Illinois Public Media News
A former candidate for local office in Urbana wants the Democratic nomination for an Illinois House seat.
Michael Langendorf has been meeting with party officials in Vermilion and Champaign counties with hopes that they will slate him as a candidate for 104th district seat held by Republican Chad Hays.
Langendorf said he likes Hays, but he also said competition is healthy.
"Some of the conversations have been good," Langendorf said. "There are just some concerns in terms of his perspective on things that I don't necessarily agree with. I feel like he needs to have a challenger, and needs to have someone looking at his ideas, and make sure there's other opinions out there."
Langendorf said he and Hays differ when it comes to funding pensions, and where to make cuts in Illinois' budget.
Langendorf is a social worker at Middlefork School in Danville and Oakwood Junior High, and he is active with the Illinois Education Association. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Urbana in 1997, and in the race for Ward 6 Alderman in 2009.
Champaign County Democratic Party Chair Al Klein expects Langendorf will be a candidate in the race since he is enthusiastic about running. That would happen late this month, but Langendorf would still be required to collect signatures on his nominating petitions to appear on the November ballot.
Third parties in Illinois have started collecting signatures for their candidates ahead of the November election. But in some cases they face long odds to get their longshot picks on the ballot.
The Illinois Green Party did so poorly in the 2010 election, that it lost its established party status. That means before the June deadline its candidates have to collect many more signatures than last time around.
"One example: if you're trying to run for Congress. It's 600 signatures if you are an established party. And 5,000 signatures if you are not an established party," noted Phil Huckleberry, chair of the Illinois Green Party.
Huckleberry called the difference "crippling." But his party is still trying to run candidates in two U.S. House districts and at the same time get more than 25,000 additional signatures for their presidential nominee.
"That's really, really hard," he said. "So it really limits our ability to run a high number of candidates."
Also limiting the Greens' ability: not having a lot of interested candidates. Huckleberry said they're still recruiting, hoping to make some noise in state legislative elections and county races downstate.
The Illinois Libertarian and Constitution parties also hope to get candidates on the ballot this fall.
Police in Decatur are searching for two suspects following the shooting deaths of a husband and wife Saturday night.
Authorities identified the victims as 34-year-old Freedom Cunningham and his 26-year-old wife, Central Cunningham.
Deputy Police Chief David Dickerson is calling on the public for help solving the crime.
The (Decatur) Herald-Review reports (http://bit.ly/HDivOk ) witnesses described the body of Freedom Cunningham collapsed on the porch of a Decatur home and Central Cunningham's body slumped in a van.
The newspaper reports that no arrests had been made by late Sunday. Police have executed several search warrants.
Union attorneys are using a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums of cash on campaign ads as part of a legal effort to overturn Indiana's new right-to-work law.
Attorneys for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue in a court brief that the new law interferes with the union's free speech rights because it stifles the collection of money that helps pay for political speech.
But the Indiana lawyer who crafted the argument that resulted in the 2010 Supreme Court decision says it would turn the ruling "on its head'' if a judge accepted the union's argument.
Jim Bopp of Terre Haute says there's no right to force someone else to pay for your free speech.
An Illinois House committee considering the expulsion of a Chicago lawmaker accused of bribery has postponed meeting due to the "possibility of further court action in the criminal proceeding,'' according to a recent letter by the group's leaders.
Members of an Illinois House panel investigation state Rep. Derrick Smith released a letter Saturday.
The committee had planned to meet in the coming days, but they say they'll postpone until later in the month. The letter says postponing allows more time to review and respond to any additional information.
Federal prosecutors claim Smith accepted a cash bribe from a campaign worker who was an undercover FBI informant. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has declined to comment.
Smith didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Several schools in Champaign County have adopted a nationwide anti-obesity initiative, known as the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH).
(Funded in part by a grant from the Lumpkin Family Foundation)
Several schools in Champaign County have adopted a nationwide anti-obesity initiative known as the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH).
Carrie Busey Elementary in Campaign began the CATCH initiative in 2009. CATCH schools get state money from the Illinois Department of Human Services over a three year period. That support, which gradually decreases over the three years, is used to revamp lunch menus, add new gym equipment, or expand nutrition education in the classroom.
Mariah Burt, who is a music teacher at Carrie Busey, has her class compose rap music related to health and wellness.
