Illinois Public Media News
Sen. Roland Burris' appointment by a disgraced governor made him an oddity and something of an outcast in Washington. But on Thursday he said that his time in the U.S. Senate, however short, was a "towering testament" to the American Dream.
Delivering a farewell speech on the Senate floor, Burris said he was proud of what he accomplished in just under two years in Washington.
"Together we have achieved passage of the most ambitious legislative agenda since the Great Depression," Burris said. He called his time in the Senate "the honor of my lifetime."
Burris cited more than 60 bills he sponsored and 300 others he co-sponsored during his time in office. He said he was particularly proud of his work on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul and increasing funding for Pell Grants.
The Democrat was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris will make way for Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won an election to fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term on Election Day. Kirk will be sworn in after Thanksgiving.
Burris is the Senate's only black member and when he leaves, there will be none -- a fact Burris said was painful to him. He used much of his speech to call for more diversity in government.
The great-grandson of a slave, Burris said his time in the Senate was "a remarkable testament to our nation's ability to correct the wrongs of generations past," but also said that is departure is a "solemn reminder of how far we have to go."
"I am today the only black American member of this Senate ... when the one 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable."
Burris has not announced what he plans to do after leaving office, but is expected to return to Illinois.
Nine candidates are vying to fill out the remaining two years of State Senator Dan Rutherford's term in the 53rd district - now that he has been named Illinois' next Treasurer. Republican leaders from nine counties will caucus on Saturday, and may take a straw vote to narrow the field of candidates down to three or four.
But McLean County GOP Chairman John Parrott Jr said a final vote vote is not expected until after the Thanksgiving holiday, probably December 4.
The field widened Wednesday, when State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton withdrew from competition for family reasons. Onarga State Representative and Iroquois County Party Chair Shane Cultra said it only seems logical to pursue the seat after eight years in the House, and 14 years before that on the Iroquois County Board, but Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman is also pursuing the seat. Cultra noted that could be a problem in Eastern Illinois.
"Because we're splitting the vote over here, and there's several new people now that are entering the race from McLean County and I think there's possibly a couple from Tazewell County," Cultra said. "So on the first ballot, I don't see anyone having enough votes to win."
Sommer's decision revives the candidacy of Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman who had expressed interest until deferring to Sommer. Zimmerman said he would do well in Springfield.
"I think I bring a lot of things to the table," Zimmerman said. "One would be just a lot of common sense. And my experience on the county board has taught me that 'you know what? We just can't spend more than we have."
The other front-runner for the post had been Jason Barickman, a Champaign Attorney and Champaign County party chair.
The GOP chairs will conduct a weighted vote on Saturday, based on the counties' populations. The largest ones in the Senate district are Tazewell, McLean, and Champaign Counties,but Cultra contended that the senator may not even emerge from Saturday's vote since multiple ballots may have to be cast for one person to receive just over 50-percent of the vote. He said names with the fewest votes will be removed from the ballot on each attempt.
Other announced candidates include former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin, University of Illinois Security consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board member John Ackerman, Washington Mayor Gary Manier, former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy, and McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorenson.
Champaign's Virginia Theater is now without a marquee.
The sign that is been part of the theater since the 1940's came down Tuesday. The city's park district opted in June to replace it with one resembling the 1921 original.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it is likely the theater will re-open without the new marquee in place. The Virginia closed six months ago, so crews could redo the lobby, which included plaster and electrical work, and renovated concessions. Private donations paid for the project.
Preservationists have called the marquee the Virginia's most defining feature. Auteberry said the controversy that initially arose over replacing that sign prompted the park district to make it a separate project.
"We actually pulled it out of the original planning process for the renovation so that the (Park District) Board had an opportunity to further study what we were looking at doing, and the replacement options for the marquee" Auteberry said. "So the whole process just got started a little later than we had originally anticipated."
Auteberry said the Park District board will sign off on a design for a new marquee at its meeting next month. She said the board plans to hold a re-opening event, a kind of open house, sometime in January. The Park District contends a new marquee would show off more of the Virginia's architectural significance.
Preservation planner Alice Novak said the sign change could impact the theater's position on the National Register of Historic Places. She said she expects Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency will consider such a recommendation.
"It could possibly change the standing," Novak said. "I have no doubt that somebody will present materials to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see about de-listing the building from the National Register."
Novak added that could hurt publicity for the old theater. She sits on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Park District)
Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.
If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.
"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."
The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.
Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.
"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."
Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.
Months after a federal government U-turn in the long-running FutureGen clean-coal project, six Illinois locations have expressed interest in hosting a carbon dioxide storage site that could mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
The bidders behind one of those locations, though, said Tuesday that their interest is laced with a heavy dose of skepticism after watching what appeared to be politics almost derail the project and then make radical changes in it.
