Illinois Public Media News
Bruce Weber knows that Kansas State fans may not accept him right away. That much became clear when a small rally for another coaching candidate turned into a protest of his hiring.
The former Illinois coach doesn't have a problem with that, though.
Weber is up for any challenge that's presented to him.
The former Illinois coach was hired by Kansas State on Saturday to replace Frank Martin, whose departure for South Carolina earlier in the week sent shockwaves through the program. The school moved quickly on the hiring, reaching out to Weber in the last few days and finalizing a deal late Friday.
Weber agreed to a five-year, $8.5 million contract that will pay him $1.5 million next season and an additional $100,000 each remaining year. There are also several benefits.
"It's been a whirlwind, to be honest. Just a few hours ago I was in New Orleans thinking I was going to have gumbo," said Weber, who was attending the Final Four before hopping on a plane with Kansas State athletic director John Currie and heading to Kansas on Saturday.
"We wanted a coach who recognized the tremendous opportunity that exists here at Kansas State," Currie said. "Bruce Weber's name repeatedly rose to the top of the list, whose personal values and integrity matched those of K-State."
Weber was greeted at Bramlage Coliseum by a small group of fans who had been planning to support another candidate, and who were displeased with the hiring of a coach recently fired by Illinois.
Weber was let go after compiling 210-101 record over nine seasons, which included six trips to the NCAA tournament and a national runner-up finish in 2005. The Illini went 17-15 and 6-12 in the Big Ten this season, prompting the administration let Weber go with three years left on his contract.
"I'll be honest: We had a young team, six freshmen, one returning starter," Weber said. "The disappointment of a lot of close losses took a toll. It happens." Weber takes over for Martin, who returned a once-proud program to national prominence after Bob Huggins' departure for West Virginia five years ago. Weber will be the fourth coach to lead Kansas State in the past eight seasons - and the third to cause some consternation among fans.
Huggins was hired still carrying baggage from his messy divorce with Cincinnati, while Martin was a nondescript assistant who had never been a college head coach. Weber certainly has experience running a program. It's just that not all of it has been good.
He was considered one of the rising stars of the profession after taking Southern Illinois to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, one of which ended in the regional semifinals. He then took over a program at Illinois that had been built into a perennial contender under Bill Self - now the coach at Kansas, just down the Interstate from Manhattan, Kan., and the Wildcats' biggest rival.
The Jayhawks were scheduled to play Ohio State in the Final Four on Saturday, just hours after officials at Kansas State were to announce Weber's hiring. Weber had immediate success at Illinois with players largely recruited by Self, returning to the NCAA tournament his first four seasons. That included a 37-2 record during the 2004-05 season, which ended with a 75-70 loss to North Carolina in the national championship game.
The program began to slip soon after, though, and fans who had grown accustomed to winning began to sour. The Illini had a losing record by Weber's fifth season in charge, and despite winning 20 or more games the next three seasons, the program had faded from the national spotlight.
Weber never seemed entirely comfortable following Self at Illinois, and now he'll be matching wits with the Jayhawks' coach at least twice a year.
In fact, Weber had grown so tired of the comparisons to the uber-successful Self that he walked into the locker room before a game in 2003 dressed entirely in black. The quirky coach told the Illini that he was "going to throw a funeral. It's the end of Bill Self."
The idea was to somehow get across the message that the program had moved on.
That's exactly what Kansas State fans are being forced to do.
Martin's intense style and own quirks endeared him to many Kansas State fans. Of course, the winning helped - at least 20 wins each of the past five seasons, four of them ending in NCAA tournament berths, with a trip to the regional finals with Jacob Pullen in 2010.
The school's career scoring leader, Pullen grew up in Chicago and now plays overseas. He offered his assessment of the hiring via Twitter, even misspelling Weber's name: "Bruce Webber didn't think I was good enough to play at Illinois and I don't think he is good enough to coach at Kansas State."
Others have praised the hiring of Weber, whose strong recruiting ties to Chicago will no doubt come in handy at a school that's forced to recruit nationally. Weber is also energetic and personable, two traits that will help as he attempts to quell a fan base wary of more change.
"Give me a chance," Weber said. "It doesn't matter where you go or which coach you hired, there was always going to be a question mark. There's no doubt about that. That's part of college sports.
As arguments over the constitutionality of the federal health care law continue at the Supreme Court, one local supporter of the law is pointing out its benefits. The group Champaign County Health Care Consumers said even though the law has not been fully implemented, it's already helping the people they serve. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows spoke with Health Care Consumers executive director Claudia Lennhoff. She had supported a single payer healthcare system, but Lennhoff said the law now in place goes a long way towards improving healthcare coverage in America.
