'We're going to have fun': Elk Grove mayor touts summer of celebration, return to normalcy
With bigger fireworks shows and mask-optional summer concerts and festivals, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said Thursday that the coming months will be the "summer of celebration" as the village emerges from the pandemic.
The longtime mayor and town booster -- who has made headlines in recent months for similar pronouncements about the maskless shows -- continued to strike an upbeat tone about the fight against COVID-19 during his annual State of the Village address.
Nearly 100 business leaders and officials attended the speech and luncheon at Belvedere Banquets on Devon Avenue, in a scene reminiscent of pre-pandemic chamber of commerce networking mixers. Attendees sat 7 or 8 per table, and most, but not all, put masks back on when they left.
Johnson announced plans in March to resume the village's popular summer concert series, and in April emphasized there wouldn't be required masks, crowd capacity limits or social distancing. All along, he's cited various studies about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and pointed to statements from federal health officials.
That included his repetition Thursday of a quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci in a broadcast interview given earlier in the morning: "If you're vaccinated and you're outside, put aside your mask."
It's why Johnson has continued to push residents to get vaccinated, and touted village-run clinics that got shots in the arms of 4,000 residents in March and April.
But his reopening plan for concerts and other summer events also has come with an invitation to anyone and everyone -- vaccinated or not, residents or not. It's led to pushback from top officials at the Cook County Department of Public Health.
"We're coming back together to have fun. We're expecting big crowds," Johnson said during his speech Thursday afternoon. "I feel bad for some of my neighboring mayors, who've called crying because they all canceled too early. And I told them, 'You guys rushed too fast.' They should've listened to me."
The start of the summer calendar in Elk Grove begins in earnest June 16-20 with Rotary Fest -- also considered one of the first summer festivals in the suburbs. The free popular Mid-Summer Classics Concert Series, which normally attracts tens of thousands to town every year, will be held July 4, July 13, July 20 and July 27.
Pent-up from cancellations last year, the fireworks shows on June 19 and July 4 -- in addition to the show during the November tree lighting -- will be larger than before, Johnson said.
And more than a year after the village distributed 14,000 green ribbons to tie on trees in tribute to front-line workers, Johnson asked residents to bring the strands back to the July 4 concert. Each ribbon can be exchanged for a raffle ticket to win local restaurant gift certificates.
"We're calling this the summer of celebration," Johnson said. "We're all going to get out. We're going to have fun."