The six locations that submitted bids before Monday's deadline are the city of Quincy; Christian County; the city of Tuscola along with Douglas County; Morgan County; Pike County; and the city of Vandalia along with Fayette County, FutureGen Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The alliance is made up of coal companies and other firms working with the federal government on the project.
"Our team of scientific and engineering experts has already begun review of those proposals, and we look forward to making an announcement on the final site in early 2011,'' FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys said.
Until earlier this year the plan called for building a new power plant in Mattoon, Ill. and storing the carbon dioxide it produced just outside town. But the Department of Energy decided instead to use $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funding to refit an existing coal-burning Ameren plant in Meredosia, Ill., with different technology and pipe the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, to another location for underground storage. That site would also become home to an education center to train people to build carbon dioxide pipelines.
The department said that, with delays in the FutureGen project, other projects had already bypassed the technology it had hoped to use in Mattoon.
The project had already been shelved once by the administration of President George W. Bush, only to be revived under President Barack Obama.
Many people in Mattoon tired of what they saw as politics holding up and changing the project, and the town withdrew.
Tuscola was among the four finalists, along with Mattoon, for the original project, and already had in hand much of the environmental and geological testing needed to bid to store the project's carbon dioxide, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. The area is interested, he said, but needs to know more from the Department of Energy about its plans.
"There's definitely a level of cynicism that we all have,'' he said. "It's obvious with the project, once it's gotten out of the site selection process and has been in the political realm, that's where it's had some problems."
"While we're generally supportive of the concept, we still need to know a lot more,'' Moody said. "In order to do that, we need to keep our name in the game."
Looking at the potential jobs, officials in Vandalia aren't nearly as skeptical, Mayor Rick Gottman said.
Unemployment in the area was 10.2 percent in September, the most recent month for which the Illinois Department of Employment Security has data.
Over the past few years, one major employer, Orgill Inc., moved a distribution center and about 140 jobs out of state, Gottman said. Another, Graham Packaging, has reduced its work force from about 800 to roughly 200.
"We're in a high unemployment area right now,'' he said. "We're looking at ways to create jobs.
The Interim Dean of the University of Illinois' College of Media said the next several months will tell a lot about the department's structure.
The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looked at Media and three other colleges with fewer than 40 faculty members for cost savings. While the 'Stewarding Excellence' report endorsed no specific restructuring plan, the project team said the College of Media must evaluate its internal structure for long-term viability. College Interim Dean Jean Slater said some shared services were underway when the study started, in areas like information technology and human resources, but she said it is too early to see what the cost savings might be.
"At some point we have to assume the cost somehow, but if two colleges are sharing one HR person, or the HR function, then the efficiencies go up and the cost would be reduced individually," Slater said. "But I think it's hard to put a number to that right now."
Interim Dean Jan Slater said the challenge now is finding how large a structure it can support, since the college is solely dependent on tuition, but she said nothing is off limits.
"We do have somebody from outside looking at our information technology structure within the college, how we work things with WILL," Slater said. "Should we be doing more of that? And so we're looking at those kinds of things. We're going to be doing a space study after the first of the year after the construction with Greg Hall is done."
The project team reviewing the college says its biggest challenges include the Department of Advertising's request to transfer out of the college, and adapting the Journalism Department to the changing nature of the profession.
Slater was named Interim Dean of the College of Media in July. When her term is up in July 2012, she said questions about the College's size and mission need to be answered. WILL and Illinois Public Media are part of the College of Media. The same campus project team also reviewed the Schools of Social Work, Labor and Employee Relations, and the Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences.
The race for state treasurer ended with State Senator Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac) clinching a win over his Democratic opponent Robin Kelly. However, now the race for Rutherford's senate seat is heating up.
The front-running candidates are State Representative Keith Sommer (R-Morton) and Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman.
They have given stump speeches to McLean County Republicans in which they have painted themselves as conservative voices.
Barickman took aim at the current proposal in Springfield to increase gaming as a way to ease the state budget crisis.
"Isn't the thing that frustrates us the most that this state government continues to find ways or to dream of ways to get its hands on more dollars?" Barickman asked. "If they can find a way, they'll take it."
Barickman said he also opposes gambling expansion on moral grounds.
Meanwhile, Sommer described himself as a social as well as fiscal conservative, which he said reflects his eight years in the General Assembly.
"I am pro-life," he said. "My voting record says so. I am a strong supporter of the second amendment. My voting record says so. And additionally, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and my voting record says so."
