Illinois Public Media News
(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.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of William Cellini. He's the fifth and final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Prosecutors say he was part of a conspiracy that traded campaign contributions for the governor in exchange for state contracts and business. He's not exactly a household name in Chicago, but the Springfield native is a big deal in his hometown.
At the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, there's a painting that depicts the night in 1864 when Lincoln won his second term as president. The townspeople in the room are celebrating and Lincoln is sitting in a chair, presumably going over election returns. Standing over the president and seeming to advise him is Bill Cellini.
The museum won't comment on whether it's actually Cellini in the painting, but Gene Callahan has been friends with Cellini since 1959 and remembers seeing his friend's likeness on the museum wall.
"The tour guide even pointed that out to me because the tour guide knew we were friends with Bill's," Callahan said.
Bill Cellini is in his late 70s and has been a political insider for a long time, though not all the way back to Lincoln. But the painting is emblematic on so many levels because Cellini has had the ear of the state's top politicians for four decades, and he's always kept himself in the background. He never needed to be the one winning elections, just the one whispering in the ear of the winner on election night.
"Oh, he's very well known in Springfield," Callahan said. "I would say there's no one in Springfield better known than Bill Cellini."
Callahan was a staffer for Paul Simon when he was lieutenant governor and for U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon. He said Cellini, a Republican, had good relationships with politicians of both parties.
"He's meticulous," Callahan said. "When you have a meeting with him he takes notes on what to follow up on. He's outstanding on follow through. He returns his phone calls. He likes to joke. He likes the arts. He's a very fine musician, he's a piano player and very good. He's a fun guy! You know, he's been a good citizen for our town."
Cellini held local political office in Springfield early in his career, and by his mid-30s he was appointed by Gov. Richard Ogilvie to run the state's Department of Transportation and its $1.5 billion budget. With that intimate knowledge of government, he turned his focus to business, but he always kept a hand in politics.
Bernie Schoenburg is the political columnist for the State Journal Register in Springfield, and he said Cellini has been the de facto head of the Sangamon County Republicans for a long time, but he never took the top spot; he preferred the less high-profile, though powerful job, of treasurer.
"He's certainly not a big deal in the typical politician way because you won't see him giving a speech," Schoenburg said. "In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him give a speech. He's not the kind of person who needs that kind of adoration or attention from the public. But he's been a big influence in the background for many years."
Schoenburg said Cellini has been able to turn his political connections into business deals, getting the first casino license from the state, leasing out buildings to the state, developing land with federal and state money and building roads for the state.
In the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times estimated Cellini was worth $50 million.
Rich Miller is another political reporter in Springfield. He publishes a newsletter called Capitol Fax and has been observing the political scene in Springfield for a couple decades. He talks about Cellini with a sense of wonder and amazement.
"Usually somebody has, like, one idea in life, okay, that works and then every other idea they have doesn't work, but he kept coming up with new ideas all the time and they always worked, but it was based on a common theme," Miller said. "Government makes people money, certain people money so you be one of those certain people all the time."
Miller said government doesn't build stuff, it hires companies to do that, which means there's always money to be made. That's what he said Cellini did. "He worked harder than anybody. He was smarter than anybody. He looked around harder than anybody at how to make money under every cover to find a possible way to make money in state government, he scoured it from top to bottom and he did! He says there were never allegations that Cellini did anything illegal until these charges related to the long-running pay to play scandal under Blagojevich."
Prosecutors say with the change from Republican to Democratic administrations Cellini worried that he'd lose his clout and therefore his ability to make money. And they say, to curry favor with the Blagojevich administration, Cellini joined a conspiracy with Blagojevich's top fundraisers Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and the late Chris Kelly, to force business people to give campaign contributions to the governor if they wanted contracts with the state.
Cellini's defense attorney Dan Webb said Cellini wasn't part of their crew.
"I think the evidence at trial will establish that whatever Levine, Rezko and Kelly discussed among the three of them, it's very clear that Cellini was not part of those discussions," Webb said.
Webb is a partner at Winston and Strawn, the law firm where former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson is also a partner. It's the same firm that represented Gov. George Ryan. Webb wouldn't let Cellini comment for this story.
Webb is already fighting against the idea that Cellini must be dirty just because he's a savvy political insider. It's an argument he'll likely make to the jury.
"Bill Cellini learned what it's like to work hard," Webb said. "He is smart. He made some good investments and he's been successful in the business world, but that's hardly a crime."
Gene Callahan, Cellini's friend since 1959, he has a hard time believing Cellini is guilty.
"He was honest in every dealing I ever had with him without exception," Callahan said "The problem is here, when you lie down with dogs with fleas, you can get fleas and the people that were lying down with Blagojevich were suspect of getting fleas."
Callahan said he doesn't know the law and doesn't know what the jury will do, but he said he hopes his friend is not guilty of the crimes for which he is accused.
Cellini's trial starts Monday with jury selection and and is expected to take two to three weeks. Opening arguments could start Tuesday morning.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Whether a federal court sides with Democrats or Republicans on their versions of a Congressional map, Illinois' 15th District would still include parts of Champaign County.
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), 53, would end up in that district, and he and most other GOP lawmakers are challenging the Democrats' map as part of a lawsuit. The suit contends that the map is unfair to minorities and Republicans.
Shimkus, who hasn't declared his candidacy, visited members of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning. He said he's hopeful the Democratic map won't stand up in court.
"I mean the Democrats thought we were over," he said. "They got more than they bargained for, and in our system of government, how are conflicts solved? Through the courts."
One difference between the maps is that the GOP's version would place less of Champaign and Vermilion Counties in the 15th district. Under either map, that district would contain all of Edgar, Coles, and Douglas Counties, but not the cities of Champaign or Urbana. Those areas would fall under a redrawn district inherited by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana), who plans on running for re-election.
During his meeting with chamber members, Shimkus was asked about the economy. He said the debate over raising the debt ceiling created more uncertainty about the state of the economy. He said his constituents want Congress to just stop spending.
"We know the economy, we know the job issue is difficult, but they really want to get control of this fiscal position," he said. "I think we did that by having that fight (with the debt ceiling debate), and now we just have to move forward."
As a Congressional Super Committee looks at ways to save more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, Shimkus said entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, should be considered for possible cuts.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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