Illinois Public Media News
A first-term state representative will have to adjust his next campaign to a new district that brings him into east-central Illinois for the first time.
But Republican Adam Brown of Decatur said he is confident he can win over voters in the heavily conservative district, even with two other candidates saying they will take part in next March's primary.
Under the new map, Brown's 102nd House district now stretches east into Vermilion, Champaign and Edgar counties, far from his family's Macon County farm. But Brown said his rural connection will help him.
"I feel I can adapt to folks in a rural setting fairly well," he said. "As you mentioned, the real challenge there is getting around mile-wise. I drove the district this morning, and going from the Western portion to the eastern portion takes you about two hours by car."
Congressman Aaron Schock attended a fundraiser for Brown in Champaign on Wednesday night.
Brown is trying to line up support as he faces two township supervisors, Rob Roman of Edgar County and Matt Forcum of Shelby County, in the GOP primary. Brown narrowly defeated incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion) last November.
A federal program that involves state and local police agencies in immigration enforcement is stirring up controversy. The program helps federal authorities see if criminal suspects have permission to be in the United States. Immigrant advocates say the program snares too many people who haven't committed crimes.
This spring, Gov. Pat Quinn made Illinois the first of three states to withdraw from the program. But now the feds are saying states have to participate, whether they want to or not. A big question is whether Quinn will mount a legal challenge. At a hearing Wednesday night in Chicago over the program, a crowd turned raucous and 10 people were arrested, according to the Chicago Police Department.
In a word, the program has meant fingerprints. State and local police forces routinely get them from suspects as part of booking. Most jurisdictions send the fingerprints to the FBI for a national criminal background check. The Secure Communities program makes it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to use the fingerprints. President Obama's administration has said the goal is to focus immigration-enforcement resources on deporting criminals like murderers, rapists and others who threaten public safety.
ICE reports that Secure Communities has helped lead to the deportation of more than 650 convicted criminal aliens in Illinois alone. But, the program has also led to hundreds of deportations of people without criminal records. Opponents of the program say it also erodes public trust in local cops, which presents another set of public-safety threats. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn pulled the state out of the program in May. New York and Massachusetts quickly followed suit. This month, the feds told states they have no choice; that all law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide must participate by 2013.
Some attorneys at immigrant advocacy groups say they're trying working on a legal strategy for Illinois to cut ties to the program. They say they have the ear of the Quinn administration. A spokesman for Quinn says the governor's office is looking at the situation carefully but that it's too soon to discuss legal options.
At the same time, the federal Department of Homeland Security has formed a task force to help find ways to improve the Secure Communities program to keep it from damaging local law enforcement, though some immigrant advocates are calling it PR.
The task force is holding at least four hearings around the country. The third one was Wednesday night in in a downtown Chicago union hall. About 300 people packed in. The mic was open and most of the speakers said they opposed Secure Communities. Carolina is a Mexican-born mother whose kids are U.S. citizens. She asked us not to broadcast her last name because she's undocumented. So is her husband. She said Chicago police arrested him after a mixup over some broken car windows that landed him in deportation proceedings. He's got a one-way flight to Mexico out of O'Hare this morning.
"He's being deported," she said. "Do you really think that this program is working? How many more families have to suffer? Do you have children? Think of them? How would they feel if they were separated from you?"
A few minutes later most of the crowd at the hearing suddenly started yelling. It was an orchestrated protest. They stood up and followed some young undocumented activists out the door. Some of them then blocked an intersection and got arrested.
Back inside, a retired teacher said he was a brother of the victim in a hit-and-run collision that got some press coverage a couple months ago.
"I am here to report that my brother Dennis was killed by an illegal alien in the Logan Square neighborhood on June 6, 2011," said Brian McCann. "The offender hit him and then stepped on the gas, rolling over his body, and dragged him several blocks. The offender had recently completed two years' probation for another aggravated felony DUI."
McCann said he didn't know enough about the Secure Communities program to take a stand on it. But he said, at minimum, he wants immigration violators who are felons to be deported.
Activists who lost their fight to preserve Oak Forest Hospital now say they're going to focus on holding Cook County to its commitments.