A special committee of the Illinois House began investigating Representative Derrick Smith today. He was arrested two weeks ago on federal bribery charges. The hearing is one of the first steps in a long process that could lead to Smith being expelled from the House.
The committee's first meeting was mostly organizational. Its next step is asking federal prosecutors for more information on the charges against Smith. The Chicago Democrat is accused of accepting $7,000 in cash from a daycare in exchange for writing a letter supporting its grant application.
Specifically, the six representatives on the investigative panel want a copy of the letter and a list of witnesses. But even if federal prosecutors say no, legislators say they have enough to continue. State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, of Elmhurst, is the committee's ranking Republican.
"Rep. Smith has not been in session since the allegations," Reboletti said. "There are constituents who are going to be calling his office (and) may need other support, and so these are things we're going to have to take a look at. I think there's going to be things outside the four corners of that petition that we'll be able to take into evidence and consider but right now I have made no presumption either way."
A lawyer for the committee said he notified Smith of the hearing, but Smith did not show up. Attempts to reach Smith by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful. The committee expects to hear from federal prosecutors in time to meet the week of April 9.
Republican Champaign County Circuit Clerk candidate Stephanie Holderfield said on Monday she doesn't want to file a lawsuit against the county's clerk's office after coming in second to a candidate who had dropped out of the primary race. But in a letter sent to County Clerk Gordy Hulten, Holderfield's attorney indicates a complaint may be filed with the circuit court to resolve the matter.
In a letter dated on March 22, attorney Mark Hewitt cites a recent legislative contest in which former State Rep. Roger Eddy withdrew his candidacy after ballots were printed. Hewitt said notices were posted in polling places telling voters that votes for Eddy were not counted. He said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten should have followed the same procedure in Winkel's case.
"We do not understand why Mr. Hulten did not do the same," Hewitt wrote. "We hope to get this resolved very soon because if not, we will be forced to file a Petition of State Election Contest before the end of the month with the circuit court."
In cases where a candidate drops out of a race, the Illinois State Board of Elections has said votes for that candidate should be ignored. That recommendation is binding for state races, but only advisory on local elections.
Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said counting votes for Holderfield's opponent, Rick Winkel, was the right thing to do since Winkel dropped out the race after overseas ballots were sent out.
"I don't have any disagreements with Ms. Holderfield. This is a disagreement about what the law says and how the law should be applied here," Hulten said. "I think it's wise to remember that voters have rights here, too. And 8,133 voters voted for Rick Winkel. I don't think any of us want to get into a situation where an election authority just has the discretion to just ignore 8,133 votes."
Winkel has said he will formally withdraw as a candidate after the ballots are certified.
When asked Tuesday morning if she would file a legal challenge to the March 20 election result, Hodlerfield said "all options are on the table."
"And they will remain there until I have secured enough of the precinct committeemen votes to feel like I can walk into that room and know that I will win," Holderfield said. "It's that simple."
Republican Party precinct committeemen will determine a nominee on April 12.
"Our top priority is that we conduct an open and fair process to nominate a candidate for Circuit Clerk," said Champaign County Republican Central Committee Treasurer Habeeb Habeeb. "All interested Republicans who are eligible to serve as Circuit Clerk, including Stephanie Holderfield are encouraged to apply."
Holderfield said more than half of the precinct committeemen have committed to appointing her as the nominee.
On the Democratic ticket for Champaign County Circuit Clerk, Barb Wysocki won a three-way Democratic Primary by just 16 votes.
A candidate for Champaign County Circuit Clerk said she doesn't want to sue the County Clerk's office over its decision to count the votes in favor of her opponent in last week's Republican primary.
Election results show Stephanie Holderfield lost to Rick Winkel by 245 votes, even though Winkel withdrew his candidacy in early February. Speaking Monday with her attorney, Mark Hewitt, by her side, Holderfield said votes cast for Winkel should not be counted since he dropped out of the race.
"I hope to move forward in a positive manner as a Republican in Champaign County," Holderfield said. "I think it's very important that everyone understand that we may have some hiccups in the road but it's how we come through those hiccups, those bumps that make us better for it."
In cases where a candidate drops out of a race, the Illinois State Board of Elections has said votes for that candidate should be ignored. That recommendation is binding for state races, but only advisory on local elections.
The Champaign County Republican Party said a weighted vote will be conducted by precinct committeemen to determine a nominee, which could happen sometime in the next month. Holderfield said she is confident she will get the support needed to head to the General Election in November.
Winkel has said he will formally withdraw as a candidate after the ballots are certified
Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn visits Mary Ann Pettigrew, a long-time resident of Danville, Illinois. Pettigrew spent a number of years working as a Registered Nurse for the Santa Fe Railroad, for an oil company in the Middle East and St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. She came back to Danville in the early 1970s and has lived at the house on Buchanan Street ever since.
