Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Urbana Resident’s Humanitarian Trip to Gaza Strip Put on Hold

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An Urbana resident's humanitarian trip to the Gaza Strip has been put at a standstill.

Robert Naiman works for the advocacy group, Just Foreign Policy. He is traveling with about 50 other Americans to protest an Israeli-imposed naval blockade on Gaza.

But on Friday, Greek authorities intercepted the U.S. ship, and arrested its captain for setting sail without permission and allegedly endangering the other passengers.

Speaking in Athens on Tuesday morning, Naiman said the Greek government released the ship's captain, John Klusmire, earlier in the day. Klusmire had attempted to leave a port Friday near Piraeus, Greece, in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort.

"No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped," one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, said after the hearing. "We presented a very strong case and we don't need to call any more witnesses to testify."

The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting "We love John."

"This is a much better outcome than I anticipated," Klusmire said.

Up to 400 international activists had been due to sail last week to Gaza aboard 10 ships leaving from Greece to protest the naval blockade.

Greece has banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.

Despite Klusmire's release, Naiman said the humanitarian trip has faced another setback with Greek government officials seizing Klusmire's Gaza-bound ship.

"Whether we can go to Gaza I think is now a question of our boat," Naiman said. "Our boat is essentially under arrest by the Greek authorities. It's tied at a military dock in Piraeus. I don't think as of now the Greek authorities will allow it to leave."

Naiman added that even if his hopes to make it to Gaza are dashed, he said he is grateful for being able to "communicate a message of solidarity to the people of Gaza, and to speak to international public opinion about the blockade and the denial of freedom."

The Israeli government has maintained the naval blockade since 2007 to weaken the militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory.

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Quinn: Ready for Court Battle Over Canceled Raises

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he was prepared to go to court against the unions to defend his decision to cancel pay raises for nearly 30,000 state workers and he repeatedly blamed lawmakers for leaving him no choice by not setting aside the money.

"It's very clear that the money wasn't available for the raises and therefore there's really nothing I could do to clear it up," Quinn said after a Chicago press conference where he touted a $10 million program to give teens and young people internships and jobs in state parks, park districts and nature centers.

Quinn made the surprise announcement Friday that workers wouldn't be getting the 2 percent increase they were expecting that day. The state's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it had no idea Quinn was considering such action.

The raises will save the state about $75 million as it continues to cope with a budget crisis. The state still faces a shortfall of at least $6 billion and possibly more than $9 billion despite cutting costs and raising the state income tax.

Quinn brushed off suggestions that his action came as a surprise. "Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the budget would know this," he said.

Quinn's budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the governor began thinking about cancelling the raises after lawmakers approved the budget on May 30. He did not tell workers they were losing the money until July 1.

Quinn insisted he's following the law because he can't spend money the General Assembly doesn't appropriate but AFSCME has condemned Quinn's actions.

"The General Assembly neither did nor can compel the government to violate a legally binding collective bargaining agreement," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.

Lindall said the union was considering its legal options and believes it has a "very strong case in a court of law."

Quinn wasn't concerned about what could potentially be a long and costly legal battle. "If they decide to sue that's their right and we'll be happy to meet them in court," he said.

While Quinn said repeatedly that lawmakers did not set aside money in the budget to pay the raises, that's not entirely accurate.

It's true that lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises. The Corrections Department, for instance, saw personnel money drop by 7 percent. But budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees. The governor decides how to spend the money.

So, potentially, Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.

House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman said it's up to Quinn's administration and state agencies to decide how to spend the money lawmakers appropriate.

"We don't get involved in that level of detail," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Quinn's decision to end the raises will be added "to the list of items in the current year's budget that need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months."

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One

Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg was known for more than his intimidating figure and prodigious home runs. The Detroit Tiger favorite also became a hero for those of the same faith. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talks to author Mark Kurlansky about the complicated life of the Jewish sports star.

Download mp3 file
Categories: History, Sports
Tags: history, sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 04, 2011

Blago Retrial Not Last Chapter in Legal Saga

There's no doubt Rod Blagojevich's recently ended retrial was the marquee event in the federal investigation into corruption surrounding the former Illinois governor's administration.

