The Spin: Pritzker, Lightfoot confident about meeting Biden’s May 1 vaccination deadline | Democratic congressmen blast FEMA over United Center restrictions | State Dem. Party Chair Robin Kelly taps transition team

The Spin: Pritzker, Lightfoot confident about meeting Biden’s May 1 vaccination deadline | Democratic congressmen blast FEMA over United Center restrictions | State Dem. Party Chair Robin Kelly taps transition team thumbnail

In his first prime-time speech, President Joe Biden last night said he wants states to make all adults eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. Such a move would put the nation on a path toward a bit of freedom from the pandemic by Independence Day, he said.

States and cities have set up inoculation schedules based on limited supply while working to get the most vulnerable to the front of the line. My colleagues cut through the confusion and put together this piece on eligibility and vaccination sites.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Illinois shouldn’t have a problem meeting Biden’s vaccine deadline. In fact, Illinois may be able to do it sooner, he said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s public health team was equally upbeat in a statement to The Spin: “We were excited to hear the president’s ambitious plan to push up the timeline for vaccinating the nation and will be ready for whenever more vaccine makes it to Chicago.”

Also: Southern Illinois University’s award-winning speech and debate coach Todd Graham gives Biden’s address high marks for juxtaposing hope with grim reality, while Democratic political consultant-turned-pundit David Axelrod — who worked in the Obama-Biden White House — gave his old boss a so-so “B” grade.

And 11 Illinois Democratic U.S. House members signed a letter ripping into FEMA’s decision to limit United Center vaccine slots to Chicago and Cook County residents. They say it goes against the original mission of the statewide vaccination site, and while they understand this is about equitable distribution of the shots in the city and suburbs, the lawmakers contend they, too, have vulnerable constituents in need of the vaccine.

President Joe Biden delivers an address to the nation from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 11, 2021.

President Joe Biden delivers an address to the nation from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 11, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/TNS)

Speeches and debates are all about persuasion, and on that front, CNN contributor and Southern Illinois University debate and speech coach Todd Graham said Biden won on a lot of fronts.

Graham said he thought the president offered an honest assessment of the pandemic’s grievous toll while looking ahead with cautious optimism. He gave the speech, which wasn’t overly polished, high marks.

“Good speeches are going to have both grim reality, plus some hope and empathy for those people who have suffered. I liked that he said we’ve all suffered in some way,” Graham tells The Spin.

The hope in his message comes with some concrete deadlines — instructing states to open up vaccinations to all eligible adults by May 1 and putting out there the hope that the nation can start to see some independence from the pandemic, or a greater lifting of restrictions, as more people are inoculated.

“Seeing those dates, having those dates in mind, gives you a sense of optimism,” Graham says. Setting the dates, too, is an effective way to avoid arguments that have plagued the pandemic response.

“If you’re ever (heading toward a) fight with a friend or a loved one, or boyfriend or whatever and they’re like, ‘Oh, we have to talk about this now,’ I always advise my students to say, ‘Not right now, but we can talk about it tomorrow over lunch.’ It gives you time to think about it and allow you to check your emotions. So what Biden did is he gave those dates — it’s very similar.”

Graham said it was hard not to notice the juxtaposition between former President Donald Trump’s address a year ago and Biden’s last night. It’s a study in two very different political styles, he said. Trump was pushing themes that he “alone could fix” the problem, while Biden’s message was “I need you” to do your part to end the virus.

“It was a stark difference (between) ‘I need you’ and ‘you need me,’” Graham said.

David Axelrod gave Biden’s speech a “B” grade: The former Democratic strategist who served in the Obama-Biden White House and is now a CNN pundit said on the cable news network that the president’s roughly 20-minute speech “was grim” and should have been shorter.

“I think the speech was probably a B, because he tried to do too much. It was a bit long. I think it was a bit grim at points, and I think he didn’t take enough credit,” for the work he’s done to shepherd the vaccine effort, Axelrod said.

ALSO: “Cook County officials launched a new mobile vaccination program Thursday afternoon and said details for how suburban residents of high-need communities can sign up for the United Center mass vaccination site will be released next week,” the Tribune’s Alice Yin writes.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B Pritzker stand by to provide a COVID-19 update to media during a news conference on Feb . 26, 2021.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B Pritzker stand by to provide a COVID-19 update to media during a news conference on Feb . 26, 2021. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

From the Tribune’s Dan Petrella and Jenny Whidden: “Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday said Illinois shouldn’t have a problem meeting President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline for opening up vaccine eligibility to all adults.”

“I am confident that not just by May 1 but maybe even a little bit earlier we could open up to everyone in the state, everyone that’s eligible,” Pritzker said during an event at Loretto Hospital on Chicago’s West Side.

“Current state guidelines limit eligibility for vaccinations to health care workers, people 65 and older, front-line workers in places such as schools and grocery stores, and people under 65 with certain preexisting health conditions that put them at greater risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms,” Petrella and Whidden write.

