Illinois Public Media News
Champaign, Urbana and Danville handle about 6,000 nuisance property cases a year. While most property owners fix problems when they receive notification, those who don't cost the city-and taxpayers-thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey looks at how cities in east central Illinois are working to keep blight out of neighborhoods.
(Photo by Pam Dempsey)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Legislation to authorize five new casinos in the state is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, but the governor cannot sign the measure just yet.
The bill seeks to add casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Quinn has criticized the plan, calling it "top heavy." Though, he has said he could envision a casino in Chicago if it is properly done.
To buy some more negotiating time, Senate President John Cullerton is using a parliamentary procedure to hold the bill. Gambling supporters hope adjustments can be made to the legislation so that Quinn will sign it in the fall.
"He's obviously expressed concerns publicly on some of the provisions in the bill," Cullerton said on Monday. "So we're taking the time to go over the bill with the governor to make sure if there's any changes that he wants, that he can make those through a trailer bill."
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said lawmakers should just send him the gambling measure.
"I have 60 days to review the bill," Quinn said. "In this case they're holding it. I don't know what that's all about. I find it kind of a maneuver. I don't think that's necessarily the best way to go, but they can do what they want to. We're still going to analyze the bill from top to bottom."
The measure also seeks to add slot machines at horse racing tracks, Chicago's airports and the state fairgrounds. Supporters of the legislation say increasing the state's gambling industry would bring in $1.6 billion dollars in upfront fees and $500 million dollars or more annually.
Remembering Organist Warren York
Warren York was a plumber by trade, but audiences in Champaign knew him as a self-taught musician. For nearly 20 years, York entertained audiences at the city's Virginia Theater. After restoring the Wurlitzer in the old vaudeville house, he played in between movies at Roger Ebert's annual film festival, and during other events.
In a 2006 interview with WILL, York talked about his efforts to care for the organ.
"In some instances, when you've got a pretty good sized organ, it may take a year or so to rebuild it," York said. "But this one (the Virginia's) we like to keep in their (audiences) ears a little bit."
Longtime Virginia theater manager Leonard Doyle says the man's talents never ceased to amaze him.
"The notes and everything were in his head," Doyle said. "He played with no music, and somebody would ask him to play a piece of some sort, and he knew it. But he was a tremendous organist, and Warren is going to be very much missed in the community."
A series of health problems forced York to quit playing the organ in 2009. He passed away Monday morning at the Illiana Health Care system in Danville. York was 73. Graveside services are Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Clements Cemetery in Urbana.
There's already an effort underway to honor Warren York, benefiting the ongoing restoration of the organ. Donations may be made to the Warren York restoration fund at the Champaign Park District.
Convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is likely to lose his $65,000 annual state pension.
Director of the General Assembly Retirement System Timothy Blair said according to state law, any elected official or public employee convicted of a felony committed on the job, is ineligible for retirement benefits.
"No other benefits would be payable," Blair said. "So that's happened several times, in most of the retirement systems. That would apply to people who are teachers, state employees, and of course members of the General Assembly Retirement System. And that's the provision that George Ryan was subject to."
Blair said employees like Ryan can get back contributions they made to their pensions. He said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office will be asked to make a recommendation on whether Blagojevich should lose his pension. Then the board will take a vote based on that opinion.
A spokeswoman for Madigan's office said the former governor must first be sentenced before the pension can be denied.
It is uncertain when he will be sentenced.
The 54-year-old Democrat could start collecting his state pension on his next birthday December tenth.
Blair said he hopes the pension board will have a ruling before that.
Blagojevich could get $15,000 a year in federal retirement for the years he served in Congress. He could start drawing his federal pension at age 62.
New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.
The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.
"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.
But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.
"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.
The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was with his ailing wife as she was taken off a respirator and died at a Kankakee hospital.
That's according to former Gov. Jim Thompson. He tells WBBM-TV that Ryan was released from his prison in Terre Haute, Ind., to visit his wife. Thompson says the couple spent her final hours together.
Lura Lynn Ryan died Monday evening. She'd been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.
Thompson says Ryan had been secretly released on four occasions since January to be with his wife of 55-years.
Court records show Ryan's attorneys petitioned an appellate court Friday to allow Ryan to leave the prison and visit his wife, but the court denied the request. Thompson says the prison warden allowed the visits.
After delivering their sweeping conviction of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday, jurors took a few minutes to talk to reporters.
They convicted Blagojevich on 17 of the 20 corruption charges. It is a vastly different outcome than the one reached by the first Blagojevich jury, which convicted on one minor count and was deadlocked on everything else. This second jury hopes their overwhelmingly guilty verdict sends a message to Illinois politicians.
In high-profile federal cases, court administrators will sometimes make a courtroom available where jurors can talk to reporters if they so choose. There is only one television camera and one microphone for radio stations, an attempt to make the whole experience less intimidating.
