January 08, 2015

12 Political Hopefuls Vie For Sen. Mike Frerichs' Seat In The Legislature

Democratic party officials will be choosing a successor to State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-52), who'll be sworn in as Illinois' next treasurer on Monday. The 12 people vying for the job spoke Wednesday night in Champaign.

Though Frerichs lives in Champaign, his replacement could come from Vermilion County, since the 52nd district stretches all the way east to the Indiana border.

Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), who'll soon be sworn into the General Assembly, says she hopes Frerichs' replacement will continue the senator's work for rural constituents outside of Champaign and Urbana.

"It is important for the person who does replace him to really understand the importance of really supporting Vermillion County, as well as Champaign," she said. "They really have to have a big heart like he did, and so I think if they do, they'll do well."

Frerichs' replacement is expected to be announced next week. The 99th General Assembly will be sworn in on Wednesday.

Listen to the candidates (in order they spoke on Wednesday):

Laurie Bonnett is the president of the Unit 4 School Board. She says her years working as a legislative assistant in Springfield make her qualified to take the seat in the Senate.
Scott Bennett is a prosecutor for Champaign County. He says investment in education and employment opportunities are key preventative measures.
Michael Langendorf is a retired social worker and has been the chair of the Illinois Association of Social Workers for 12 years. He says he'd work on reducing the amount of pension payments for the highest-paid retirees.
Pius Weibel is on the Champaign County Board, and a former board chair. He says he's in favor of overhauling the state's tax code.
Don Crist is a small farmer, a real estate broker and an auctioneer. He says agriculture is a main concern for the state's 52nd district.
Michael Puhr is a four-term alderman in Danville. He said his history working as a legislative liaison for the Illinois Funeral Home Association has given him an inside look at how Springfield works.   
Jamar Brown is on the Unit 4 School Board and works for the engineering department at the U of I. He says he wants to extend the 2011 income tax hike in order to support the state's financial burdens.
Laurel Prussing is the mayor of Urbana. She touted her success in bringing the Police Training Institute back to the community, after the U of I decided to cut it from the budget.
Lynn Foster is a former Vermilion County Clerk. She touted her political savvy and promised a winning re-election in 2016.
Robert Rasmus is the senior pastor at St. Matthew Luthern Church in Urbana. He says his long history as a political reporter and press sercretary makes him qualified to take the Senate seat.
Michael Olsta is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois, and now works for the U of I. He said he'd "do anything" for the U of I.
Brent West is the chair of the neighborhood advisory board in Champaign. He says as a Danville native, he knows both counties very well.

James Burgess, former Champaign County State's Attorney
December 19, 2014

Obama Signs Measure Naming Post Office For James Burgess

A Post Office in Champaign will bear the name of the area’s first and only African-American countywide elected official.

Earlier this week, President Obama signed a measure designating the facility on Green Street ‘The James R. Burgess Post Office Building.’

Burgess was Champaign County State Attorney in the early 1970’s, and a US Attorney under President Carter.  

He also had a decorated military career, as one of the leaders of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African-American armored unit to battle in World War Two.

The measure honoring Burgess passed the Senate last week. 

"Naming a post office in Champaign is a fitting tribute to Mr. Burgess' distinguished record of service, both as part of our nation's military overseas and right here in Central Illinois," said Senator Dick Durbin.  "I am proud to join my colleagues in completing the effort undertaken by Mr. Burgess' late son, Steve, to honor this longtime public servant and trailblazing Illinoisan."

A spokesman for Congressman Rodney Davis says there will be an official dedication ceremony in the first part of next year.

James R. Burgess, former Champaign County State's Attorney
(Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives,The Urbana Free Library)
December 09, 2014

Measure To Honor Burgess Heads To Obama's Desk

Legislation is now headed to President Obama to name the Champaign post office in Campustown for James Burgess – after a bipartisan measure passed the US Senate Monday night.

He was the first African-American countywide elected official in Champaign County – serving as state’s attorney.  

Burgess, who died in 1997, was also a leader of the first black armored battalion in World War II. 

Chief sponsor and Taylorville Republican Congressman Rodney Davis cited the efforts of Burgess’ son Steve, who he said ‘worked tirelessly to get this project to the finish line.’

Steve Burgess passed away just over a year ago. 

During an interview last year on WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers, Burgess said his father was the lone African-American graduate from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1965.

“I know he struggled his first semester, just making the adjustment," he told David Inge.  "And I can remember as a kid, cause I would have been about 7 years old when he graduated, that I can remember times I’d go with him to the law library and he’d be reading and reading – he spending more time there than he spent at home.”

