Illinois Public Media News
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
A Sangamon County inquest Thursday determined the late Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died of a close-contact bullet wound to the heart in a vehicle parked at his home Dec. 14.
Investigators say they found no note from the 53-year-old Democrat. They also say there were no signs of foul play and no drugs or alcohol in his body.
The scene was bloody when police responded to a 911 hang-up call to Davlin's home, according to Illinois State Police Sergeant Brad Sterling
Sterling described the scene to jurors during an inquest into Davlin's death. He testified Davlin was found in the front, passenger seat of his white Lincoln Navigator parked in his garage. He said while the car was running, there was no indication of carbon monoxide poisoning as the garage door was left half open.
Sterling said police suspect Davlin used a revolver to shoot himself in the chest. He said the bullet went through Davlin's heart, through his body, and was found in the seat cushion. The cordless, home phone Davlin presumably used to call police was in the cup holder next to his body.
According to Sterling, investigators found no note at the home, and he said there was no sign of foul play nor of violence. Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone also told jurors a toxicology report showed no alcohol nor drugs in Davlin's system.
The entire inquest, including jury deliberations, lasted less than an hour. Sergeant Sterling said the state police investigation is expected to wrap up soon. Neither Sterling, Boone, nor anyone on the seven-member jury was willing to answer reporters' questions after the proceedings.
Davlin died the morning he was to show up at a court hearing to give a financial accounting for an estate he was handling. The IRS also said he owed $90,000 in back taxes.
The two-term mayor had recently announced he would not seek re-election.
University of Illinois trustees have re-elected Christopher Kennedy as their chairman.
Trustees meeting in Chicago on Thursday picked Kennedy as the leader for the next year of the governing board that oversees the university and its three campuses. Kennedy was first elected in September 2009. Lawrence Eppley was his predecessor but resigned over the university's admissions scandal. Kennedy was one of six trustees appointed in September 2009 by Gov. Pat Quinn to fill vacancies left by resignations related to that scandal.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago.
Quinn on Wednesday reappointed another trustee, Karen Hasara of Springfield. The governor also picked two new trustees, Chicago-area lawyers Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada.
The founder of Jimmy John's sandwich shops says he's considering moving his company's headquarters from Champaign to Florida because of Illinois' new tax increase.
Jimmy John Liautaud told the News-Gazette on Tuesday that he's gathering information on a potential move and will ask the company's board to decide.
Liautaud said he could absorb the increased costs but doesn't believe he should have to.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the income tax increase last week to help address billions of dollars in state budget shortfalls. And during a visit to the University of Illinois Urbana campus Wednesday, the governor said he hoped Liataud would reconsider any move out of the state. Quinn said a tax increase was necessary to get Illinois out of a "fiscal emergency".
"I inherited a budget deficit of billions and billions of dollars when I became governor," Quinn said. "I was direct right from the beginning. I said we needed to use the income tax to pay our bills"
With Quinn's signing of tax hike legislation last week, Illinois' corporate income tax rate increased from 4.8 to 7.0 percent. Quinn says that's still one of the lower corporate tax rates in the Midwest. But Florida, where Liautaud is considering a move for his company, has a even lower corporate income tax rate --- a flat 5.5 percent.
Jimmy John's headquarters employs 100 people in Champaign. The privately held chain has more than 1,000 sandwich shops around the country.
Liautaud said he recently moved his family to Florida from Champaign.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Three of the 10 seats on the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees are vacant after the appointments expired, and it isn't clear how or when Gov. Pat Quinn will fill them.
The terms of Frances Carroll, Karen Hasara and Carlos Tortolero expired Sunday. Quinn has yet to say whether they'll be reappointed or replaced.
Hasara says she's spoken with the governor's staff but doesn't know when or how Quinn will act. In a visit to the U of I's Urbana campus Wednesday, the Governor would only say he'd have an announcement soon.
Quinn appointed Hasara and Tortolero in 2009 to fill seats left vacant when other board members resigned over a university admissions scandal. Carroll refused to resign.
"We had a problem that came up in 2009, and I appointed new trustees, and they, I think, carried out the reforms that I wanted and the people wanted," Quinn said.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Five people seeking a vacant Champaign City council seat have interviewed for the post.