But the legal saga that stretches back nearly a decade isn't quite at an end.

The last big trial in the case is of businessman William Cellini. His trial on charges he plotted to shake down a Hollywood movie producer for a campaign contribution for Blagojevich is scheduled to start in October.

The 76-year-old has pleaded not guilty.

Political observer Paul Green, who teaches politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, says the trial could give the public another peek at the underbelly of state politics.

Cellini is a Springfield Republican once known as "The Pope'' Illinois politics for the influence he wielded. He raised money for both fellow Republicans and Democrats, like Blagojevich.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 04, 2011

Budget Expert Chosen to Replace Late State Rep

A committee has chosen the budget director for the Illinois House Republicans to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Mark Beaubien.

Beaubien was a seven-term GOP state representative. He died last month at age 68.

His replacement is 44-year-old Kent Gaffney of Lake Barrington. He's a married father of two children.

Gaffney worked closely with Beaubien and served as a House Republicans budget chief for more than a decade.

Gaffney says it's an honor to be chosen and he learned a lot from Beaubien. He says he plans to run for the office next year.

A committee representing the 52nd District chose Gaffney last week. The district covers portions of the following counties: McHenry, Lake and Cook. They picked Gaffney from a dozen finalists.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2011

Governor Signs Bill Barring Disclosure of Gun Permit Owners

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Pat Quinn barred the public from knowing who holds a firearm owner identification card.

Quinn signed into law Saturday the measure that Illinois lawmakers overwhelming passed in May. The new law is a victory for gun owners who say they have a right to privacy over open-government advocates who say such records should not be secret. In a 42-1 vote, the Senate passed a measure overturning a ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office that said the names are public under the state's open records law.

Quinn has said he agrees the information should remain confidential. Illinois follows the lead of Florida and Tennessee, which shut off access to information about people with permits to carry concealed firearms after newspapers revealed significant lapses.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2011

Blagojevich Likely to Face Menial Work in Prison

An eight-digit number affixed to his prison clothes. A job scrubbing toilets or mopping floors at 12 cents an hour. His incessant jogging confined to a prison yard. Most painful of all, restricted visits from his wife and two daughters.

After sentencing for his conviction on federal corruption charges, that is likely to be the new life for impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is more accustomed to fancy suits, a doting staff and a comfortable home in a leafy Chicago neighborhood.

Most legal experts estimate that Blagojevich, 54, will get close to a 10-year sentence, though technically he faces up to 300 years after he was convicted Monday of 17 of 20 counts at his retrial. The convictions include attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated to become president.

One fellow Illinois politician who served time in federal prison on corruption charges, former Chicago city clerk Jim Laski, says Blagojevich can't begin to fathom how hard prison will be.

"I missed my kids' birthdays, graduations ... you don't ever see children playing, there's a sense of total isolation, you're subject to body-cavity searches - it's horrible!" said the 57-year-old Laski, a father of three. "And I was only in two years."

Once he walks through the prison doors, no one will care that Blagojevich was once governor or appeared in 2010 on the reality television show "Celebrity Apprentice," Laski and others said.

"If he thinks he'll come in and get special treatment, he's in for a rude surprise," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "If you come in with that attitude, prison guards and other inmates will go out of their way to break you."

But a chilly reception may not deter Blagojevich's non-stop campaigning. "I still see him going around acting jovial, shaking hands," Turner said. "I bet he knows everybody's name in a month."

No sentencing date has been set yet for Blagojevich, though it should happen by year's end. A decision on what prison Blagojevich will go to won't be made until weeks after a sentence is imposed, but it could very well be the same facility in Terre Haute, Ind., that houses another former Illinois governor, George Ryan. Lawyers will likely appeal Blagojevich's convictions, but appeals on federal convictions rarely prevail.

What may weigh most on Blagojevich's mind is the welfare of his daughters - Amy, 14, and Annie, 8. If he does spend a decade or more imprisoned, he could miss many landmarks of their lives, including their high school and college graduations.

