Cronus Chemicals CEO Erzin Atac discusses its new fertilizer plan in Tuscola
(Jeff Bossert/WILL)
October 29, 2014

Cronus Makes Tuscola Plant Official

State and local economic officials Wednesday announced the construction of the $1.4 billion Cronus Chemicals fertilizer plant west of Tuscola.

The facility is expected to start operations by mid-2017, creating up to 2,000 construction jobs and 175 permanent ones.

Brian Moody of Tuscola Economic Development expects the product to be sold within a 150 mile area, reducing fertilizer transportation costs.

"Some of it will go out by truck, some if it will go out by rail," he said.  "The biggest strong point of our site was that fact.  You have the farm community within 150 miles, you had the rail, you had trucks, you can get it out wherever you need.  They're assuming a good portion of their fertlizer will be used right here in Central Illinois."

The plant will make granular urea fertlizer, a non-hazardous and non-flammable organic compound, according to the company.

Construction project starts next spring.  Governor Pat Quinn was in Tuscola for the announcement, joined by Cronus CEO Erzin Atac.

"We have been thinking that building a nitrogen plant in the U.S. is a very good idea, since the so-called natural gas revolution," he said.  "I have been in the fertilizer business for more than 30 years myself."

Tuscola won out over 75 other sites in 9 states.  

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Bob Flider says incentives like a natural gas line and the CSX railroad were also key.

"Iowa had cited one of these facilities a little over a year ago," he said.  "It was in the news that Iowa had won this, although I would say from the standpoint of the economic benefit, this is going to be far greater for Illinois than that plan ever would have, all things considered." 

The agreement for the Cronus plant included $50-million in state incentives, including $35 million in tax exemptions.  A portion of the incentives were in legislation approved last spring.

Moody said work will start soon to line up office space for contractors.  The plant will be built on a 235-acre site at U.S. Highway 36, just west of Tuscola and near Interstate 57.

Cronus this year agreed on a contract with the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District to sell 6.3 million gallons a day of treated wastewater. 

It's a plan that concerns some area residents and environmental officials, who worry about the impact on streams that feed into the Salt Fork River, and threats to the aquatic communities.

"We worked to try to get science to tell us how much water really should stay in those streams to protect what we have, maybe even improve," said Kim Knowles, an attorney with the Prairie Rivers Network.  "Consulting experts, we couldn't find that information."  Knowles said her group also has concerns about climate change, drought, and increased percipitation.

Cronus, which is based in Chicago, will also hire 25 employees at its corporate headquarters.

October 24, 2014

US Judge Names Monitor Of IDOT Hiring

A federal judge has named the same attorney who oversaw hiring in the city of Chicago to monitor hiring problems at Gov. Pat Quinn's Department of Transportation.  

A brief Friday order names Chicago attorney Noelle Brennan. She monitored Chicago hiring from 2005 until this year when the city was found to be largely in compliance of decrees barring patronage hiring.  

Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier decided Wednesday to appoint an IDOT monitor. That was a setback for the Democratic governor, whose re-election campaign claims he's navigated Illinois away from ethical problems.  

Anti-patronage campaigner Michael Shakman has alleged improper hiring at IDOT.  

Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman says Quinn ``has directed IDOT to work closely'' with Brennan and the court to ensure all ``rules are strictly followed.''  

Quinn's office has denied any wrongdoing.

October 22, 2014

Court-Appointed Monitor Ordered For IDOT Hiring

A federal judge has ordered a court-appointed monitor to investigate hiring at Gov. Pat Quinn's Department of Transportation.

Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier told attorneys Wednesday that the monitor would help compliance of a decades-old political hiring ban.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an anti-patronage attorney in April alleging improper hiring practices.

Attorneys for Quinn's administration had said a separate monitor wasn't necessary and a state inspector general had completed a detailed probe and changes were made.
Schenkier says the monitor wouldn't negate inspector general's work but would ensure a fair process.

Anti-patronage attorney Michael Shakman had also wanted a separate process digging into hiring at IDOT, which the judge said was unnecessary.
The ruling comes at an inopportune time for Quinn who faces re-election Nov. 4.

October 20, 2014

Thousands Head To Polls On First Day Of Early Voting

Thousands of voters have cast early ballots in Chicago's suburbs.  It's been a critical region in previous elections, and campaigns in hotly-contested races are pushing early voting.  

Cook County Clerk David Orr's website showed about 7,000 ballots cast in the suburbs by Monday afternoon, the first day of early voting.

Village halls in Arlington Heights and Des Plaines are among hundreds of early voting locations open through Nov. 2.  
Some county clerks in Illinois reported similar turnout to years past with a steady stream of voters.  
Republican Bob Ruffatto of Arlington Heights says he's concerned with Illinois' unsolved problems like debt. He voted for Republican Bruce Rauner, who's challenging Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
But Democrat Josephine Dobner of Des Plaines voted for Quinn, saying she believes in her party's principles.

