Illinois Public Media News
Trailing Ohio State 4-1 late in the Big Ten tournament opener, Illinois had to win to keep its season alive and had just two outs left to do it.
Right on cue, the Illini produced four runs in the bottom of the ninth to rally - and they weren't the least bit surprised they did it.
Their whole season, in fact, has been one big comeback to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years. After opening the season 12-21, the Illini won 16 of their last 20 and won the conference tournament.
"We cut it close, I would say," coach Dan Hartleb said Thursday, laughing at his own understatement. "There's no doubt - we had to win the (Big Ten) tournament to get into the NCAA tournament."
The fourth-seeded Illini (28-25) will face No. 1 seed Cal State Fullerton (40-15) in Fullerton, Calif., on Friday. Illinois will play at least one more game over the weekend against either Stanford or Kansas State in the double-elimination regional.
The regional winner advances to the super regional round and a shot at going to the College World Series.
For the first time in a while, Illinois can lose Friday and keep playing, though pitcher Kevin Johnson isn't looking at the game that way. He said the now-or-never pressure suits him.
"I like to think about this game, it's make or break," said Johnson, a sophomore right-hander who will start Friday's game against the Titans. "I like to put that pressure on myself."
The Illini have played under that kind of pressure since their low point in April, a 4-1 loss to Eastern Illinois that left them in a deep hole. Hartleb said the game ended with a "pointed and direct" conversation with three key players - first baseman Matt Dittman and outfielders Willie Argo and Casey McMurray - whose early struggles explained a lot of what was wrong with Illinois.
"It was an ugly loss. We couldn't hit, we couldn't field. We played terrible," Hartleb said. "I just told them, 'You guys have to start producing for us to be successful. Forget about the past; we're gonna' judge you by your next 19 games.'"
Over the next couple of weeks, Hartleb said, those three came around and they brought the rest of the team with them.
Fullerton's 40 wins, No. 13 ranking and the 20 straight seasons the Titans have made it to at least the NCAA regionals sound like good reasons for the Illini to be worried. The Illini's Johnson said the Titans play small ball, an offensive style he prefers facing as a pitcher.
"We can't put any more pressure on ourselves," said Johnson, speaking by telephone from beside a pool in Southern California. "We've got nothing to lose.
The daily deal website Groupon has filed to sell shares to the public, stoking excitement about a new tech boom in Chicago.
Groupon plans to raise as much $750 million and says it will use the money for working capital, including buying other companies.
Last year, Forbes called Groupon the fastest-growing company ever, and anticipation of a Groupon IPO has been growing ever since the company reportedly spurned a $6 billion buyout offer from Google.
Waverly Deutsch is a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She says this is a huge deal for Chicago's tech scene.
"Either in 2000 or 2001, BusinessWeek featured a cover article that was, 'How Did Chicago Entirely Miss the Tech Boom?' They can't say that this time around," Deutsch said.
In its IPO filing, Groupon says sales grew from $3 million in the second quarter of 2009 to $645 million in the first quarter of this year. The company says its ticker symbol will be GRPN.
State Representative Jason Barickman says he is running for the State Senate in the newly redrawn 53rd Senate District --- and for the seat held by his processor in the House --- Onarga Republican Shane Cultra.
During a tour of towns within the new 53rd district borders, Barickman, a Champaign attorney and chair of the Champaign County GOP, said he wants to straighten out Illinois' business climate, which he calls a national laughing-stock.
"Our business policies in the state are a disaster for small and mid-sized business owners," he said. "This state needs a different approach to how it governs and how it attracts businesses to come here rather than to leave."
If Barickman wins the 2012 senate race, it would be a first for him. He was appointed to his statehouse seat last fall following Cultra's move to the senate. Cultra had replaced Dan Rutherford, who is now state Treasurer.
