Illinois Public Media News
A jury has been impaneled in Chicago at the last trial stemming from a federal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A judge seated 12 jurors Wednesday, the third day of millionaire William Cellini's trial. The next step will be opening statements. Prosecutors say the 76-year-old conspired to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a campaign donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini denies the charges.
The Springfield Republican once called the King of Clout for the influence he wielded in the corridors of power in both Repubican and Democratic administrations, like Blagojevich's.
The judge vetted more than 50 would-be jurors over three days. He dismissed a few who said they believed lobbyists and political fundraisers undermined the political system.
Willard Airport at Champaign will be adding the Fort Myers Florida area to its passenger air schedule this winter.
Georgia-based Vision Airlines will be flying twice-weekly round trips between Willard Airport and the airport at Punta Gorda, Florida --- about 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers. The service will launch on December 19th, and run until the end of next March. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used for the route.
Vision Airlines Sales and Marketing Director Clay Meek says their service is aimed at leisure customers seeking a warm-weather getaway --- and he thinks the Monday and Friday flights will be a good fit for the Champaign-Urbana area.
"You're looking at 150 seats twice a week, about 300 seats a week," Meek said. "And it's falling on the proper days. So you're looking at a Monday-Friday, so people can get a very inexpensive getaway for the weekend, or midweek travel, or of course they can stay a whole week. The numbers line up that it should be successful."
Meek said their service will save passengers the trouble of connecting to flights at larger airports, and fares for the non-stop flights will be as low as $99 one way. He said Vision Airlines could consider other service to Willard Airport, if the Fort Myers/Punta Gordo flights prove popular.
Bruce Walden of the University of Illinois, which operates Willard Airport, said the new flights will be handy, not just for reaching Fort Myers, but for visiting the eastern Florida coast from Sarasota to Naples.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Longtime Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello says he won't run again because he plans to pursue other interests. The 62-year-old Belleville Democrat on Tuesday announced that he won't seek re-election next year.
Costello has been in office since August 1988, when he was picked to fill the term of the late U.S. Rep. Melvin Price. Costello serves in the 12th District, which includes Belleville, East St. Louis, Alton and Carbondale.
Costello is the senior Democrat on the House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Looking back on his career, Costello said he's most proud of securing a future for Scott Air Force Base, and seeing construction start on the new Mississippi River Bridge. He said that it has been his plan to not stay in Congress forever.
"It's about a personal decision to pursue other things in my life," Costello said. "You have to make a decision - do you want to continue to do what you're doing just to do it, or do you want to move on and do other things and be productive in other ways."
Costello said he'll remain in the Metro East area, and wants to teach and do some charity work. He also said he will support the Democratic candidate who best represents the principles of the party and the 12th congressional district.
"Anyone who has an interest in running who has similar views that I have I would ask you to step forward," Costello said. "I will take look at the candidates and make a decision then if I am going to get involved in supporting a particular candidate in the primary of next year."
There's been speculation about whether or not Costello's son would succeed him in office. His son, also named Jerry, is currently a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Costello said his son has no interest in running for Congress at this time.
Meanwhile, Democrat Jay Hoffman, who's already announced his candidacy in the new 13th Congressional District, said this isn't the time for speculation on any future political considerations. He said now should be a time to honor Costello and his list of accomplishments.
President Barack Obama said Costello has "proudly'' represented southern Illinois in the U.S. Congress as a "fierce advocate'' for improving transportation infrastructure. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn calls Costello a "tireless advocate'' for his district. Congressman John Shimkus calls Costello's decision a "great loss for southern Illinois'' as well as a personal loss.
But the head of the Illinois Republican Party is cheering the news. Pat Brady said replacing Costello with a GOP candidate would be one of that party's top priorities next year. He said the district has been trending Republican for several years, and he's buoyed by recent GOP victories in Illinois congressional and state senate races.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
The latest reading of the University of Illinois Flash Index shows some improvement in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index was at 98.8 for September, up one point from where it had been for the past three months. That number still shows the state's economy to be contracting --- the Index needs to break 100 to show economic growth. But 98.8 is the highest Flash reading since December of 2008.
Economist Fred Giertz of the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs says the September improvement suggests that fears of a double-dip recession in Illinois may be overblown. But he cautions that results for a single month may be due to "transitory factors".
The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois. Giertz says revenue from all three taxes were up in September compared to a year ago --- after being adjusted for recent increases in tax rates.
Jury selection is scheduled to resume today in federal court in the trial of William Cellini, after a slow start on Monday.
Judge James Zagel questioned only eight potential jurors Monday afternoon. One said she had a negative view of campaign fundraising, but another thought it was good to give contributions. Zagel told both of them that there is legal fundraising and there is illegal fundraising, and he asked if they could set aside their biases about fundraising and judge the case on the law. Both women agreed they could.
