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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007 10:31 am

Springfield in 2007

The year in review, in the words of people who made news

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PHOTO BY JOE COPLEY

In the capital city, the more things change, the more they stay the same. At Illinois Times, we started 2007 with a look at racial issues in Springfield; we pretty much ended on the same note.

Expect more of the same in 2008 as we mark a sad anniversary of a dark chapter in Springfield’s history, the 1908 race riot.


We had a city election and saw the City Council emerge with a Republican majority. But when it comes to issues like trash pickup, street maintenance, and housing, it’s hard to put a party label on the right answers.


We lost out on the premiere of
The Simpsons Movie, but the movie wasn’t that good and we know that we’re blessed with many local cartoonlike characters to keep us entertained.

Our daily newspaper changed hands, and it’s shed some old friends from the masthead, but the staff of the State Journal-Register continues to labor on, producing one of the state’s best newspapers.

National and international issues touch us. The wars continue without an end in sight; we’re in the throes of a presidential race that’s seen our junior senator, an obscure state legislator when he first made the cover of
Illinois Times back in 2004, emerge as a leading contender.

Barack Obama may be our next shining hope — or not — but we’ll always have Abraham Lincoln, who still manages to make news 142 years after his passing.


FOR A BETTER CITY

“I want my city to be so much better, because it has so much potential.” — Kim Moore, co-founder, The Network [“Alone in a crowd,” Jan. 4] Young black professionals expressed their discontent with Springfield, a place, they say, where getting ahead is more about which prominent white family you’re born into than about individual merit. The problem is that in Springfield, a steppingstone kind of town for twenty- and thirtysomethings that has seen its share of problems when it comes to race, it’s critical that the city attract and retain intelligent young minorities to participate in racial healing — but making Springfield a better place for African-American professionals, Moore and others agreed, has to start with them.

SMOKE OUT

“We were kind of expecting the worst, and luckily that didn’t end up coming about.” — Kelly Pedigo, manager of Nitwhits [“Inconclusive evidence,” Jan. 11] Commerce in Springfield didn’t collapse, as many opponents to the citywide smoking ban, which went into effect in the fall of 2006, had predicted. A few bars did go out of business — it’s a tough business, after all — but most weathered the storm and a few even reported stronger-than-expected sales within the first few months of the restriction. In July, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a statewide public-smoking prohibition, the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which goes into effect on Jan. 1.

MAYOR POPULARITY

“We see too many examples of when the current administration is not being open, is doing things behind closed doors, is not sharing information with the public or the aldermen to help them with the issues that they have interest in.” — Bruce Strom, former Ward 10 alderman and mayoral candidate [“Davlin vs. Strom,” Feb. 8] Throughout his campaign for mayor of Springfield, Republican Strom attempted to paint the administration of the incumbent mayor, Tim Davlin, as secretive and inaccessible. Voters didn’t agree — or didn’t mind. Earning close to 60 percent of the vote, Davlin handily won a second term. His Democratic colleagues weren’t as lucky. Republicans wrested two seats from Democrats on the officially nonpartisan City Council, putting the mayor’s party in the minority.

SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

“They were looking to take my life. If you take my life, you take my son’s life, you take my daughter’s life. What do that leave me? How can they give me that back?” Larry Washington, who claims that someone planted the half-kilo of cocaine found in his home by law-enforcement officers [“Springfield’s worst nightmare,” Feb. 15] Larry Washington, a former high-ranking member of the notorious Chicago-based Vice Lords gang, lived in Springfield for 14 years without ever facing any narcotics charges — yet, in March 2005, Springfield police raided his home and discovered a substantial amount of cocaine. Steadfastly claiming that he had been set up, Washington was jailed, his bond set at $1.2 million, facing a possible 100-year sentence. Charges against him were eventually dropped when his attorney requested further testing on drug residue allegedly found in his trash. The results of those tests turned up negative. A month after our story ran, Washington filed suit in federal court against six SPD officers, including former detectives Jim Graham and Paul Carpenter, who had already been fired by the department.