Fourth graders Peja Rowan, Ariany Smith, and Lily Smith stand in front of the class, performing original songs about nutrition. They use body and vocal percussion, such as stomping their feet and beatboxing: "I love you. You love apples. Remix... We eat fruit...You should too...We also eat vegetables with you...That's what you're supposed to do."
Burt said the songs about nutrition that come out of her classroom don't just stay in her class.
"Sometimes a kid will be sitting at lunch and see another kid bring a candy bar and say, 'Hey, remember the rap we did the other day, you're not supposed to be eating that whoa food. You're supposed to be eating the carrots of your platter because that's a 'Go food,"' Burt said. "So, it really has become a part of who they are through the musical setting."
In the school's cafeteria, there is a big poster outlining the three different food categories that the students learn about - 'Go foods' like fruits and vegetables are considered the most healthy; 'Slow foods' like yogurt and cheese should be eaten in moderation; and 'Whoa foods' like frosted cupcakes and candy are reserved strictly for special occasions.
To avoid an overabundance of 'Whoa foods,' gym teacher Wendy Starwalt rewards students with prizes if they eat plenty 'Go foods' during lunch. She also said the school has designated days once a month for birthday treats.
"It was hard for parents to understand why their child couldn't bring cupcakes on their birthday, and we had to help our kids understand why that was happening," Starwalt said. "So, now we're three years into that already, and a lot of teachers on the actual birthday have come up with celebrations that don't involve food."
Starwalt came to Carrie Busey a few years ago after teaching at Dr. Howard Elementary School in Champaign. That was the first school in Champaign County to test out the CATCH initiative. But after it ended, the school wasn't been able to sustain it. Starwalt said that is because only a few staff members were trained to teach a curriculum centered on health and wellness, and those teachers - like Starwalt - left the school. To avoid that from happening at Carrie Busey, all employees went through CATCH training.
Second grade teacher Elizabeth Well is in her second year of teaching the CATCH curriculum. A few times each year, she follows a prepared set of instructional course material that is designed for CATCH schools. During a recent classroom discussion, she talked about the importance of fiber.
"Fiber cleans the places in your body where food passes, and fiber is great because it makes the chances of getting some types of cancer go away, "Well said.
Well demonstrated how to make a high-fiber snack.
"Now this is rice and corn flakes," she said as she lift up a plastic bag full of Cheerios. "We know this is high fiber even though it doesn't say in big letters like on Raisin Brand that it's fiber because it is from wheat...and we learned fiber are things that are grown, but doesn't come from an animal."
As the class makes their snacks, a couple of the students demonstrated their knowledge about fiber.
"Well, it cleans your body and it also helps you to get healthier," David Cardaronella said.
"It lowers our chances of getting cancer," Zakyah Billings added.
When the bell rings, the kids head out, taking their bagged snacks. Well said after a year of teaching CATCH courses, she thinks more of her students are aware about what they are eating.
"Honestly, as an adult after teaching this for a year, I'm a little more aware and conscious of what I'm eating and looking at the labels and cereal boxes and things like that," she said. "So, it's even helped me as an adult."
After school is over, about 40 kids pack into the music room. Music teacher, Mariah Burt welcomes the group to the first day of Dance Club.
"Now you are all part of a healthy team and a healthy family that's going to help each other feel good about what we're doing and make sure that you help other people follow those directions," Burt said.
After going over the rules of Dance Club, Burt leads the class in some movements: "Five...six...seven...eight...stomp, stomp, clap, clap....one...two...three...four."
Out in the hallway right outside of the music room, a group of parents watch as 11-year-old Grace Rispoli teaches her peers the dance moves, mimicking what their teacher was just doing.
"Stomp, clap, clap, stomp, clap," Rispoli said. "Now, remember the thing is that even I forget the second stop. We have to remember that otherwise it won't look the same, and we can't clap first. We have to stomp first."
Nikiki Hillier, who is a program coordinator Program in the Division of Wellness and Health Promotion at the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, monitors the CATCH initiative in Champaign County. So far, five elementary schools in her area have taken part in CATCH: Carrie Busey, Dr. Howard, Unity West, Thomasboro, and Fisher.
While Hillier said the work to educate kids about nutrition may start at the schools, it shouldn't end there.