Cellini is the final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Cellini is accused of joining a conspiracy to raise money for Blagojevich by threatening people that they'd lose their business contracts with the state unless they paid up.
A union for grad student workers at the University of Illinois Urbana campus says they have won a battle in their fight to keep tuition waivers as a benefit.
According to the Graduate Employees Organization, an outside arbitrator has ruled that the university violated their contract with the union, when it decided NOT to offer tuition waivers last year to some new graduate employees. Instead, these grad employees coming from out of state to the College of Fine and Applied Arts were given scholarships instead, although for less than the full tuition rate.
GEO spokesman Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy said tuition waivers are guaranteed in their contract with the U of I.
"GEO believes that these waivers are a central part of being a graduate employee," Pacheco-McEvoy said. "Because oftentimes, graduate employees don't make a lot of money. In fact, the students who were affected by this tuition waiver issue in the Fine and Applied Arts Department, they make the least amount from departments across campus."
The dispute went to an outside arbitrator, who ruled two weeks ago that the University of Illinois was violating its contract with the GEO when it acted on its own to drop the tuition waivers for some grad workers.
Meanwhile, the U of I said in a statement it strongly disagrees with the ruling, and feels the contract was not violated. It said the university is committed to working with the GEO to "identify ways to move forward".
Approval for new funding for the Champaign County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been put on hold.
The Urbana City Council Monday night was expected to vote on giving the bureau about $19,000, but instead, the council sent that issue to the Committee of the Whole with a few provisions.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson introduced a motion calling for a contractual agreement to identify which services would be funded, and how those services impact the community. The motion also looks at whether 40 North Arts funding should be handled through the CVB or the city.
Bowersox-Johnson said this should resolve some of the concerns about funding the bureau.
"Simply writing a check is not all of the puzzle," he said. "There are other pieces that I think it's up to us to solve, and to put into place so that we know if the city of Urbana invests in the CVB what benefit we can expect it to bring to the community."
Even without the motion being introduced, it was clear the funding measure wouldn't pass on Monday night. It wouldn't have had enough votes with two members of the city council absent.
CVB Director Jayne DeLuce was at the meeting. She said she is ready to work with Urbana officials on the issues outlined in the motion, but she admits the council's decision not to vote on the funding is a setback.
"We want to grow," DeLuce said. "This area is growing. Champaign County has so much to offer, and when you're strapped with a minimal level of funding, and you're about the fourth lowest funded CVB at least in the state of Illinois, it's hard to keep moving forward with very little resources."
DeLuce said the bureau has to match more than $320,000 it receives in state tourism grants, and she said so far, her department been able to meet about 80 percent of that funding.
Back in July, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said the agency has not been effective, and that the nearly $72,000 in the budget for the CVB could be used to help fill two police vacancies instead.
Five cats in Champaign County have been diagnosed with tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, and other names. It's a bacterial disease that can spread to humans.
Epidemiologist Avais Vaid of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said cats catch tularemia from ticks they encounter while hunting rabbits and other small rodents. Four of the five cats with the disease have either died or been euthanized.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health says cases of tularemia haven't been seen in the state in years. Vaid said he's concerned that the disease has shown up in cats in Cahampaign County, and he worries the disease may be spreading.
"Initially, the three cats were in the Savoy area, which were very close to the wildlife area over there," Vaid explained. "But then the other ones that we found, one was in Champaign and (one was) in Urbana. So that really raises the concern that it is possible that it is spreading to other parts of the county."
Cats with tularemia may develop a high fever, mouth ulcers and depression, among other symptoms. They can spread the disease to humans through bites and scratches, sneezing or saliva. Human symptoms include sudden fever, chills, heat and muscle aches and diarrhea. The disease is fatal to humans in rare cases, especially if not treated.
Vaid said the best way to protect cats from tularemia is not to let them hunt outdoors, and make sure they're protected from tick bites. He says freezing weather should curb the threat of the tick that spreads tularemia.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was in Chicago this week, promoting his new book "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans." Gov. Daniels writes about the nation's growing debt problem, especially as it relates to Social Security and Medicare, and he explains how his own policies have helped turn his state's debts into surpluses. Speaking with Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente, Daniels started off by talking about the potential damage of national debt.
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
An arbitrator has ordered Gov. Pat Quinn to cancel his plan to lay off state employees and close several prisons and mental facilities.
Arbitrator Edwin Benn ruled Monday that Quinn's plan would violate his agreement with a major union. The Democratic governor signed a deal last year that promised no layoffs or closures if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to various cost-cutting measures.
Quinn says that lawmakers haven't given him enough money to run state government and he is now forced to make cuts.
But the arbitrator says that doesn't make any difference. Benn says the state's agreement isn't canceled because it now claims financial problems.
Quinn is likely to appeal. He is already fighting a similar ruling over canceling union raises.
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