(With production assistance from Crystal Kang)
Robert Easter takes the helm as president of the University of Illinois on July 1, when the resignation of current President Michael Hogan takes effect. Easter earned his doctorate at the U of I in the early 1970s before taking a faculty position there. He recently served as Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and then interim Provost and Chancellor on the Urbana campus. The university has gone through a rough period over the last few years marked by an embarrassing admissions scandal, and the resignations of two presidents.
Easter will stay on as president for two years, and he tells Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that he's ready to help move the university forward.
Despite Rick Winkel's win Tuesday night against Stephanie Holderfield in the Republican primary for Champaign County Circuit Clerk, Winkel said he will decline the nomination.
Election results show Winkel won by 245 votes. Winkel dropped out of the race on Feb. 8 to accept a new job with the University of Illinois, but his name still appeared on the ballot.
Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said Winkel's name was still on ballots since he missed deadlines for certifying them, and when they're mailed to overseas voters.
"I believe that it's my job to count the votes as the votes were cast as an omniscient election authority and says, 'Even though we had 4,000 people who voted for a candidate who didn't run, I'm going to pretend that those votes didn't exist, and I'm not going to report them,'" Hulten said.
Hulten said he expects his office to certify Winkel as the nomination soon, and it's up to Winkel to decline it.
Winkel said that is exactly what he intends to do.
"When I withdrew from the race several weeks ago, I announced my retirement from active partisan politics," Winkel said. "Things are going very well at the University and I have no second-thoughts about my decision to withdraw from the race. Who the candidate will be is up to the local Republican Party."
Hulten said it would then be up to the county's GOP Central Committee to fill the vacancy, either by Holderfield or someone else.
Since Winkel bested Holderfield by nearly 250 votes, he will be certified as the winner in a final tally. Acting County Republican Chair Habeeb Habeeb said that means a weighted vote will be conducted by precinct committeemen, likely sometime in April for a new nomination.
He said the party will take applications from Holderfield and others interested. But Habeeb said the changeover in precinct committeemen doesn't make her shoo-in for the nomination.
"Stephanie has a good chance, but there are also other people interested as well," Habeeb said. "We'll just have to go through the process, and see how it goes."
Habeeb said name recognition may have been the reason many people voted for Winkel.
Holderfield suspects many of the votes that Winkel received were from people who didn't realize he had dropped out of the race.
"I am not sure what the next step in this process will be, however I am exploring every option that is available," Holderfield said. "I believe that I have earned the right to remain on the ballot as the Republican nominee and I feel certain that the elected precinct committeeman will see that this hard work should be rewarded."
Habeeb denies claims that voters deliberately sabotaged Holderfield's campaign, and was surprised that she lost.
Meanwhile, Barb Wysocki won a three-way Democratic Primary for Circuit Clerk Tuesday by just 16 votes. The margin is so close that the runner-up, Lori Hansen, has called them into question.
There is a chance the final vote count could change in two weeks, when additional ballots are counted. These include provisional ballots, which have been challenged, but could still be ruled valid, and mail ballots that were postmarked before the primary, but have until this Friday to arrive at the county clerk's office.
Hulten said all those ballots will be counted on Tuesday, April 3. But he doubts that will change the final outcome because he thinks those ballots will probably fall along the same percentages as the rest of the vote.
"I don't have any reason to believe that the 100, or 80 potential outstanding Democratic ballots --- there's no reason to believe that they are going to go 80% for one candidate, or 80% for the other candidate, given that everything else in the county was essentially split so closely between them," Hulten said.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Nortrup said a body discovered Sunday behind a house on Hedge Road is that of Renard Jackson.
The 49-year old Champaign man was reported missing from that same neighborhood in November. Champaign Police confirmed the fingerprints from an autopsy were a positive match for Jackson. His body was discovered found under a pile of debris, which was hidden from plain view.
"The Champaign Police Department extends our deepest sympathies and condolences to Renard Jackson's family," Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said. "We would also like to thank the community members, business owners and media outlets who heeded the call to assist the department with this search. My heart goes out to everyone who knew Renard, for it was evident that he belonged to a strong and tightly-knit community that cared for him."
The Champaign Police Department is treating this case as an active homicide investigation.
Northrup said preliminary autopsy results are pending at this time due to the suspicious circumstances of Jackson's death. An investigation by Champaign Police and the Coroner's Office is ongoing.
Front-runner Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary with ease Tuesday night, defeating Rick Santorum in yet another industrial state showdown and padding his already-formidable delegate lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney triumphed after benefitting from a crushing advantage in the television advertising wars, and as his chief rival struggled to overcome self-imposed political wounds in the marathon race to pick an opponent to Democratic President Barack Obama.
