurants, Lightfoot held an hour-long meeting with the governor and came away resigned to the rollback.

She reiterated that the biggest cause of Chicago’s second surge is the dinner parties, card games and other social gatherings that people are having in their own homes, where they’re more inclined to let their guards down.

But even though Chicago restaurants are not the primary cause, they will pay the price when the governor’s ban on indoor dining takes effect, as scheduled, on Friday.

“We had a very frank and productive conversation with the governor and his team and my team as well. We explored a lot of issues. And we came out of that discussion really committed to making sure that we work hard together,” the mayor said at an unrelated event in Pullman.

“We’ve got to … make sure that we communicate effectively to the businesses across Chicago that are gonna be affected. … The most important point is how do we move forward. … We’ve committed to make sure that we continue to work together.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed the ban on indoor dining in Chicago after a ceremony to cut the ribbon on a new Amazon facility in Pullman.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed the ban on indoor dining in Chicago after a ceremony to cut the ribbon on a new Amazon facility in Pullman.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The mayor was asked whether she would enforce the governor’s order or whether she plans to file a legal challenge to block it and keep Chicago restaurants open to indoor dining.

She ignored the first part of the question.

“No. I’m not filing a legal challenge. We’ve been working in partnership with the state from the very beginning and we’re gonna continue to do that,” she said.

What about restaurants that defy the governor’s order? Is the mayor concerned about that?

Lightfoot said only that Tuesday’s news from the governor “hit people very hard.” She’s had “a lot of frank conversations” with Chicago restaurant and business owners that will be heavily impacted by the rigid restrictions they managed to survive the first time around.

“They’re struggling. … They’ve been struggling since March. They have been the industry that has been most impacted by COVID restrictions….There are many restaurants across our city that are literally hanging on by a thread. Some have closed and are not gonna come back,” the mayor said.

“We’ve got to double down our efforts to make sure that we’re communicating effectively with them. That we’re doing everything that we can to support them through this very, very difficult time. That’s my commitment to them. ... We’re gonna keep fighting the fight on behalf of them and doing everything we can to give them some measure of economic relief.”

Lightfoot noted the state has $200 million in “business interruption grants” available. She urged restaurants to apply for those grants and promised technical assistance to help them do just that.

“Particularly the smallest businesses. Those neighborhood restaurants. The big guys — they’re hurting. But they have the resources to weather some of these storms. But the little neighborhood restaurants are really gonna be challenged,” the mayor said.

“The other thing I want to say is, given that this is happening, I can’t stress enough to folks: Please support your local restaurant in every form. Take-out. You’ve got today and part of tomorrow for dining in. But they need our help now more than ever and we want to do everything we can to be supportive of them.”