A state board Tuesday approved the county's plan to close the hospital and replace it with a regional outpatient center. Patients, unions and community activists managed to stave off the closure twice before. But at Tuesday's meeting of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, the county won the day.
Organizers say now the task is to make Cook County honor its pledge not to abandon south suburbanites.
"Let us take those concerns and be very vigilant," said William McNary of Citizen Action Illinois, calling the vote expected but disappointing. "Don't give up today. Because those health care needs are still going to continue beyond what they do here."
McNary sits on an advisory board set up by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He vowed to make sure the outpatient center offers the best possible care and to press neighboring hospitals to follow through on their promise to absorb Oak Forest patients.
Many of the opponents sat through the four-hour meeting holding protest signs, and some even cried "genocide" as the vote was unfolding.
President Preckwinkle said she understands the anxiety, but condemns the rhetoric.
"To suggest the people on the independent governing board or the health care professionals are motivated by genocidal impulses is demeaning and extremely unfortunate," Preckwinkle said after the vote.
The county made several concessions to opponents, including agreeing to run an immediate care facility on the site around the clock. Ultimately, new appointments to a state regulatory board gave Cook County the votes it lacked in two previous efforts to pass the plan.
County officials say they plan to discontinue hospital operations by the end of August and immediately begin phasing in the clinic services.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday announced a new foreclosure initiative that relies on community groups to identify abandoned properties.
Standing in front of a rehabbed bungalow home in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, Emanuel laid out details for what the city calls the Micro-Market Recovery Program.
The MacArthur Foundation will provide up to $20 million in loans with the idea of leveraging millions more from the private sector. The goal is to collect a total pool of $50 million. The city will select neighborhood groups to find foreclosed properties. Those groups will use the funds to purchase and then rehab the homes, thus making them market-ready.
"It needs a comprehensive, integrated approach rather than home by home because the system is too big and too complicated for that alone. So we are targeting our resources, both public and private and nonprofit," Emanuel said.
The mayor said the program should get about 2,000 homes back on line within three to five years.
Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney said local groups can purchase the foreclosed properties by using the pooled startup money.
"The idea is straight forward. If we're really going to address the problem, we have to focus on local markets rather than one building at a time. We need to target our resources to help stabilize values, regenerate market forces and reoccupy foreclosed properties," Mooney said.
The city will start the program in nine neighborhoods: Humboldt Park, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, West Woodlawn, Auburn Gresham, West Pullman, Belmont Cragin, Englewood and Grand Boulevard.
Stan Smith, president of the nonprofit New Pisgah Community Service Organization, was on hand for Mayor Emanuel's announcement. Smith said his group hired local construction workers to rehab the bungalow that hosted the mayor, his staff and the press.
Smith said he'd like to participate in the new foreclosure program because in the past he received federal dollars to do rehab work, but that work was only piecemeal.
"We need to do a whole area, capture an area to focus in on it so you don't end up doing one house here and you have 12 more abandoned houses on the block," Smith said.
Local health care advocates hope a plan to create Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system results in greater financial assistance for the low-income.
There was little opposition in a state hearing in Urbana Wednesday, and another held the same day in Danville, over the planned merger between Provena hospitals and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
Those who backed the move during Urbana's 90-minute hearing included Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, and members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said its partnership with Provena Covenant Medical Center has helped low-income patients with medical expenses, and that a new charity care program would emerge, based on the best of both hospital systems, if the merger is approved.
But John Hilty of Urbana was concerned that a larger hospital system makes it less responsive to a community's needs.
"It seems to me that smaller organizations are easier to manage and tend to be more responsive to local communities, rather than large organizations, where the decision making is less personal and less attuned to a particular city or location," he said.
Hilty also said a larger hospital system doesn't necessarily result in less costly medical bills.
Provena Covenant Medical Center lost its property tax exemption in 2004, when the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the hospital didn't provide enough charity care. The President and CEO of its hospitals in Urbana and Danville, Michael Brown, said Provena Covenant has proved many times since then that the hospital is a community partner. He said the level of charity care should improve with the merger. Brown said the move will produce savings from controlling purchasing prices to office functions.