Returns from 29 percent of the state's precincts showed Romney gaining 55 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for Santorum, 9 percent for Ron Paul and 7 percent for Newt Gingrich.
Preliminary exit poll results showed Romney preferred by primary goers who said the economy was the top issue in the campaign, and overwhelmingly favored by those who said an ability to defeat Obama was the quality they most wanted in a nominee.
The primary capped a week in which the two campaigns seemed to be moving in opposition directions - Romney increasingly focused on the general election battle against Obama while Santorum struggled to escape self-created controversies.
Most recently, he backpedaled after saying on Monday that the economy wasn't the main issue of the campaign. "Occasionally you say some things where you wish you had a do-over," he said later.
Over the weekend, he was humbled in the Puerto Rico primary after saying that to qualify for statehood the island commonwealth should adopt English as an official language.
While pre-primary polls taken several days ago in Illinois suggested a close race, Romney and Restore Our future, a super Pac that backs him, unleashed a barrage of campaign ads to erode Santorum's standing. One ad accused the former Pennsylvania senator of changing his principles while serving in Congress, while two others criticized him for voting to raise the debt limit, raise his own pay as a lawmaker and side with former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to support legislation allowing felons the right to vote.
In all, Romney and Restore Our Future outspent Santorum and a super PAC that backs him by $3.5 million to $500,000, an advantage of 7-1.
Neither Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul campaigned extensively in Illinois.
Romney and Santorum did, though, and not always in respectful tones.
"Senator Santorum has the same economic lightweight background the president has," Romney said at one point. "We're not going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight."
Santorum had a tart reply. "If Mitt Romney's an economic heavyweight, we're in trouble."
Including Romney's victory last weekend in Puerto Rico, the former Massachusetts governor had 522 delegates going into the Illinois voting, according to The Associated Press count. Santorum had 253, Gingrich 135 and Paul 50. If Romney continues on the same pace, he will lock up the nomination before the convention opens in Tampa, Fla., next August.
However, the Santorum campaign argued Tuesday that the race for delegates is closer than that.
Santorum contends the Republican National Committee at the convention will force Florida and Arizona to allocate their delegates on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all as the state GOP decided. Romney won both states.
On Tuesday, about four in 10 voters interviewed as they left their polling places said they were evangelical or born again. That's about half the percentage in last week's primary states of Alabama and Mississippi, where Santorum won narrowly. Despite an unusually lengthy race for the nomination, less than a third of those voting said in the polling-place survey they hoped the primary season would come to a quick end even if that meant their candidate might lose the nomination.
The findings came from preliminary results from the survey of 1,078 Illinois Republican voters, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The exit poll was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research at 35 randomly selected polling places around the state.
As Illinois Republicans voted on Tuesday, Romney raised more than $1.3 million at a luncheon in Chicago. He planned an election-night event in nearby Schaumburg, Ill., while Santorum was in Gettysburg, Pa., site of Illinois favorite son Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech.
Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, has been seeking to make up in broadcast interviews what he has lacked in advertising money.
On Monday, his campaign began before sun-up and ended well after dark, including four appearances at rallies around the state as well as an extraordinary 19 radio and television interviews. He accused Romney anew of putting his signature on a Massachusetts health insurance law that is similar to the one Obama pushed through Congress.
Romney cut short his planned time in Puerto Rico, site of a primary last weekend, to maximize his time in Illinois. He has eked out victories in other big industrial states over the past few weeks, beginning in Michigan on Feb. 28 and Ohio on March 6. Defeat in any would be likely to trigger fresh anxiety within the party about his ability to wrap up the nomination.
Illinois was the 28th state to hold a primary or caucus in the selection of delegates to the nominating convention, about halfway through the calendar of a Republican campaign that has remained competitive longer than most.
A change in party rules to reduce the number of winner-take-all primaries has accounted for the duration of the race. But so has Romney's difficulty in securing the support of the most conservative of the GOP political base. Santorum and Gingrich have struggled to emerge as the front-runner's sole challenger from the right.
Whatever the reasons, the race appeared unlikely to end soon, with Santorum and even Gingrich vowing to campaign into the convention.
Next up is a primary Saturday in Louisiana where Santorum projects confidence following twin triumphs a week ago in Alabama and Mississippi. There are 25 delegates at stake.
Behind Louisiana is a three-primary night in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin on April 3, with 95 delegates combined at stake.
Santorum is not on the ballot in Washington, D.C., but is ahead in opinion polls in Maryland. Wisconsin - adjacent to Illinois - shapes up as the most competitive primary of the night.
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