October 17, 2014

Illinois To Create Ebola Task Force

Illinois' public health chief says Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered the creation of a statewide task force meant to strengthen the state's response to any arrival of the Ebola virus.  

The Illinois Department of Public Health made that announcement Friday, along with disclosing the state is among only a few designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to perform Ebola testing.  

The department's director, LaMar Hasbrouck, says Illinois has the lab supplies and would be able to begin testing as soon as next week. There's still no suspected case of Ebola in Illinois.  

Friday's briefing came a day after enhanced screening for Ebola began at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone now are completing questionnaires and getting their temperatures taken by trained personnel

Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner greet before a debate in Chicago Tuesday.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
October 15, 2014

Quinn, Rauner Square Off in Second Debate

Governor Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner continue to battle over what's best for Illinois’ future.   The top candidates debated for the second time Tuesday night in Chicago.

The focus of last night’s debate was mostly African-American voters - and the issues they’ll be thinking about in the polling booth next month.

And it’s obvious that both candidates on stage at the DuSable Museum at the Museum of African American History realize the importance of tallying up those votes.

"My investments and my donations to the African American community have totaled 10s of millions of dollars," said Rauner.

"We’ve opened up the doors to many more contracts - I think it’s up to 1000 contracts, for African-American owned businesses," said Quinn.

Both candidates also wasted no time trying to cut their opponent down to size.

"My opponent had 51 executives in his company - no African Americans, not one," said Quinn

"Pat Quinn is taking the African-American vote for granted, he’s talking but not delivering results," said Rauner.

Questions from the panel of journalists zeroed in on crime, jobs, gun control, the minimum wage and education.

Bruce Rauner and running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti at the Pilsen Mexican Independence Day parade.
October 14, 2014

Politicians On Parade

Children had the day off from school Monday in honor of Columbus Day. Despite the rain, both Governor Pat Quinn and his GOP rival Bruce Rauner celebrated by walking down State St., for Chicago's Columbus Day parade.

In an age when campaigns are increasingly high-tech, Amanda Vinicky took to the streets to find out why so many politicians spend so much time pounding the pavement.

Candidates have less than a month left to complete their missions. Grasping for your attention, and convincing you to vote for them on election day.

Mostly they do it through expensive commercials during your favorite T.V. shows. Sometimes, it's through a glossy brochure in your mailbox. Or perhaps it's a sponsored ad that pops up in your Facebook or Twitter feed. In the modern age of campaigning, strategists can even use "micro targeting" to pinpoint just what issues you most care about.

So why would Bruce Rauner, a businessman who so far has pumped more than $17 million dollars into his bid for governor, spend a sunny, September Saturday, walking down a street in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood for the Mexican Independence Day parade, where he could get "booed" -- like by a set of parade goers who shouted "Quinn's my man!"

It wasn't all bad for Rauner; he also met fans as he stopped to chat up nearly every person along the route, saying "Viva La Independencia! Viva! Great to see you! Enjoy the parade!"

Chicago residents Jesse Montoya and Toni Reynoso both say they'd seen Rauner's commercial but wanted more details about him and his plans. Both lean Republican, so supporting Rauner isn't a big stretch. But they say meeting him in person helped lock in their votes.

Gov. Pat Quinn wasn't at this particular parade -- though both he and Rauner walked in another one the following day. But Quinn's lieutenant governor candidate, Paul Vallas, was.

Vallas didn't walk past a hand without shaking it, even ducking inside to quickly meet people watching the festivities from a coffee shop. A considerable effort, given how many miles he's presumably logged in parades over the campaign season.

Rauner says he walked in fifteen during the Fourth of July weekend.

Practically every town has an Independence Day parade. But politicians have plenty of other opportunities. It seems like there's a parade for just about everything.

"It starts in Quincy. Usually, the first Saturday in May is the Dogwood Festival, that Sen. Mary Kent started when the dogwoods bloomed," says State Rep. Jil Tracy is a Republican from west-central Illinois. "And then we usually ... one of the biggest ones is the Beardstown parade. And what they do is coordinate it when they have all the high school band competitions. I seriously think it went out for three miles. And I can't tell you how much you spend in candy on that!"

Probably not a bad way to get votes, and to raise name recognition.

Tracy says there are also other reasons for a candidate to hit the parade circuit.

"You know, it's a good chance to let people know that you care about their community," she says. "Because that's usually why you have a parade. It's celebrating something. You want to see what they're doing and how their community's doing. I've walked down a lot of bad roads and streets. and then you know that these cities and towns need economic recovery."

You can learn a lot about a district and its residents by parading through it.

That's was the experience of Lt. Gov Sheila Simon, who's now running for comptroller, when she walked in the Bud Billikin parade this summer.

