Illinois Public Media News
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
A Sangamon County inquest Thursday determined the late Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died of a close-contact bullet wound to the heart in a vehicle parked at his home Dec. 14.
Investigators say they found no note from the 53-year-old Democrat. They also say there were no signs of foul play and no drugs or alcohol in his body.
The scene was bloody when police responded to a 911 hang-up call to Davlin's home, according to Illinois State Police Sergeant Brad Sterling
Sterling described the scene to jurors during an inquest into Davlin's death. He testified Davlin was found in the front, passenger seat of his white Lincoln Navigator parked in his garage. He said while the car was running, there was no indication of carbon monoxide poisoning as the garage door was left half open.
Sterling said police suspect Davlin used a revolver to shoot himself in the chest. He said the bullet went through Davlin's heart, through his body, and was found in the seat cushion. The cordless, home phone Davlin presumably used to call police was in the cup holder next to his body.
According to Sterling, investigators found no note at the home, and he said there was no sign of foul play nor of violence. Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone also told jurors a toxicology report showed no alcohol nor drugs in Davlin's system.
The entire inquest, including jury deliberations, lasted less than an hour. Sergeant Sterling said the state police investigation is expected to wrap up soon. Neither Sterling, Boone, nor anyone on the seven-member jury was willing to answer reporters' questions after the proceedings.
Davlin died the morning he was to show up at a court hearing to give a financial accounting for an estate he was handling. The IRS also said he owed $90,000 in back taxes.
The two-term mayor had recently announced he would not seek re-election.
Mitsubishi is announcing major changes in production that effect its auto assembly plant in Normal.
The Japanese-based automaker says, as part of its new business plan, workers at the Normal plant will begin producing a new model vehicle later this year, while production of current models will be phased out. The company is shifting its production philosophy away from a regional to a global approach, and Irvin said the new model made at the Normal plant will be sold worldwide, not just in the U.S.
Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said the move reaffirms two decades of hard work by employees of the Normal plant.
"And I think we can all really happy and pleased about that and look forward to a bright future," added Irvin.
The announcement comes two months after union workers at Mitsubishi's Normal plant agreed to wage concessions in return for a jump start in production,
Irvin said Mitsubishi will announce details of the new model at an event in Normal in a couple of weeks. He would not say if the plans call for more hiring or an addition of a second shift. He said it will not include production of an electric vehicle, although Mitsubishi's new business plan calls for the launch of eight new electric-powered vehicles.
Some auto industry publications say the new vehicle will be built on the same platform that carries the Outlander crossover and the Lancer sedan--two of the company's highest selling models.According to the new business plan, it will take three years to phase out the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor crossover and bring the new vehicle on line.
University of Illinois trustees have re-elected Christopher Kennedy as their chairman.
Trustees meeting in Chicago on Thursday picked Kennedy as the leader for the next year of the governing board that oversees the university and its three campuses. Kennedy was first elected in September 2009. Lawrence Eppley was his predecessor but resigned over the university's admissions scandal. Kennedy was one of six trustees appointed in September 2009 by Gov. Pat Quinn to fill vacancies left by resignations related to that scandal.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago.
Quinn on Wednesday reappointed another trustee, Karen Hasara of Springfield. The governor also picked two new trustees, Chicago-area lawyers Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has filled three vacancies on the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees just as the board is scheduled to meet Thursday in Chicago.
Three of the 10 seats on the board were vacant after the terms expired over the weekend. Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada will join the board as new trustees replacing Frances Carroll and Carlos Tortolero. Meanwhile, Karen Hasara, whose term was also up, will continue serving.
All three appointees are alumni of the University of Illinois. Holmes, a partner at Schiff Hardin LLP, has been named one of Illinois' "Top 50 Women Lawyers" by Illinois Super Lawyers. She received both her bachelor of science and juris doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois. Estrada currently serves as the first deputy commissioner in the Department of Family and Support Services for the City of Chicago. He received his master of business administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Hasara, a current trustee for the Springfield Mass Transit District, served as mayor of the city of Springfield from 1995-2003. She received both her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Hasara and Tortolero were appointed to the board in 2009 when other trustees resigned over a university admissions scandal. Carroll refused to resign.
"Students from all over the world come to Illinois because they know that they will receive the highest quality of education from the University of Illinois," Governor Quinn said in a statement. "I am confident that today's appointees will help ensure the continued integrity and quality of our state's flagship university.
A $10 million grant to the University of Illinois from the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) will help preserve large amounts of grains and oil seeds lost each year by establishing the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss.
The institute will be housed within the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. It will also work with the College of Engineering, College of Business and College of Information Technology. The money from the grant will be used to launch new technology, collect crop data, and offer agricultural training programs for students and farmers.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that around 10 to 20 percent of the world's grain harvest goes to waste because of mishandling or post-harvest operations. It is a problem ADM officials say poses a serious threat to the world's food supply, especially in developing nations. ADM president Patricia Woertz said just about five percent of all agricultural research dollars are used to study postharvest losses. Woertz said she hopes the research that results from this grant improves the world's food supply.