Burgess had initially hoped to have the federal courthouse in Urbana named for his father.

"I think the overriding thing I was told was that my dad lacked stature," he said.  "I tried to prepare myself from the very beginning was this wasn't something that was going to happen overnight.  This whole thing has been a history and a civics lesson for me."

Burgess said it came down to 'unspoken guidelines' saying there was nothing in the statute about naming the courthouse after certain individuals.

When Steve Burgess later learned through the state's congressional delegation that his father's name could be attached the Champaign post office, it was a weight off his shoulders.

"I'd waited three years just to get to that point, that somebody finally made a decision that we're going forward," he said.

US Senator Dick Durbin calls naming the Green Street post office for James Burgess a 'fitting tribute to Burgess’ record of service.'

"I am proud to join my colleagues in completing the effort undertaken by Mr. Burgess' late son, Steve, and family to honor his longtime public servant and trailblazing Illinoisan," Durbin said.

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk said "The renamed post office in Champaign will recognize his contributions to central Illinois and honor his life and commitment to public service."

Under the bill passed Monday, H.R. 1707, The U.S. Postal Service facility at 302 East Green St. would be renamed the "James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building."

July 12, 2014

Flooding Risk Continues For Champaign County

Emergency authorities are cautioning Champaign County residents to watch out for flooded areas, after the county received from four to six inches of rain during a four-hour period Saturday.

The hardest-hit areas included parts of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy.

Rich Atterberry of the Champaign County Emergency Managementr Agency said in a news release that while most roads and streets have reopened, there was still heavy runoff. He warned against driving in flooded areas or playing in the water.

No injuries have been reported due to the flooding. But the Red Cross has opened an overnight shelter at the temporary site of Kenwood School, 1605 West Kirby in Champaign, for those who may be displaced by water or sewage.

Atterberry warned that another round of heavy rainfall was possible overnight, and warned motorists to be extremely cautious.

“It is nearly impossible to gauge the depth of water running over pavement, especially in the dark”, stated Atterberry.

The National Weather Service has placed Champaign County under a Flood Warning until 10 PM Saturday, followed by a Flash Flood Watch through Sunday afternoon.

James Burgess
(Champaign County Historical Archives,The Urbana Free Library)
June 17, 2014

Burgess Designation For Champaign Post Office Clears US House

A postal facility in the University of Illinois’ Campustown neighborhood is one stroke of the pen away from becoming “The James R. Burgess Post Office Building.”

The U.S. House Tuesday unanimously approved placing the name of Champaign County’s first African-American countywide elected official on the postal facility at 302 East Green Street in Champaign. 

 An identical bill was passed in the Senate on August 1, 2013.   

Burgess served as Champaign County State’s Attorney from 1972 to 1976, and was later a U.S. Attorney for a large portion of downstate Illinois under presidents Carter and Reagan.  He died in 1997.

“Since Mr. Burgess’ passing in 1997, constituents in my district and especially his son, Steve, have been looking for a way to commemorate the achievements of his life,” said Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville, the chief sponsor of the bill, in a press release.  

Steve Burgess initially sought to place his father’s name on the federal courthouse in Urbana.  That focus later shifted to the post office when that effort fell short.

“I tried to prepare myself from the very beginning that this was not something that was going to happen overnight,” said Burgess, on an interview with David Inge on WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers last fall.  “This whole thing has been a history and a civics lesson for me.”

Steve Burgess passed away suddenly last November, unable to see his dream to its fruition. 

“Steve worked tirelessly over the years to get this project to the finish line, and it’s heartbreaking that he won’t be able to see it through to completion.," said Davis. 

James Burgess also spent more than 20 years in the Army, and played a large role in the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African-American armored unit to see battle in World War II.

June 17, 2014

Home Sales Up for May in Champaign County

Home sales in Champaign County have now risen for six months in a row.

The Champaign County Association of Realtors reports 305 homes sold in May, an increase of 3.38% from May of last year.

Champaign County’s median home sale price for May was $143,000, 10% from a year ago.

Champaign, Savoy and the Mahomet area saw the greatest rise in home sales. The Champaign/Savoy region reported home sales up 7.14%, to 150 sales. The Champaign County west region, including Mahomet, reported 55 sales, compared to 31 in May, 2013. 50 homes were sold in Urbana, the same number reported last May.

Champaign County Association of Realtors president Phil Trautman said in a news release that home buyers seem to be gaining confidence, thanks in part to a drop in local unemployment, from 6.9% in May 2013, to 5.8% for May 2014.

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