But it's still not clear whether the council will appoint one of two people seeking the District 5 seat solely on an interim basis, or one of the three also conducting write-in campaigns for April's election. At least three council members say they will support Linda Cross or Steve Meid, who don't want the seat long-term.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart contends appointing one of the three also running in April would give them an unfair advantage. Council member Michael LaDue said she agrees, as does Karen Foster.
"It's just an unfair advantage in this situation," Foster said. "It's different if you're an incumbent already and you're running for election and win or lose. It's an appointed incumbency, so to speak."
And write-in hopeful Katherine Emanuel said while she calls herself the best candidate, she also suggests the council not appoint someone running in April.
"Even people I know who are pretty involved in things didn't know who their council member was," Emanuel said. "And I would encourage you (the city council) to not take the responsibility as a governmental representative for selecting the person who will represent the district, but kind of put that responsibility on the shoulders on both the citizenry and the candidates."
Emanuel is running to hold the seat until 2012, along with Paul Faraci and Jim McGuire. At least one Council member, Marci Dodds, said she would appoint of one those three. She said appointing an interim on Feb. 1 means that person isn't responsible for their actions after three months.
"So that means that lame duck isn't accountable to anybody," Dodds said. "Not to the constituents unless they want to be, not to the council unless they want to be, and not to city staff unless they feel like it that day. And I'm not saying anybody here would be like that, I'm just saying that's a real risk."
The Champaign City Council will make the interim appointment Feb. 1, and that person will serve through April.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is weighing in on the death penalty as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn mulls over whether to repeal it in the state.
Durbin said on a federal level, the death penalty should be left open on high-profile cases, like terrorism or treason where he said there is less of a chance that prejudice could lead to someone being falsely executed. But Durbin noted that on a regional level, states should decide for themselves how they want to enforce it.
"I think that on a state basis, I will leave it to the governor to make his own choice," Durbin said, who noted that a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois has been in place for more than a decade. "I think we are right in Illinois at this point in our history to have suspended the death penalty, and should continue to do so."
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already ended capital punishment. Governor Quinn has said he supports the death penalty when it is properly applied, but it is still unclear how Quinn will move forward with the legislation. More than a dozen death row inmates have been exonerated in Illinois.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Illinois' senior Senator, Dick Durbin, says concrete action can come out of the recent shootings at a congressional event in Tucson Arizona. The attack that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) has led to a flurry of proposals in reaction, from gun control measures to a clampdown on incivility in politics. In an interview with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers, Durbin said he thinks some of those ideas can progress beyond the talking stage.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved a budget proposal for next year that it will send to lawmakers in Springfield.
After the General Assembly passed a massive 67-percent income tax hike, it is uncertain how Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature will respond to the request. The ISBE is asking for $709.4 million in additional state support for Fiscal Year 2012. Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the funding request will be approved.
Fergus explained that in formulating the proposal, the ISBE considered feedback from the public and the state's Education Funding Advisory Board, which pushed for a much larger $4 billion increase in education funding.
"We know the economic reality is not going to support that," she said.
State support for education has plunged in the last couple of years by about $450 million.
A bulk of the money requested by the ISBE would support General State Aid and mandated categoricals that have seen cuts, like transportation funding. Also included in the budget request is a $3.5 million increase for bilingual education, a $2.3 million increase to improve teacher training programs, and a $900,000 increase in the amount of funding for feasibility studies as school districts consider consolidations.
"We're not really talking about expanding a lot of programs," Fergus said. "Some of this increase will go toward a little bit of expansion, but really this is about restoring funds."
The Illinois State Board of Education will include its budget recommendation as part of the overall Fiscal Year 2012 state budget.
An Illinois law requiring a daily moment of silence in public schools is back in effect after a 2-year hiatus.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois State Board of Education notified schools Friday that the law is back.
A federal injunction barring the moment of silence has been in place for two years.
Illinois legislators approved the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act in October 2007. The law was challenged in court by Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman overturned the law in 2009, but a federal appeals court ruled the law is constitutional because it doesn't specify prayer.
Gettleman reportedly lifted the injunction Thursday.
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