“The city of Chicago and some other local health departments haven’t followed the state’s lead in opening up vaccinations to people younger than 65, though Chicago officials have said they hope to expand eligibility later this month,” they note. Read the full story here.

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, right, is joined by Reps. Mike Quigley, from left, and Danny Davis outside of the U.S. Postal Service Chicago headquarters on Aug. 18, 2020.

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, right, is joined by Reps. Mike Quigley, from left, and Danny Davis outside of the U.S. Postal Service Chicago headquarters on Aug. 18, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The Tribune’s Alice Yin writes: “A group of Illinois’ Democratic U.S. House members sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday condemning this week’s rollout of the highly trumpeted United Center mass vaccination site, arguing the decision to restrict appointments to Chicago and Cook County residents on behalf of equity goals has angered some of their most vulnerable constituents.” Full story here.

The letter reads: “Many of our constituents who fall in the vulnerable category, but who don’t live in Chicago, felt frustrated with the recent determination to limit eligibility at the United Center Federal Mass Vaccination Center for Illinois residents. Their confusion was exacerbated with the abruptness of the announcement, and the consequent uncertainty surrounding their future access to a vaccination appointment.”

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, of Deerfield, led the effort; other representatives who signed the letter were: U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, Danny Davis of Chicago, Sean Casten of Downers Grove, Robin Kelly of Matteson, Bill Foster of Naperville, Jesús “Chuy” García of Chicago, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, Bobby Rush of Chicago, Mike Quigley of Chicago and Marie Newman of La Grange.

An aerial view April 19, 2018, shows the lakefront and downtown area at the mouth of the Chicago River.

An aerial view April 19, 2018, shows the lakefront and downtown area at the mouth of the Chicago River. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

“Downtown Chicago has a record amount of unwanted office space, the equivalent of about five Willis Towers, and the situation could get a whole lot worse in the next two years,” the Tribune’s Ryan Ori writes.

Last year ended with 15.5% of downtown office space unleased, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE, and could exceed 20% if unused and under-construction space isn’t gobbled up, Ori notes. And it could still get worse.

“With more than 138 million square feet total, Chicago has the nation’s second-largest downtown office market, trailing only Manhattan. Large swathes of unwanted office space would drag down nearby businesses such as restaurants, bars and shops, slowing the path to reestablish downtown’s pre-pandemic bustle,” Ori writes. And that all could take a toll on construction, hiring and tax revenues that feed the engines of state and local government, which are struggling now more than ever. Read the story here.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly listens as then-mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks at the South Shore Brew in Chicago on Feb. 21, 2019.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly listens as then-mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot speaks at the South Shore Brew in Chicago on Feb. 21, 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

New Illinois Democratic Party Chair Robin Kelly announced today the formation of a transition committee aimed at helping to shape a statewide mission for the organization. She was elected to the post earlier this month after Michael Madigan stepped down after 23 years in the post.

Critics have argued that Madigan, who also was the longtime speaker of the Illinois House, prioritized fundraising for candidates in the chamber while failing to spread the wealth to other elected offices. They also said he failed to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates. Kelly is the first African American woman elected state party chair.

While dozens of Democrats will be part of the transition team, it will be chaired by Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez, who also is a Democratic State Central Committee member and political consultant Scott Kennedy. Co-chairs include Robert Blackwell Jr., CEO of EKI-Digital, a technology consultancy; Cook County tax appeals Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, state Sen. Cristina Castro, former Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights Rocco Claps, Schaumburg Township Democratic Committeeman Michael Cudzik, Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris, political consultant Hanah Jubeh, and Democratic State Central Committee members Nancy Shepherdson and Patrick Watson. Abby Witt is also a co-chair.

Martinez, Cabonargi, Castro, Shepherdson and Watson all had a vote in the race for Democratic Party Chair and backed Kelly. Cudzik backed Ald. Harris, who ended up being Kelly’s sole challenger.

“Over the last several weeks, I have seen the energy and excitement of so many Democratic leaders and Democrats across Illinois who share in my vision of a more inclusive and engaged Democratic Party of Illinois,” Kelly said in a prepared statement. “With input from a tremendous group of Democratic leaders around the state, we will begin the work of inspiring and expanding our party.”

Endorsements: Vote Mama, the national political action committee that supports Democratic mothers running for public office, announced they’re backing six such candidates in upcoming Illinois elections including Anna Valencia, the Chicago City Clerk who’s all but declared her candidacy in next year’s Illinois Secretary of State’s race; Lisa Schneider Fabes who’s running for re-election and Bonnie Kim, who’s running for a seat on the Wilmette Public Schools District 39 board; Marcia Hollis-Bratcher, who’s running for mayor of suburban Hazel Crest; Gail Eisenberg, who’s running for New Trier Township supervisor; and Annie Warshaw who’s running for the Skokie Public Schools District 68 school board.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at ldonovan@chicagotribune.com.

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