Both candidates have substantial support among the nine GOP County Chairs who will take a weighted vote Saturday. The deciding voice will likely be McLean County's John Parrott who said only that he is leaning strongly toward one candidate.
At least three other candidates have also asked for consideration. Champaign County Precinct Committeeman John Bambenek said he does not have enough support to succeed Rutherford. However, he made a presentation to McLean County Republicans anyway. Bambenek said he is a stickler for constitutions, which he explained are intended to limit governmental power.
"We have a balanced budget clause in our state constitution," said Bambanek. "You cannot spend more than you have revenues - very simple. The last two years, we didn't even pretend to cook the books, We just said 'eh - we're ignoring that."
Former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin and former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy have expressed interest in the seat.
Nonprofit groups in Central Illinois can start applying for low-interest loans of up to $15,000.
The loans are being distributed by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, which received a $100,000 grant from the Marajen Stevick Foundation to run the program.
Joan Dixon, executive director of the Community Foundation, said the state's economic woes have had a ripple effect on many businesses, resulting in staff cuts and program reductions. Dixon said after reviewing more than 120 nonprofit groups, she found that the most pressing concern among struggling organizations was the state's five to six billion dollar backlog of unpaid bills. She said the loan is not meant to be a temporary solution.
"This would be a way - we hope - for a not-for-profit to bridge the gap between their situations right now, and when they get their state promised checks," she said. "If the situation is very dire, and $15,000 is just going to buy you another month, that might not be the right approach to take, but we would help them try to figure those kinds of things out."
Groups that apply for the loan would be charged a $25 dollar registration fee and required to show detailed financial records. The loans, which would carry a one to two percent interest rate, would have to be repaid within 12 months.
Dixon said she hopes the program can continue revolving in this way, so that many nonprofit groups can benefit from the loan.
The two party leaders are in place as the Champaign County Board organizes for another year.
Democrats on the board chose to re-elect current board chair Pius Weibel at a caucus last night, with Tom Betz as Vice-Chair. Weibel had faced competition from fellow board member Al Kurtz. Meanwhile, Republicans voted for Alan Nudo to succeed Greg Knott as its party's caucus chairman. Knott has decided to run for the Parkland College Board of Trustees. John Schroeder will serve as the Republicans' vice chair.
Democrats will retain a 15-12 advantage in the county board when it reconvenes next month. At that meeting the entire new board will choose its chair and vice-chair.
The race to replace Chicago's longtime mayor took better shape Sunday as two more candidates joined a crowded field that also includes former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a Chicago megachurch, both formally announced their campaigns during a busy weekend in the race to take over for Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley, who has led the country's third largest city for more than two decades, surprised many by announcing in September that he would not seek a seventh term.
The two Democrats and Emanuel, who made his official campaign announcement Saturday, pushed the field of declared candidates to five, and another well-known politician is expected to announce soon.
"We need a leader who will bring people out of this division and this turmoil to a place called unity and peace," Meeks told a roaring crowd of more than 400 supporters at a rally Sunday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Meeks, who got the backing of the former head of the Illinois Republican Party at the rally, focused heavily on his plans to improve the quality of Chicago public schools. It's a cause he has championed as a state legislator in his call for better school funding, which now relies on property taxes and can mean disparities between rich and poor areas in the state.
Earlier in the day, Davis also pledged to be a unifying force in the city who would represent the interests of all the city's residents.
"I will be the mayor for every racial and ethnic group, reaching out to all will be the benchmark of a Danny Davis administration," Davis told more than 100 supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel.
Davis, who has been in Congress since 1997, was tapped earlier this month by a coalition of black leaders as their preferred candidate over other finalists, including Meeks and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
Braun, the country's first black woman senator, has already opened a campaign office and plans an official announcement soon.
The coalition, which included elected officials, business owners and activists, had hoped to avoid splitting the black vote by uniting behind one candidate. Members said they chose Davis, who previously served on the Cook County Board and the Chicago City Council, because of his broad government experience.
Davis didn't offer specific policies at his Sunday announcement and admitted he didn't have the answers to all the city's problems, including its financial woes.
"All of us know that there are no simple solutions to very complex problems, and I don't pretend at the moment to have an answer to all our financial problems and the financial difficulties which face our city ... no one does," he said.
But Davis said he has never run from a problem and promised to work to create jobs and economic opportunities. He also said he would do everything in his power to save children from drug use, abuse, incarceration and poverty.
Davis was re-elected Nov. 2 with about 80 percent of the vote to another term representing a congressional district that spans economically and racially diverse areas from Chicago to the western suburbs.
The mayoral race also includes City Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, who have already declared.
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