In Blagojevich's first trial, none of the jurors talked at court, and as a result reporters started tracking them down at their homes that evening. In an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat, Judge James Zagel seems to have suggested it might not be a bad idea for jurors to get it over with. All of them made themselves available for a 21 minute Q and A, and the forewoman even started with a prepared statement.
"As a jury, we have felt privileged to be part of our federal judicial system," she said.
The jurors spent nine days deliberating, but the forewoman, a retired church musician and liturgist, said it is not because they were arguing. She said they carefully went through each of the 20 counts.
"Throughout the process we were very respectful of each other's views and opinions, and as a result we feel confident we have reached a fair and just verdict," she said.
The jury found Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts of trying to use his office to enrich himself, but they still kind of liked him. Juror 103 (the court hasn't released the jurors names yet, but they're expected to do so Tuesday morning) spent a week listening to Blagojevich testify. She sat in the jury box in the front row, closest to the witness stand. As Blagojevich walked up to the stand he would often mouth or whisper a hello, or a "how ya doin" to her. He also jokingly rolled his eyes at her when attorneys were taking too long dealing with issues at sidebar.
Juror 103 said that connection "Made it, I wouldn't say it made it a bit harder but because he was personable it made it hard to separate that from what we actually had to do as jurors, you know, we had to put aside the fact that whether we liked him or didn't like him and just go by the evidence that was presented to us."
Another juror echoed the sentiment that Blagojevich is more than just a caricature.
"We know he's human, he has a family, and it was very difficult," the juror said. "There were many times we would talk and say, or I would say, here's all the evidence, and I'd come in thinking okay, he's not guilty and then all of a sudden, gosh darn you Rod, you did it again, I mean he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, so it was very difficult. I mean we, I really tried to just try to find everything I could to make him not guilty but the proof was there."
But not everyone was smitten by the former governor. One juror said she felt he was manipulative and an alternate juror said she felt Blagojevich could remember everything for his lawyers but then seemed to forget everything when the prosecutors were asking the questions.
In the end, the jurors agreed that Blagojevich committed crimes and they said that was made clear from the governor's phone calls, which were secretly recorded by the FBI. Jurors said the easiest counts to convict on included the allegations that Blagojevich tried to cash in on the ability to appoint Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate. And they didn't buy the defense claim that Blagojevich was just talking and throwing around ideas.
"He was being tried on attempting and not committing the crime and when you say you're going to float an idea as opposed to asking someone to do it, that's where and there was several times where he said you know, do it, push that, get this done," one juror said. "I think that's where you cross the line of just floating an idea and actually doing it."
After talking to reporters for 21 minutes, a court employee brought the questioning to an end, and the jurors made their way to the basement of the federal court building and got into a 15-passenger van that took them to various train stations. A half dozen got out near Union Station and they hugged on the sidewalk outside the idling van. Two of the women were actually alternate jurors who came downtown just to hear the verdict. They didn't participate in deliberations, something they're still stewing about.
"You know, after you've been sitting through that for several weeks, I mean I had four notebooks full of notes, I was ready to deliberate and I knew what I wanted to say in deliberations, so unfortunately we never got that chance," juror 190 said. "But I will say I don't think I would have done anything differently than what they chose."
The two parted ways outside an entrance to Union Station, giving each other yet another hug. They said they loved each other and promised to see each other again, but were both anxious to catch their trains. Juror 190 was also anxious to finally talk to her family about the forbidden topic that has consumed her life since she was picked for jury service two months ago.
(AP Photo/Antonio Perez, Pool)
Lura Lynn Ryan, the former Illinois first lady who spent the waning years of her life seeking freedom for her imprisoned husband, former Gov. George Ryan, has died after a long bout with cancer. She was 76.
Lura Lynn Ryan died late Monday at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, said Andrea Lyons, an attorney for George Ryan. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.
She was a steadfast supporter of the former governor, whom she had met in high school, and maintained that he had never done anything wrong during his lengthy political career. They had been married for 55 years.
The former governor, serving time on federal corruption charges, was quietly escorted from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to be at her side for two hours in January in the intensive care unit at a Kankakee hospital, about 130 miles away. She had been hospitalized earlier in the day and, according to George Ryan's lawyer, drifted in and out of sleep and struggled to speak while he was there, though she recognized him.
The secret visit was not revealed until two days later, when federal prosecutors mentioned it in a court filing arguing against a request by Ryan's lawyers to have him released on bail so he could spend more time with his dying wife. The former governor was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, and has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
Lura Lynn Lowe grew up in the Kankakee County village of Aroma Park where her family, originally from Germany, had lived since 1834. Her father owned one of the nation's first hybrid seed companies. She moved to Kankakee for high school.
She and the former governor met in high school English class. Together, they have five daughters, one son and more than a dozen grandchildren.