"It is our hope that the post harvest strategies and the practical applications devised here at U of I will ultimately boost the livelihoods of rice farmers in Southeast Asia, the sorghum grower in Eastern Africa, and the sunflower farmer in India," Woertz said. "Ultimately their gain is the world's gain."
Interim Vice Chancellor Steve Sonka, who is the former director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory, will head the institute. He said he is hopeful this new partnership with ADM will help the university strengthen its ties with groups in other countries that are also trying to reduce crop losses.
"Our strategy is to learn from their research - both their triumphs and failures - build on their work and then expand it," Sonka said.
The founder of Jimmy John's sandwich shops says he's considering moving his company's headquarters from Champaign to Florida because of Illinois' new tax increase.
Jimmy John Liautaud told the News-Gazette on Tuesday that he's gathering information on a potential move and will ask the company's board to decide.
Liautaud said he could absorb the increased costs but doesn't believe he should have to.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the income tax increase last week to help address billions of dollars in state budget shortfalls. And during a visit to the University of Illinois Urbana campus Wednesday, the governor said he hoped Liataud would reconsider any move out of the state. Quinn said a tax increase was necessary to get Illinois out of a "fiscal emergency".
"I inherited a budget deficit of billions and billions of dollars when I became governor," Quinn said. "I was direct right from the beginning. I said we needed to use the income tax to pay our bills"
With Quinn's signing of tax hike legislation last week, Illinois' corporate income tax rate increased from 4.8 to 7.0 percent. Quinn says that's still one of the lower corporate tax rates in the Midwest. But Florida, where Liautaud is considering a move for his company, has a even lower corporate income tax rate --- a flat 5.5 percent.
Jimmy John's headquarters employs 100 people in Champaign. The privately held chain has more than 1,000 sandwich shops around the country.
Liautaud said he recently moved his family to Florida from Champaign.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Three of the 10 seats on the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees are vacant after the appointments expired, and it isn't clear how or when Gov. Pat Quinn will fill them.
The terms of Frances Carroll, Karen Hasara and Carlos Tortolero expired Sunday. Quinn has yet to say whether they'll be reappointed or replaced.
Hasara says she's spoken with the governor's staff but doesn't know when or how Quinn will act. In a visit to the U of I's Urbana campus Wednesday, the Governor would only say he'd have an announcement soon.
Quinn appointed Hasara and Tortolero in 2009 to fill seats left vacant when other board members resigned over a university admissions scandal. Carroll refused to resign.
"We had a problem that came up in 2009, and I appointed new trustees, and they, I think, carried out the reforms that I wanted and the people wanted," Quinn said.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Five people seeking a vacant Champaign City council seat have interviewed for the post.
But it's still not clear whether the council will appoint one of two people seeking the District 5 seat solely on an interim basis, or one of the three also conducting write-in campaigns for April's election. At least three council members say they will support Linda Cross or Steve Meid, who don't want the seat long-term.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart contends appointing one of the three also running in April would give them an unfair advantage. Council member Michael LaDue said she agrees, as does Karen Foster.
"It's just an unfair advantage in this situation," Foster said. "It's different if you're an incumbent already and you're running for election and win or lose. It's an appointed incumbency, so to speak."
And write-in hopeful Katherine Emanuel said while she calls herself the best candidate, she also suggests the council not appoint someone running in April.
"Even people I know who are pretty involved in things didn't know who their council member was," Emanuel said. "And I would encourage you (the city council) to not take the responsibility as a governmental representative for selecting the person who will represent the district, but kind of put that responsibility on the shoulders on both the citizenry and the candidates."
Emanuel is running to hold the seat until 2012, along with Paul Faraci and Jim McGuire. At least one Council member, Marci Dodds, said she would appoint of one those three. She said appointing an interim on Feb. 1 means that person isn't responsible for their actions after three months.
"So that means that lame duck isn't accountable to anybody," Dodds said. "Not to the constituents unless they want to be, not to the council unless they want to be, and not to city staff unless they feel like it that day. And I'm not saying anybody here would be like that, I'm just saying that's a real risk."
The Champaign City Council will make the interim appointment Feb. 1, and that person will serve through April.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is weighing in on the death penalty as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn mulls over whether to repeal it in the state.
Durbin said on a federal level, the death penalty should be left open on high-profile cases, like terrorism or treason where he said there is less of a chance that prejudice could lead to someone being falsely executed. But Durbin noted that on a regional level, states should decide for themselves how they want to enforce it.
"I think that on a state basis, I will leave it to the governor to make his own choice," Durbin said, who noted that a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois has been in place for more than a decade. "I think we are right in Illinois at this point in our history to have suspended the death penalty, and should continue to do so."
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already ended capital punishment. Governor Quinn has said he supports the death penalty when it is properly applied, but it is still unclear how Quinn will move forward with the legislation. More than a dozen death row inmates have been exonerated in Illinois.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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