Cultra said he will make his own campaign plans known later. He said pending legal challenges to the proposed redistricted maps could change their ultimate design. But Barickman said he believes that the maps passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature will go into effect without changes, noting that House Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet has already indicated he'll run in the re-drawn 51st Senate District that includes all or part of 10 counties. Meanwhile, Republican House member Dan Brady of Bloomington said he will run for re-election in the newly redrawn 105th House District, which makes up half of the new 53rd Senate District.
The proposed 53rd district includes parts of McLean, Livingston, Ford, Woodford, Iroquois and Vermillion counties. Barickman's family has farmed in Livingston County since the 1830s. Barickman would have to move into the district from Champaign County if elected, and he said he plans to relocate somewhere between Normal and Pontiac.
"I have long talked about my interest in coming back towards McLean County, Livingston County where we farmed, and that is certainly on the horizon," said Barickman. "That's long been our intention, and we look forward to fulfilling that."
(Photo courtesy of Jason Barickman)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the new head of the Chicago Public Schools plan to save $75 million by trimming administrative and non-classroom spending from the district's budget.
Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced the cuts Thursday.
The mayor's office says $16 million in savings will come from limited layoffs, eliminating some open positions and other reductions at the district's Central Office. Another $44 million in planned savings would come from minimizing debt servicing costs.
Emanuel says he's trying to cut bureaucracy so the schools can focus resources on supporting students and teachers.
Brizard says he wants to make the system more efficient so he can spend every dollar he can in the classroom.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
For much of his time on the stand in his corruption retrial, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been engaging, articulate, funny and most importantly, believable, but that's changing, and on Wednesday he was struggling to explain his own words to jurors.
His attorney, Aaron Goldstein, started leading him through some of the more damning evidence related to appointing a senator to replace Barack Obama. Even with his lawyer's softball questions, Blagojevich was flustered.
On one tape, Blagojevich talks about Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to Obama. Blagojevich says Jarrett knows that he's willing to appoint her to the Senate. He wonders how much she wants the position and how hard she'll push to get Blagojevich an appointment to Obama's cabinet.
Blagojevich insists the two weren't connected. Goldstein asked what Blagojevich meant when he talked about this. Instead of answering, Blagojevich reread the transcript while mumbling and finally said "I don't know what I'm saying here," and then asked his attorney to help him.
The ousted Illinois governor is expected to testify further Thursday about the allegation that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
The 54-year-old faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He denies all wrongdoing.
The Quinn administration's decision to line up new health insurance providers for state employees is now facing a challenge from organized labor.
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance against the state over the decision to drop two longstanding insurance providers.
AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says the providers who won the state contracts over Health Alliance and Humana don't cover many of the doctors that state employees have used for years.
"Our grievance seeks a remedy that the current contracts would be extended so -- at a minimum -- that all of those providers could be signed up on similar plans with the new networks, and if they can't be, that Health Alliance would continue to be a contractor for the coming fiscal year," Lindall said.
The state has given employees until June 17 to sign up with a new insurer - AFSCME is advising its 55,000 members to hold off making their benefit choice until right before the deadline.
Lindall charges that the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services hasn't given any evidence that workers will get the same coverage at the same cost as the current plans. He calls that a violation of AFSCME's contract.
The union is also exploring the possibility of a lawsuit. Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos predicts they won't see much success.
"Losing bidders don't typically do that well in the courts. It's a procurement process. And we followed the law we followed it to a T," said Hamos. "That has now been affirmed. So, anybody can sue, there are a lot of lawyers in Illinois."
Heallth Alliance is exploring legal action of its own. Spokeswoman Jane Hayes the company is examining all options and trying to keep members in mind and what's best for them.
State lawmakers approved a bill that would restore Health Alliance's contract for two more years - but it's possible that governor Pat Quinn could veto the measure. State officials say the new contracts will save Illinois about $100 million over the next year.
The trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks is winding down faster than expected.
Judge Harry Leinenweber says closing arguments are planned for Tuesday.
