Illinois Public Media News
State grants are going to several projects in eastern Illinois that will make the way clearer for bicyclists and pedestrians. They range from nearly $626,000 to add bike lanes and walkway improvements to Urbana's Main Street to more than $1.24 million for a new bike path through Danville's Lincoln Park Historic District.
Another project getting funding is a proposed bike trail on a former railroad bed between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Steve Rugg heads the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which is working with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District on the so-called Kickapoo Trail. Rugg said the nearly $900,000 grant would help pay for land acquisition, but he said talks with the current owner of the rail bed have been deadlocked.
"We continue to work with CSX," said Rugg. "To this point we have not reached agreement, and it remains to be seen whether we'll actually get the acquisition completed."
The Illinois State Department of Transportation is giving out more than $6 million for the trails to help promote alternatives to driving. The village of Mahomet is also getting $1.18 million to help develop a pathway along Lake of the Woods Road, and the village of Rantoul will get to work on a bike path with a $782,000 grant.
With less than a week until Election Day, it looks like a tight race for Illinois Governor.
Pre-election polls show Republican State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington has a chance to take the office from incumbent Pat Quinn, a Democrat.
Brady said if he is elected, he will give up a leadership role in his family's real estate development business.
Governor Quinn has tried to nail Brady for using his position as a state senator to help line his own pockets. Published reports detail that Brady voted for legislation affecting land near Champaign that his family's home construction firm had purchased with plans to develop it. The project did not go forward, but the measure would have upped the land's property value. Quinn said Brady's vote was a conflict of interest
"There are no conflicts with my business and state government," he said. "But being Governor of the State of Illinois is a full-time job. I will recuse myself of the management responsibility I've had in the business and focus full time on the state of Illinois."
Still, that is a signal he will not fully leave the business behind. The firm has fallen on hard times in recent years, taking losses to the point Brady owed no federal income taxes.
Quinn has also attacked Brady for not paying taxes while Brady said it shows how Illinois businesses have suffered under Democratic leadership.
Brady's running mate is Jason Plummer, a 27-year-old who used his family's wealth to propel his primary campaign. Plummer has never before held state office.
Quinn is living proof a Lieutenant Governor could be moved into the state's top spot. He became Governor after Rod Blagojevich's removal from office. Critics say Plummer is too inexperienced.
"Jason Plummer has a great deal of experience at a family business, not even a small business, a large business, that he has been involved in," Brady said. "He's a member of the Navy, Reserves, and and he's got a great deal of experience. I think his experience puts him in a great position to help lead as Lieutenant Governor of the state and I'm proud to have him on the ticket."
However, Brady said there's "room to adjust" Illinois' method of letting primary voters elect governor and lieutenant governor nominees separately in the primary. Brady did not pick Plummer to share the ticket. Only after the general election do the winners run as a team. Quinn also ran separately from Blagojevich in two primaries.
Other contenders in the gubernatorial race include the Green Party's Rich Whitney, Libertarian Lex Green and independent Scott Lee Cohen.
Heavy turnout has made an early voting site on the University of Illinois campus a success, according to the Champaign County Clerk.
Mark Shelden said when the Gregory Place location closed Thursday, 857 people had cast their ballot. Meanwhile, 2,981 had cast their ballots at Urbana's Brookens Center, meaning with absentee totals thus far, a total of 5,386 had already voted. But at the campus polling site, Shelden said only about 10-percent of the voters were U of I students. He said voters from all over the county came to the site over the 18-day early voting period, including faculty and people living in rural areas.
The campus polling site was mandated by a new state law, but Shelden suggested an alternative, if legislators are willing to fund it.
"You could do two or three days in Mahomet, two or three days in St. Joseph, a couple days in the western campus area and a couple of days in the eastern campus area," he said. "I mean, there are ways to do it that can be fair for everybody and at the same time, not overly tax all our resources."
Shelden selected Gregory Place over the Illini Union, saying the heavy political activity there made it inappropriate site for early voting. Democrats on the Champaign County Board and the U of I Student Senate opposed the decision, saying the Union would be free to use and easier to find.
David Pileski, who chairs the Student Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs, said a more open dialogue with Shelden may have produced a compromise.
"There's Foellinger Hall, which houses a lot of space that students could vote early in, as well as other buildings that could be utilized on this campus had we dealt with it in advance prior to a couple of months," Pileski said.
This was the first election to include a state-mandated campus polling site. Nolan Drea, the Vice President of the Student Senate, suggested legislators write a stronger bill that specifies that all campus early voting take place at a university-owned location, like a campus union.
Shelden said voters have not complained about the Gregory street location, or paying the parking meters there. Champaign County's total of early votes for the 2006 election was less than 4,000. Shelden says with the additional absentee votes and ballots from voters in nursing homes, Champaign County will likely have cast more than 6,000 ballots before polls even open on Tuesday.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
The job market in Illinois is showing a sign of improvement.
The unemployment rate for September in the Champaign-Urbana area fell from 9.4% in August to 8.3% in September - that's .4 less than at this time a year ago.
The state Department of Employment Security says every other metropolitan area in the state also saw a lower jobless rate in September compared to September of 2009 - the first time a statewide decrease has taken place since early 2007.
About 800 more people in the Champaign area were working in September over August according to the monthly figures. Danville's unemployment rate fell in the last month to 10.8% - Decatur's jobless rate dropped to 10.9%. Bloomington-Normal continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in Illinois at 7.2%.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
East Central Illinois Republicans say Governor Pat Quinn is lying when saying that the early release of prisoners has been 'stopped cold.'