The parade is on Chicago's south side. It's one of the oldest and largest parades in the nation, and a "must" for politicians. This year, however, two people were shot near the route.

"It was eye opening," Simon says. "Because my husband and I, from Carbondale, are standing there thinking -- were they fireworks? Or was that gunfire? And to realize that a whole lot of the people around us, number one, knew right away that it was gunfire, and knew what to do -- was to drop down, and here we were were standing up -- I learned a lot, about a culture of violence that people are used to and planning for. And that was, that was a sad thing."

Back at the festive, party-like atmosphere of Pilsen's Mexican Independence Day Parade, Rauner and Vallas keep at it. Shaking hands, meeting voters. Neither are handing out candy --- just stickers and campaign brochures. Between the cowboys on horseback, a beauty queen and dancers twirling in grand, bright costumers, you have to figure that two guys in street clothes aren't a major draw.

"I'm out here with my family, I'm not looking for politicians," says Stella Reyes, a mother who lives in the neighborhood.

And that's right after meeting both Rauner, and Vallas.

Reyes may not be looking for politicians, but you can be sure politicians will continue looking for her to cast a vote. And hoping that maybe, just maybe, that brief bit of face time will increase the chances Reyes will join the parade of voters heading to the polls on election day.


Bruce Rauner
October 11, 2014

Rauner Releases 2013 Tax Returns

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has released his 2013 federal and Illinois income tax returns.  

The eight pages of tax forms show the multi-millionaire and his wife, Diana, earned nearly $61 million last year. He paid $17 million in federal and state taxes. That is a tax rate of about 27.5 percent.  

The returns also show the Rauners donated more than $5 million to charity. That includes $1 million to Red Cross relief efforts after the Washington, Illinois tornado.  

In releasing the returns late Friday, Rauner took an opportunity to take a shot at Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner said he is independent of special interests, adding Quinn put self-dealing and cronyism ahead of the people.  

A spokeswoman for Quinn is calling Rauner's tax returns disclosure inadequate.  

In her statement, Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson called the information ``wholly insufficient and raises more questions than answers.'' Anderson questioned where Rauner's money comes from and ``what loopholes is he jumping through?''  

Quinn has long called on Rauner to release his tax returns.  


Governor Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner gather themselves before their debate in Peoria Thursday night.
Hannah Meisel/WILL
October 10, 2014

Troubled Anti-Violence Program Used As Political Fuel During Debate

Four hours before Governor Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner debated in Peoria, a two-day long hearing on Governor Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program wrapped up in Chicago. The governor brushed off results of the hearing as nothing more than "political."

The NRI was supposed to provide job opportunities for young people in rough neighborhoods in Chicago, as a deterrent to violence. But the program was mismanaged, according to a scathing report from the state's auditor general earlier this year.

Ahead of the NRI hearing, Quinn's former chief of staff, Jack Lavin, gave up emails revealing coordination between himself and Quinn's campaign on the timing of the program's implementation.

This affirmed Republican lawmakers' suspicion of the program's timing, announced a month before Quinn won the 2010 election.

But Quinn says the whole hearing had ulterior motives.

"It sounded very political, certainly from the Republican side," Quinn said to reporters after the debate Thursday night.

Quinn downplayed the coordination between Lavin and his campaign.

"Well, I think it's very clear that all the rules were followed," he said. "If you're working for state government, outside of government on your own time, you have the right, under the First Amendment, to participate in political campaigns."

But Quinn's challenger Rauner says the hearings point to "big trouble" for Quinn.

Rauner and other Republicans have used the mishandled program throughout the campaign to knock Quinn down a few pegs.

When asked during Thursday's debate how the Quinn's NRI program is different than Rauner's investments in credit unions on the South Side of Chicago, the candidate laughed off the suggestion he's using his wealth to get African American votes.

"The difference is I'm using my personal money," Rauner said. "Pat Quinn has been trying to buy the election using taxpayer money, both in his NRI program and his various other programs he's been running around the state, using taxpayer money, dropping into certain communities to try to get voters influenced."


October 10, 2014

3 Major Newspapers Endorse Rauner Over Quinn

Three major Illinois newspapers have endorsed Republican Bruce Rauner over Gov. Pat Quinn.

Crain's Chicago Business said Friday that Rauner's business experience would benefit Springfield, but also praised Quinn for putting "Illinois on stronger financial footing.''
The Chicago Tribune said Quinn has tried to improve Illinois' economic climate, but also noted Rauner's background as a venture capitalist. The newspaper says he'd strive to make Illinois competitive.
Rauner's campaign touted both endorsements via emails.
Quinn tells reporters he knows he won't win the "newspaper endorsement battle'' and it's more important to get the voters' endorsement.
Last week the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald endorsed Rauner. The paper says he isn't the "perfect candidate'' but is "clear on his ultimate objective'' for improving Illinois' financial outlook.

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