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As Illinois facial covering requirement nears, Lightfoot and opponents put forward dueling plans to distribute masks in Chicago

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/28/2020 By John Byrne, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: In this file photo, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wears a mask as she prepares to speak about the coronavirus economic recovery plan Thursday, April 23, 2020 at the Historic Water Tower. © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS In this file photo, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wears a mask as she prepares to speak about the coronavirus economic recovery plan Thursday, April 23, 2020 at the Historic Water Tower.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot laid out a plan to aldermen to distribute disposable masks around the city as businessman Willie Wilson on Tuesday held an event across the street from City Hall to donate masks himself to City Council members to give to residents.

The question of how to make sure Chicagoans have enough masks has become more urgent as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order is set to take effect Friday requiring people over age 2 to wear a mask while inside stores and other places where they can’t maintain safe social distancing.

Wilson, a former mayoral candidate who had a falling out with Lightfoot after she took office, has been putting forward his own proposals to directly distribute disposable masks through his medical supply company.

Last week, Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, a mayoral critic, asked the Lightfoot administration to let aldermen convert local ward funds usually reserved for infrastructure projects to instead use the money to buy masks from Wilson. The Lightfoot administration hasn’t yet responded to that idea, Beale said.

And on Tuesday morning, Wilson set up in a plaza outside the Thompson Center across the street from City Hall with a pledge to give away 20,000 disposable masks to each alderman who came downtown to get them.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, posted a photo of himself outside the Thompson Center, saying he was there to get the free masks. Ramirez-Rosa, another Lightfoot critic, said he would distribute the masks in his Northwest Side ward to essential workers and their families, plus other residents.

Lightfoot spokespeople did not respond to questions about whether they are advising aldermen to get the free disposable masks from Wilson.

But the mayor doesn’t want to appear flatfooted as political opponents fill the need to get people masks.

After Wilson announced his giveaway plan, Lightfoot sent a letter to aldermen Monday saying she would be sending out a request for proposals to try to find companies to make reusable cloth masks.

The goal is to use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money to buy 5,000 cloth masks for each alderman to distribute to vulnerable people in their wards, and another 750,000 for the city to distribute, Lightfoot’s letter to aldermen says.

And in the meantime, Lightfoot said she would be distributing 2,000 disposable masks to each alderman this week.

Last week, Lightfoot accused Wilson of requesting millions of dollars from the city in upfront cash to help buy protective masks. “Millions of dollars in cash is not something I’m ever going to do with taxpayer dollars," Lightfoot said then.

In response, Wilson denied wanting the money in cash and said the city didn’t get back to him about his proposal.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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