Mahomet State Representative Chapin Rose said the governor's latest campaign ads are misleading. He cites the Department of Corrections data that indicates more than 2,000 prisoners, including violent offenders, that have been set free since July.
"The day his ads began to run, that very day they released (someone convicted of) aggravated unlawful use of a weapon," Rose said. "There's a murderer in here. Aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Battery of a pregnant person. Numerous firearms offenses. All let out since (Quinn) told the people he stopped the program."
In July, a bill sponsored by Senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) went into effect requiring the Department of Corrections to require public notification of the prisoners granted Meritorious Good Time Release.
Early this year, Governor Quinn did away with a program called MGT Push, but also suspended all other early release programs. Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for Illinois' Department of Corrections, called the accusations "completely false and political posturing."
"The Governor terminated MGT Push as of December of 2009 and no prisoners have been released under MGT Push," Elman said. "MGT was suspended in January of 2010, and no awards have been granted since that time."
Rose noted while the programs are technically over, the state has not revoked the good-time credit of prisoners who earned it, and that is why some prisoners are still being set free. He said Governor Quinn is relying on semantics and not awarding any new credit to prisoners in order to claim the programs have been suspended or shut down.
An advisory referendum on the Champaign County ballot next week asks voters if they want their county board to have fewer members, but more districts.
The referendum question on the Champaign County November 2nd ballot reads: "Shall the Champaign County Board size be reduced from 27 members elected from nine multi-member districts with three members elected from each district, to 22 members elected from eleven multi-member districts with two members elected from each district?"
District 4 County Board member Greg Knott (R-Rural St Joseph) said shrinking the board from 27 to 22 seats is a way to weed out less active members. At the same time, he said increasing the number of districts from nine to 11 would ensure better representation and less gerrymandering of district boundaries. For instance, he said rural representation has been diluted on the county board, because rural areas are often combined with urban areas to make up a district.
"To achieve pure rural representation with the current structure is difficult," Knott said. "Having 11 districts really allows more flexibility for those that draw the map to come up with those types of districts."
However, District 7 County Board member Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) noted that the Champaign County Farm Bureau has gone on record opposing a change in county board size. He said switching to more, but smaller, county board districts would hurt rural representation on the board.
"If we shrink the board and move to different districts, the population of the cities will definitely overtake the population of the rural areas," Kurtz argued.
Under the proposed change, county board districts would be represented by two members each, instead of three. Knott said the change would lead to county board members who are more accountable because they serve a smaller area, and voters would have fewer county board members to track.
"I think when we added that other element of more districts, that's where we hope to improve that quality," Knott explained. "Smaller districts may encourage more competitive elections."
Still, Kurtz said those changes would lead to less diversity on a county board that needs to reflect a diverse population of urban, rural and student residents. He said the current county board is an effective one, where members with diverse views are able to work together on legislation such as the county's wind farm ordinance, and the Land Resource Management Plan.
"If we had major conflicts, if we couldn't get legislation through, if we were paralyzed, if we weren't able to work together, I would say we need to make some major changes," Kurtz said. "But I haven't seen that".
Despite his own feelings, Kurtz said he will follow whatever the voters advise him to do when they vote on the referendum November 2nd. Knott said he expects most county board members to do that same. If the referendum passes and the county board heeds its advice, the number of county board members would change with the 2012 election.
The television airwaves are littered with loud political ads, but chances are you're not seeing any from the race in Illinois' 15th congressional district. The incumbent in that District is holding tight to his campaign war chest, and the Democratic challenger hasn't built up the budget to make many media buys. As Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers reports, the incumbent has kept an unusually low profile.
After sitting vacant since the spring of 2009, a prospective buyer has surfaced for Urbana's Lincoln Hotel.
The city council has given preliminary approval to a deal between the city and former commodities trader, Xiao Jin Yuan. Yuan owns a Hampton Inn in Crescent City, California. He said the Lincoln's European exterior is what makes it unique, but the interior is a different story.
"Walking in there, it's just like walking into a dark castle, or something like that," Yuan said. "It's a little bit depressing, that's my personal feeling. I need to talk to my architect and interior designer. The lighting has to be changed. It's too dark."
The Lincoln dates back to 1921 and designer Joseph Royer.
Yuan formerly lived in England. He said he is used to this kind of structure, and sees potential, as long the hotel can offer modern amenities.
"Some of the people like the old style," Yuan said. "I already own a modern hotel. Why shouldn't I try something new?"
Yuan is working to purchase the Lincoln hotel from its current owner, Marine Bank. Under the agreement with the city of Urbana, he would receive $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for initial improvements. Yuan is required to return that money if he sells the hotel before it reopens, but Yuan said he plans on operating the Lincoln until he retires. Additional TIF funds in the $1.4 million dollar agreement would be used for development over a five-year period.
(Photo courtesy of lindsayloveshermac/flickr)
Urbana Alderman David Gehrig is resigning, effective after next Monday's City Council meeting.
A research programmer at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Gehrig would only say he is stepping down due to additional work responsibilities.
"Rather than coming in and doing an 80-percent job or a 50-percent job," Gehrig said. "I think it makes more sense for me to step aside and have someone else come in who can do it do that degree.
Gehrig said he came to the decision about a month ago. The Ward 2 Democrat said he will have more say after next Monday's meeting. Gehrig was elected to a 4-year term in April 2009, but has served since August of 2008, when he was nominated to fill the remainder of another term. He said hopes to see a replacement named as soon as possible, but did not offer any suggestions.
Council members applauded Gehrig following his announcement in Monday night's Committee of the Whole meeting.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
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