"When you look at the tsunami that's in front of us as being able to take care of people with the 10,000 people a day eligible to join the Medicare ranks," he said. "There are not enough people in the following two generations to pay for that. So we have to do this a different way. And being able to merge these together and to leverage the resources gives us an opportunity to at least meet that need."
The proposed merger also got letters of endorsement from Champaign State Senator Mike Frerichs and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will rule on the merger in October.
IBM has returned $30 million to the University of Illinois that was meant to be used for the Blue Waters supercomputer project.
The technology company announced last week that it would withdraw from the project because of apparent cost and technical concerns. The University of Illinois will give the $30 million back to the National Science Foundation, which is supporting the project. John Melchi, the senior associate director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, said that money will continue to be used as part of the Blue Waters project.
"We believe that this machine will be one of the first of its kind, and by that I mean one of the first to provide sustained-petascale performance on a broad range of applications," Melchi said.
Melchi said NCSA is searching for a new vendor, but he wouldn't say when that search is expected to wrap up. He said the Blue Waters supercomputer should be operational by fall 2012.
President Barack Obama says it likely will be another year to 18 months before home prices start rising again and sales start to pick up.
But he says the federal government can't accomplish that alone, and will need support from the banking industry and others to make sure the market pulls out of its slump.
Obama provided no support for his prediction. His comments Wednesday came in response to questioner at a town hall in Atkinson, Ill.
The president ventured from Iowa into politically familiar territory as he wrapped up a three-state tour through the cornfields, towns and cities of the Midwest. He was holding a second town hall meeing Wednesday afternoon in Alpha, Illinois and was scheduled to meet with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn later in the day.
Dozens of people lined up early Wednesday morning to see President Barack Obama at the first of two town hall-style meetings in rural Henry County.
Supporters Jean Causemaker and Mary Kay Franks were determined to see President Obama when they found out he'd be in town Wednesday. A handful of people without tickets gathered across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama's bus.
The three-day bus tour is part of an effort by Obama to command attention just after Republican presidential candidates dominated the news with a debate and straw poll in Iowa. He has used the trip to criticize his presidential and congressional opponents and to outline modest economic proposals in advance of Congress' return to Washington next month.
After his stop in Illinois, President Obama will return to Washington to begin a 10-day vacation.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The operator of Champaign-Urbana's only movie theater specializing in art and foreign films says he's gotten a positive response from his proposal to convert the business into a co-op.
Sanford Hess hosted a public meeting about his plans at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign on Aug. 14. He said the 40 people attending were receptive to the co-op concept --- largely due to its successful use by the Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana.
"So people have latched on," Hess said. "Many people were very nervous that I was going to stand up there and say, 'OK I'm leaving and the Art's going to shut down.' And I think that people, sort of in a sigh of relief, are lining up to support the cooperative, because I think they understand that this is the best-case scenario for having the Art continue to be in business.
Hess said that with guidance from Common Ground board chairman Ben Galewsky, he hopes to form a board of directors to oversee the conversion of the Art Theater to a co-op. He said he believes raising money from co-op members is the best way to ensure the Art's long-term survival --- plus the short-term expense of industry-mandated digital projection upgrades costing at least $70,000.
"Like in the next couple of months, some specific decisions need to be made," Hess said. "The whole point of the cooperative is that it would not necessarily be me, Sanford Hess, making these decisions. It would be the cooperative making these decisions. So we need to form it as an entity, have a board appointed, so we can start actually locking stuff down and making plans."
The Art Theater opened in downtown Champaign as the Park Theater in 1913. In 1958, it became the Art Theater, specializing in foreign and art films. It's continued that policy since then, except for a period in the 1970s and '80s when it ran X-rated movies. Hess says he's committed to operating the theater at least through 2012, when his lease expires.
The League of Women Voters of Illinois is asking a federal court to order a big change in the highly political, once-a-decade redistricting process. It's the latest suit tied to Illinois' new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
The League last year tried to change how Illinois draws the boundaries, but its petition drive to get a proposal on the ballot came up short. Now the group is asking the courts to get involved.
In its lawsuit, the League claims its members' First Amendment rights were violated when Democratic leaders took into account party identification while drawing the maps. The lawsuit says this "unlawfully attempt[s] to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear or receive."