"There's always a sense of precariousness because a child whose parent has gone wonders, 'What else in my life can be taken away?'" said Mindy Clark, spokeswoman for Oregon-based Children's Justice Alliance, which helps families of imprisoned relatives.

Laski said his kids faced teasing at school. "One kid came up to my boys when I was in prison and said, 'At least my dad is home for Christmas - and your dad is in jail,'" he said.

While Blagojevich would go to a prison with minimal security, possibly with just a simple fence around it, his routine will be highly regimented, including limits on family visits and phone calls.

A guidebook for another federal prison in Oxford, Wis., where Blagojevich could also go, says inmates get 300 minutes a month on the phone, or about 10 minutes a day. Cell phones are strictly prohibited. Prisoners, all of whom share rooms, wake at 6:00 a.m. and are subject to head counts half a dozen times a day.

Blagojevich, an avid jogger who has posted impressive times in several marathons, will also have to settle for running in circles on a prison track or around a yard.

There's some good news in the guidebook for Blagojevich, famously fastidious about keeping every strand of his generous locks in place: He won't have to shave off his trademark hair, though fully maintaining it out of reach of his usual stylist may pose challenges.

"Your hair may be worn in any style and length you wish," the guidebook says.

Inmates also must work an 8-hour-a-day job, starting at 12 cents an hour; most new prisoners start in custodial work, explained Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Blagojevich's predecessor, Ryan, a Republican, is serving 6 1/2 years in prison on multiple corruption charges and is expected to be freed in 2013. That means Blagojevich, a Democrat, and Ryan could be serving time simultaneously.

Blagojevich's imprisonment could pose financial hardships for his family. During his trial and retrial, he already complained of being broke, and in prison he won't be able to contribute any meaningful revenue to his family, according to prison rules. Earning money from writing books or articles is forbidden.

Dick Mell, an influential alderman in Chicago and his wife Patti's father, could be expected to lend his daughter and grandchildren a helping hand. Patti Blagojevich's sister, Deb Mell, is a state legislator.

Another concern is that someone like Blagojevich could be targeted by other inmates who might think his celebrity means he has access to money, Turner said. "They need to find him a place where no one will try to do anything to him," the former prosecutor said.

Blagojevich hasn't spoken at any length about prison. When asked in an interview before his retrial about whether he dwelled on the prospect of being locked up for years, he answered: "No. I don't let myself go there."

Laski said he ran into Blagojevich in a federal court restroom before his retrial ended and tried to convey how crushing the prison experience is. Blagojevich, he said, looked shocked.

"I told him the worst day in my life, bar none, was the day I said goodbye to my children and headed off to prison," he said. "I said, 'Rod, you better pray you don't have to go through that.'"

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

AFSCME Urges Champaign to Preserve Police Funding

With about 50 jobs eliminated in Champaign as part of a round of budget cuts over the last few years, AFSCME local 31 says some of those positions should be saved - especially as city department heads and the city manager are poised to receive a two percent pay hike.

One area impacted by recent budget cuts is the Champaign Police Department, which could lose a few positions that would keep the front desk from staying open overnight. At a time when administrator salaries are going up, AFSCME spokesperson Michael Wilmore said the city should do more to keep the front desk open 24 hours a day.

"We are trying to draw attention to the fact that they're giving themselves raises," Wilmore said. "It is really insulting to the workers and to the citizens of Champaign."

The Champaign City Council considered a liquor tax in June to restore funding for three of the department's front desk positions and one of its record services positions, but that measure failed to get enough support.

There are currently two out of three three positions at the police department's front desk that are vacant. No changes in the status of these jobs will occur until the Champaign City Council provides more direction, which means for now, the two vacated positions will not be filled and the third position will not be eliminated. The city council is expected to discuss potential new sources of revenue and the future of those jobs during its July 12th meeting.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he is hopeful that the city will find a way to keep the front desk staffed all the time.

"Those positions are vital to the support of the police staff," Gerard said. "I voted against not giving the city manager a raise not because I didn't think he deserved it, but because from a leadership standpoint in these budgetary times, we need to have shared responsibility."