"You don't want to undermine everything that you've done all day at school by sending them home, and they're having fried foods and pop for dinner," Hillier said. "So, it's very important that the parents are on their journey with us."
After all, once these kids grow up, it will be up to them to teach the next generation about what it means to make healthy choices, one step at a time.
More about the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) Chart of 'Go' 'Slow' and 'Whoa' Foods Unit 4 Tries to Stay Ahead of Nutrition Standards (Related)
Fifty-two people have been granted clemency by Gov. Pat Quinn for crimes that date back decades.
Quinn announced Friday that he has expunged the records of these offenders. In most cases, he's also granting full pardons.
The Democratic governor also rejected 136 clemency requests.
Quinn is whittling away at a backlog of 2,500 requests that piled up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Now in prison himself, Blagojevich rarely took any action on clemency.
Most of the people whose requests were granted Friday had committed relatively minor offenses.
Twenty-five involved theft. Sixteen involved drugs. Eight offenses included some kind of violence, such as misdemeanor battery.
The oldest incident took place in 1958, the most recent in 2005.
A Sangamon County native will join the race to replace retiring Congressman Tim Johnson. Jerry Clarke, a former aide to Congressman Tim Johnson and Illinois House Republicans, plans to make an official announcement Monday.
Clarke, 46, is also a veteran of the Iraq War. More recently, he has been Chief of Staff for another Congressman, Republican Randy Hultgren.
Clarke says he likes his chances since Champaign County contains the largest weighted vote due to the number of Republican ballots cast this year.
He says the nature of debate in Washington now is killing the economy
"I've seen the dysfunction of Congress up close," said Clarke. "The partisanship and endless gridlock and the failure to solve our serious problems. I think the people of Central Illinois see the impact of an incompetent Congress, and the lack of job growth, the bad roads, high taxes, and endless debt. I think we can do better, and I'm ready to serve."
Clarke calls Congressman Johnson his mentor. The 46-year old Clarke also served on the staff of the Illinois House Republicans. He's a native of Pawnee in Sangamon County.
If Clarke is elected to Congress, he says the public should expect a similar voting record.
"We're pretty close, so I'll ask him to support me when the time is right," Clarke said. "I've been a chief of staff for the last 12 years out in Congress, I'd like to take a shot at running myself."
Tim Johnson made a surprising announcement this week that he will step down after his current term. County Republican leaders in the new 13th Congressional District will choose his replacement.
The new district stretches from the Champaign area on the east across Central Illinois, including Springfield and Decatur. Others who have expressed interest in the vacancy include state representatives Adam Brown of Decatur, Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Dan Brady of Bloomington. Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington said he won't try for the job.
Clarke kicks off a tour of the 13th District with stops in Urbana and Springfield on Monday.
Meanwhile, Dan Brady says he will be evaluating lot of factors before he decides whether to try to make that leap, including his own growing seniority in the State House.
"It was a major concern of not seeking to run for the state senate because of the fact of where I am in the (Illinois) House - and earning my stripes so to speak, and what I could to more to help my legislative district," Brady said.
Brady says he also recently took on a new business venture as a partner in a funeral home. He says the 13th district includes very little of McLean County. He says that could boil down to Champaign and Macon County Chairs effectively making the pick.
Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term. Johnson said family obligations are what compelled him to make this decision.
An emotional Johnson spoke at the Urbana City Building Thursday afternoon.
"I'm almost 66 years old, and my time is limited," Johnson said. "I've been serving in office for 44 consecutive years. I'm also the father of 9 children. I have 11 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. I've been a part-time father all those years, and that's not good enough."
Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He said he will serve the remainder of his term, and then retire in January.
"My intention is to return in some way to the practice of law," he said. "I'll continue to be involved politically where appropriate, and continue to speak out as I see fit on the issues of the day. I also hope to be involved in teaching in some way or another. I will not be a paid lobbyist at any time in the future."
Johnson was considered a strong candidate for re-election in November. Now, it will be up to Republican County chairmen in the re-drawn 13th district to select someone to take his place. While there's no reason not to take the Congressman at his word, other reasons may have factored into his decision.
First, there is Johnson's unbeaten streak - he's never lost an election, whether as a member of the Urbana City Council in the 1970s, the Illinois House from 1976 to 2000, or in his six terms in Congress. By leaving now, he is guaranteed an unblemished election record.