Illinois Republicans, who have a lot to lose if the Democratic-drawn maps stand, have also asked the courts to get involved.
But the League's lawsuit notes both parties have engaged in partisan gerrymandering in the past and wants the court to order a new process driven by "impartial" decision-makers.
But the League's president, Jan Dorner, acknowledged on that such a change may not be possible before next year's election.
The body of a 29-year-old Chicagoan killed at the Indiana State Fair when a stage collapsed last Saturday night will be released to a family member and buried later this week in New York City.
An official with the Marion County, Indiana coroner's office said an aunt of Christina Santiago will be given the body.
Santiago had been at the state fair to watch a concert put on by the country band, Sugarland. Santiago was accompanied by her domestic partner, Alisha Brennon.
A fierce storm with strong winds reaching 70 mph toppled the stage just moments before Sugarland walked on stage.
Santiago was among the five victims who died following the stage's collapse. Brennon, who was critically injured during the incident, was listed in fair condition in the intensive care unit at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesman. Dozens more people were also injured Saturday. Several remain in hospitals in the Indianapolis area.
Santiago, a native of the Bronx, was the manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.
According to the center's website, a service will be held in New York on Thursday. She will be buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx this Friday.
The Bilerico Project, a Washington, DC -based website featuring news about the lesbian and gay community, created controversy Tuesday after it reported that Brennon had tried to claim Santiago's body from the Marion County Coroner's Office, but the office "refused" to release the body to her. The website cited Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act as the reason for the denial.
The implication was that Brennon and Santiago's relationship, which is protected by Illinois' domestic partnership law, was not being honored by Indiana officials. Indiana law prohibits same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Backers of that law also aim to solidify that rule in the state's constitution.
The Bilerico piece has made the rounds across the Internet, but according to a top coroner official in the office, "there was no issue."
"The wife (Brennon) never contacted us to claim the body so she was never denied that opportunity," said Alfarea Ballew, chief deputy coroner of the Marion County Coroner's Office. "The wife is still hospitalized. We're working with the friends and aunt (of Santiago) to release the body. I've never talked to anybody denying the wife that opportunity."
In an interview with Chicago Public Media on Tuesday afternoon, Ballew said the office has never encountered a situation involving the spouse claiming a body of a same-sex loved one.
"Still," Ballew said, "I'm surprised it's being put out that way. That's not how we would address that kind of issue. We release the body to the next of kin. Christina's aunt was listed as the next of kin. The aunt signed off on paperwork and everything is moving forward with the wife."
The Howard Brown Health Center released a statement Tuesday: "Howard Brown Health Center is working with Amigas Latinas as well as friends and family of Christina and Alisha to host a memorial service in Chicago. As so many of us grieve this tragic and sudden loss, let us patiently and respectfully await the wishes of Christina's family, that of Alisha and all of their friends and loved ones to finalize arrangements in privacy."
An ongoing investigation will address questions about whether fair and concert officials should have taken action to evacuate the outdoor venue sooner. One issue is whether staff should have heeded storm warnings that came in at least an hour prior to the concert.
The Indiana State Fair reopened to the public Monday following a memorial service lead by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Fair officials announced that scheduled concerts featuring Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum were canceled because the main stage area where the incident happened will not be used for the remainder of the fair, which runs through Sunday.
A concert featuring Train and Maroon 5 set for Thursday will be moved from the fairgrounds to Conseco Fieldhouse. Proceeds from those performances will help the victims.
Meanwhile, Sugarland announced it will soon hold a private memorial in Indianapolis to honor the fans.
Sugarland canceled an appearance in Iowa this week but will resume its tour with a concert Thursday in Albuquerque.
"The emotions have us yearning to be close to each other immediately. The logistics have us needing to replace all of our instruments and equipment," the band stated on its web site. "The set is a loss that is insignificant in light of the tragedy."
Singer Sara Bareilles, who performed on the stage just before it collapsed, released a statement: "The accident at the Indiana State Fair felt like a bad dream. My heart aches for the lives lost or injured as well as their families. We will do whatever we possibly can to help heal the hurt from this very sad day.
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