Proceedings in Tahawwur Rana's terrorism trial ended Wednesday after prosecutors called seven witnesses.
They included FBI agents who verified communication between Rana, the government's star witness David Coleman Headley and others.
Jurors don't return to court until Monday because attorneys had trouble scheduling witnesses. The trial runs a four-day schedule.
Headley pleaded guilty to scouting sites for the attacks and agreed to testify against Rana.
Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing Headley with cover as he took video surveillance in Mumbai.
Couples entering into civil unions under the new law that took effect in Illinois Wednesday may want the event published in the newspaper.
The Champaign News-Gazette is now ready to publish their announcement --- at the same rate it charges for engagement and wedding announcements. Previously, the News-Gazette would not publish announcements from same-sex couples, but Managing Editor Dan Corkery said the newspaper decided to to change that policy, now that civil unions are part of state law.
"There are definitely people --- some of our readers, loyal readers --- who this is going to rub the wrong way," Corkery said. "And on the other hand, had we not published civil union announcements, there would have been people who would have upset about that as well, whether they were personally affected or not, just out of a sense of fairness."
Corkery notes that civil unions in Illinois are open to both same-sex and opposite sex couples, and the News-Gazette will run announcements for both. But he said Illinois civil unions are the only announcements they will publish for same-sex couples, unless the event rises to the level of a news story.
Announcements of extralegal commitment ceremonies, and same-sex civil unions and marriages performed outside Illinois will not be accepted.
Meanwhile, another Champaign-Urbana media outlet, the online publication "Smile Politely," said it will now run same-sex couple announcements free of charge --- for civil unions, but also for weddings, anniversaries and births or adoptions.
Tax revenue keeps going up in Illinois, and that means a continued rise in an indicator of how well the state's economy is doing.
The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index rose.2 in May to 96.8. For the past two years it's been creeping ever closer to 100, the break-even point between economic growth and contraction. The Flash Index uses tax revenue from sales and income to measure the overall economy.
U of I economist Fred Giertz authored the index. He says a small portion of that increasing tax revenue may have come from rising prices on food and fuel. "Some tax revenues are stimulated by inflation, actually -- for example, the sales tax on gasoline," Giertz pointed out. "So it's not directly about that; certainly over the long run it would be related, but not over the short run. The more direct link would be something that came out (Tuesday) about consumer confidence."
Last month's confidence index dropped sharply - Giertz says that's a more significant result of higher food and gas prices.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn kept up his criticism Wednesday of the budget lawmakers sent him, and heaped scorn on a massive gambling plan despite the Chicago mayor's support for it.
The General Assembly forwarded to Quinn a spending blueprint of about $2 billion less than what he proposed, including a cut of nearly $300 million for schools and universities. The Democrat said lawmakers "didn't get the job done" but would not say what he would do with the plan.
"They kicked bills into the next fiscal year. That's not cutting the budget," Quinn said at a news conference. "You've got to invest in things that count, that matter for jobs, that matter for families."
With some of the strongest veto powers of any governor in the country, Quinn could strike out parts of the budget or reduce spending amounts. But he may not add money. Quinn would not say whether he would call legislators into special session in an attempt to persuade them to kick in more for schools and other of his priorities.
Quinn continued to lambaste the huge gambling plan that calls for five new casinos and slot machines at horseracing tracks, Chicago's airports and even the state fairgrounds.
"Most people in Illinois, when they take a look at the size of this, would say it's excessive, it's top-heavy, it's too much," Quinn said.
He said he would listen to constituents before deciding what to do with the gambling legislation, which supporters say would bring in $1.6 billion in upfront fees and $500 million or more annually.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied hard for the bill because it includes the first-ever gambling house for Chicago. Quinn risks alienating the new, popular mayor by saying "no" to the legislation.
"I'm beholden to the people of Illinois," Quinn said, "not to legislators, not to mayors."
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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