City Manager Steve Carter, whose salary will go up by two percent, defended the pay increases for non-union employees. Carter has not received a pay raise for the last couple of years. He noted many of the other non-union workers who are expected to make more money this year also did not get a raise last year.

"If there has been a group of employees that have scarified - if you will - recognizing the budget condition, it has been the non-union employees," Carter said. "All the union employees, including AFSCME, have received salary increases all along based on contracts, some in existence and some negotiated."

Union workers from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Plumbers and Pipefitters saw their salaries go up last year, and continue to rise this year. However, no future pay raises have been budgeted for AFSCME workers since contract negations with the city are ongoing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Cuts to Illinois’ Regional School Superintendents Leaves Questions

The Regional Superintendent of Schools for Champaign and Ford Counties says it is too early to speculate on the long-term impact of Gov. Pat Quinn's cuts to her office and others like it.

The Democratic governor signed a budget Thursday night that would cut salaries for Jane Quinlan and her assistant. The Quinn administration suggests local school districts should pick up those salaries. He has also cut out funds for professional development and training at regional superintendents' offices across the state.

But Quinlan said state lawmakers would have to decide whether to challenge those changes in the fall. For the time being, Quinlan is starting a new four-year term, and she said legislators appear to back that.

"It was put back in both the House budget and the Senate budget," Quinlan said. "The governor had vetoed it again, which would take it back to what his original proposal was. There are some comments in the newspapers that indicate that he thinks it might be paid from other sources, or from county sources. But I haven't really seen a plan for that."

Quinlan said she hopes to learn more about the governor's plan next week. Champaign Unit 4 School Board President Sue Grey said she intends to contact legislators to express her concerns about the budget cuts.

Like Quinlan, Peoria's Regional Superintendent of Schools was sworn in Friday to another term in office. Gerry Brookhart said the Illinois Association of School Superintendents will likely file an injunction to block Quinn's action.

"Myself and our staff will continue to work and the legal entanglement that this will create will probable take some time," Brookhart said. "Ultimately, it will be sorted out and the public will get what we think they really want and deserve which is good quality education delivered in a very effective and meaningful fashion."

The Executive Director of the IARS, Michael McCreery, said he is 'baffled and miffed' by the governor's decision to cut funding for regional school superintendents. Brookhart said the Peoria office brought in $16 million in revenue last year. He said Regional Offices statewide are responsible for more than $100 million in annual revenue. Brookhart said that makes it hard to understand why the governor would cut $11 million and jeopardize ten times that in revenue.

Meanwhile, Mary Fergus with Illinois Association of School Boards said her office has not had a chance to analyze the governor's plan.

There are 46 Regional Offices of Education in the state. Their duties include certifying teachers, overseeing school inspections, and running GED exams.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Suspect Arrested in Champaign Homicide; Victim Identified

An arrest has been made in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Nathan Barker of Champaign.

The United States Marshals Service worked with the Champaign Police Department to locate and arrest Keontae Campbell for First Degree Murder and Unlawful Possession of a Weapon.

Campbell was arrested inside a residence late Friday morning on the 7100 Block of Faris in Lawrence, Indiana. The Champaign Police Department said he did not resist arrest.

The homicide occurred early Friday morning at the intersection of Bradley and McKinley on Champaign's northwest side. Police were called to the intersection at 2:42 AM, where they found Barker with a gunshot wound. He was later pronounced dead at Carle Foundation Hospital.

An autopsy will be performed Friday afternoon.

Police say that in their initial investigation, they learned the shooting followed an altercation between Barker and Campbell, and it is believed the two knew each other.

The intersection of Bradley and McKinley was closed to traffic for the investigation. It reopened Friday morning at 7:10 AM.

If you have information about the shooting, contact Champaign Police at 217-351-4545, or to stay anonymous, contact Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 217-373-8477 (TIPS), or online at www.373tips.com, or by texting keyword "Tip397" plus the information to 274637 (CRIMES).


Page 558 of 798 pages ‹ First  < 556 557 558 559 560 >  Last ›