That record might have been challenged this year, as the re-drawn 13th Congressional district trades away Republican strongholds in the northern portion of the old 15th District, in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison County, and the Metro East area of St. Louis.
While Johnson is well known in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Springfield, and the rural areas surrounding those Central Illinois communities, he is less known by the electorate in the new left-leaning areas of the 13th District.
Johnson's announcement now - after the primary - also means GOP voters will not have a say in the nominee. Instead, Republican county chairmen in the 13th District will case weighted votes to determine who will replace Johnson on the ballot. . They may choose from a wide range of contenders, including current and former state representatives and senators - or even Johnson's former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke, who remains a resident of Urbana despite working for Wheaton-based Congressman Randy Hultgren.
Habeeb Habeeb is the interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party. He said of the 14 counties that make up the 13th Congressional District, Champaign County has the largest weighted vote based on Republican ballots cast this year.
"We will wait until the federal elections are certified on April 20, and we would like to (vote) soon after," Habeeb said.
One of Johnson's two primary opponents, Michael Firsching of Moro, said he would be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing anyone else.
"I've starting contacting Republican Party groups that I have contacts with within the 16 counties," Firsching said. "I've started doing that process. But again, I haven't had much time, since it's only been since last (Wednesday) night. So I've definitely starting that process as opposed to thoroughly into it."
Firsching cautions that the GOP cannot be overconfident, or it is possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.
Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, named State Representative Dan Brady, former state GOP executive director Rodney Davis, and former Johnson chief of staff Jerry Clarke as possible candidates to replace Johnson. He said he is meeting with lawyers, and he said the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.
He also noted that the timing of Johnson's announcement was not a surprise to him.
"He's been one of the hardest working public servants I've ever known, and I hope he enjoys he does whatever he does next," Brady said. "We're going to go a fair, open, and transparent process and pick the best candidate to win that district, and the Democrats have done us a big favor by nominating the most liberal Democrat they could find in the state."
Brady was referring to Bloomington physician David Gill, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race. While the old 15th District was held by a Republican for the last 35 years, Political Science Professor Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take the newly drawn 13th District seat.
"It really will depend on the eventual candidates, and then it will depend on national money," Redfield said. "That was a complex question to begin with, and it just got more complex."
Gill's campaign is moving forward on the assumption that Gill is the Democratic nominee. Gill said he would not automatically accept campaign money from the Democratic Party. He has long been a critic of accepting PAC money from corporations. If the Democratic Party decides to help him, he said he would want to know where that money comes from and what level of control the party has on the campaign.
"I speak for myself, and I speak for the thousands of people that have been a part of Gill for Congress," Gill said. "So, we would have to talk about what they would want in exchange for whatever support they were interested in offering."
Gill narrowly defeated Matt Goetten in the March 20 Democratic primary, but the vote was so close that Goetten never conceded. Gill's apparent victory will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. That leaves a possibility, however slight, that neither party has a clear nominee, more than two weeks after the primary.
Last minute decisions play a role when an incumbent politician steps down, after winning a primary. Congressman Johnson said the factors leading him to choose family over politics only came together in the past few days. Other politicians have post-primary choices when faced with serious illness - like Congressman Lane Evans in 2006, or scandal, like Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen.
Journalism professor Charlie Wheeler at the University of Illinois at Springfield said unsavory details about Cohen's private life only surfaced after he won the 2010 primary.
"He had more baggage than Amtrak," Wheeler said. "So he was forced out, because he would have, no doubt, brought the democratic ticket down. And instead they appointed Sheila Simon, and Pat Quinn gets re-elected."
Dropping out after a primary victory may signal a loss of control - but it can note new power as well - for the party officials who choose the new nominee. Sometimes, the departing candidate can have a say.
Lane Evans convinced 17th District Democratic officials to choose his chief of staff, Phil Hare, to run for Congress in his place. Professor John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU-Carbondale said another Democrat, Congressman Bill Lipinski, managed to get his son, Dan, to take his place, following the 2004 primary.
"The senior Lipinski had been in a very long time, and then he stepped aside after winning the primary, in favor of his son, who then subsequently went on to win the general election," Jackson said.
Tim Johnson said no one in his family or on his staff will be seeking his seat in Congress. He said there are candidates he would prefer, but would not make those names public.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term. Johnson said family obligations are what compelled him to make this decision.
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