Lura Lynn Ryan had no idea when they got married that her husband would go into politics. He started life as a Kankakee drug store owner.
But his brother was mayor and she started to think her husband might run for office when he helped a friend who was running for the county board and seemed to have a flair for politics.
The climb was steady, from a seat in the General Assembly to lieutenant governor to secretary of state and finally the governorship - reaching the pinnacle of both state government and Illinois' Republican establishment. She spoke admiringly of the mansion in Springfield - her official home for four years.
Prosecutors say the road to the top was marred by corruption. But she focused on the positive, including Ryan's unprecedented commuting of all 156 inmates on Illinois' death row before leaving office in 2003, and his efforts to curb drunken driving. She made it a priority to participate in charitable causes, such as a program to influence teenagers to avoid drug and alcohol abuse.
"As my children grew older and I could be with him (Ryan), I kind of took up my little causes," she said. "And I think we did make a difference."
Ryan was convicted in 2006 of steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was secretary of state and then governor for one term. He received vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes in exchange for truck driver's licenses.
In 2000, Lura Lynn Ryan was pulled into the licenses-for-bribes scandal when a woman claimed she'd handed her a letter in 1998 detailing corruption at a truck licensing facility. The alleged hand-off happened at an event nine months before George Ryan was elected governor, and the former first lady said she didn't remember the letter or the woman.
Lura Lynn Ryan grew increasingly frail during her final years, appearing at her husband's court appearances with an oxygen tank.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says attention needs to remain on reforming state government after the conviction of former Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
Blagojevich is the fourth Illinois governor turned convicted felon, following Democrats Otto Kerner and Dan Walker and Republican George Ryan.
Quinn served as lieutenant governor, but became governor in 2009 after the Illinois legislature removed Blagojevich from office.
Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Quinn said anyone who misleads the public should be held accountable. Quinn underlined the importance of passing stronger ethics legislation.
"That's imperative in Illinois," Quinn said. "Seems to me after two straight governors have been convicted of serious felonies, it's time to turn that page, and we have and make sure we trust the people."
Quinn said he has a full roster of ideas he still wants passed to make state and local government more transparent in Illinois, including public financing of campaigns, open primaries where voters don't have to go on record registering with a particular party, and stronger conflict of interest provisions for legislators.
Quinn also said he will push for a constitutional amendment that would allow ethics initiatives on state and local ballots.
But State Representative Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said there is no way to legislate moral conduct.
"There will be a lot of knee jerk reactions from politicians, 'we need to do this that that and this," Durkin said. "The fact is the public needs to do a better job of scrutinizing the people that they send to the governor's mansion and send to public office.
Observers of the Illinois political world say even though past governors have been jailed for misdeeds, the conviction of Rod Blagojevich may hit closer to home for current political leaders.
Chris Mooney is a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He said the case is only the latest of a series of criminal cases that should have had power-brokers in the state thinking twice before acting.
"It's not widespread, but there's enough people in the political world that think it's okay to do this stuff, until they get the message that even if they can't understand that it's morally wrong, they'll get the message that bad things happen if I do this, so I'm going to stop doing it," Mooney told IPM's Tom Rogers after the verdicts were read.
Former state representative Bill Black of Danville served on the committee that impeached Blagojevich in 2009. He said the impeachment led lawmakers to pass several ethics reforms.
Black hopes the Blagojevich conviction will help inspire resolutions to other situations, such as a campaign finance loophole that lets legislative floor leaders raise unlimited amounts of cash.
"Maybe general assembly tuition waivers, that have been around a hundred years and the subject of a dozen scandalous news stories -- maybe it will finally disappear," Black said after the verdict. "Maybe we'll figure out a way to be a little more transparent in the bid process so we don't go through 90 days from now what we just went through with Health Alliance. What happened there?"
Lawmakers in the Champaign-Urbana area vocally protested a sudden change in health insurance providers that had thousands of state workers scrambling to find alternatives. Health Alliance ultimately won 90-day emergency contracts to continue service, but state officials still contend that switching providers will save the state money.
Black said he doesn't want to see Blagojevich face an overly-long sentence, but he said the sentence should fit the former governor's role in what he calls the state's financial wreckage.
And now that the former governor has been convicted, former state legislator Rick Winkel says it's up to political parties and voters to put honest people in office. The director of the Office of Public Leaderhip at the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs says ethics and campaign finance laws only go so far. He notes Blagovich was twice elected to the state's top office. And the second time, Winkel notes it was after the indictement of political fundraiser Tony Rezko.
"We knew that there were serious problems, and yet we re-elected him," said Winkel. "We have to as a state come to grips with this and demand more of our public officials, of our political parties, and ourselves to keep track and to be informed, and not to allow this to happen again."
Winkel says the only thing that surprised him about the verdict was Blagojevich's reaction, saying a rational person could have seen it coming.
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