TOUGH PILL TO SWALLOW
“The hardest part has been watching her deteriorate.” — Rock Haley, husband [“A pound of cure,” March 15] Rock Haley, age 70, tried to obtain a state medical card for his wife, Edna, who is unable to work because she has a rare muscle disease. The Haleys and similar families hoped that relief would come with the passage of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal for universal healthcare, Illinois Covered. The Legislature rejected the governor’s proposed method of financing the initiative, a $6 billion tax on gross business receipts. They’re still cleaning up the messy aftermath: Blagojevich has since sued House Speaker Michael Madigan, has sliced $463 million worth of legislator initiatives from a bipartisan state budget, and is pursuing implementation of his health plan by requesting the approval of the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules to adjust the eligibility requirements of existing state health-care programs.

THE NEWS IS THE NEWS

“We’re not going to speculate on what they’re going to have us do. What I’ve been discouraging people from doing is looking at what they’ve done other places and extrapolating ‘This is what it is going to mean here,’ because we’re a quite different newspaper than they usually acquire.” — Sue Schmitt, former publisher, State Journal-Register [“Red all over,” March 22]

Illinois’ oldest newspaper has been on quite a tear this year. In the spring, Schmitt seemed upbeat about her new bosses, GateHouse Media Inc., which officially took over the paper in April. Eight months later, she and two other names from the top of the paper’s masthead, those of managing editor Robert Pope and editor Barry Locher, were old news — they resigned. Aside from their departures, the paper bought out 16 employees and laid off others. On the upside, the
SJ-R won 23 Illinois Press Association awards, beefed up its Web site, and expanded specialty publications.

REMEMBER WHEN?

“I’m too old to have an answer now, but I’m old enough to remember when things worked better.” Former Ward 10 alderman and former Sangamon County Republican Party Chairman Irv Smith [“Party animal,” April 19]
When a legend like Irv Smith retires from political life, the occasion demands documentation. Illinois Times sat Smith down for an in-depth interview — four, actually — in which he waxed nostalgic about growing up in the Cabbage Patch, teaching at a predominantly black school, and integrating the YMCA, plus how much easier life was before that pesky Rutan ruling ruined everything.


WHEN PIGS FLY

“One particular individual came up to us and said, ‘We have nothing against you and Sandy; you’re wonderful neighbors. We just don’t want the pigs.’ Well, that’s being against me and Sandy. When you’re against the pigs, you’re against Sandy and me.” — Bob Young, farmer [“Raising a stink,” May 17] A proposed hog-fattening facility on what was once a family farm inflamed neighbors in Buckhart. The neighbors filed suit against would-be pork producers Bob and Sandy Young and on May 30 won a preliminary injunction that stalled construction on the project. While awaiting a decision from the appellate court, the Youngs are left with a partially completed pit. Though it’s meant to be used to collect hog excrement, a little imagination could turn it into a swimming pool, couldn’t it? “Bob and Sandy may choose to swim laps in their new pool, but I don’t see it being opened to the community, for liability reasons,” says their attorney, Thomas Immel.

CAMP LINCOLN LIBRARY

“We have to weigh ourselves between trying to be compassionate and trying to take care of the needs and making sure we have a safe environment around our library.” — Tim Davlin, Springfield mayor [“Out of sight,” June 7] The city’s community-relations director, Sandy Robinson, explained: There was the issue of the homeless people who sleep outside Lincoln Library, and then there was “the stuff.” Several attempts were made to prohibit homeless folks from setting up camp at the library, but city officials said they didn’t feel comfortable going that route until they came up with a place for them to leave their belongings during the day. The first solution involved introducing a portable storage facility in June. Two months later, the City Council adopted an ordinance to outlaw panhandling downtown, and in November camping at the municipal complex, including the library, was banned altogether.

NEW VOICE, OLD CONCERNS

“Not one time did I inject racism into this. I don’t think I ever said anything about the west side. At all times, my concern was for the safety of the individuals in the church.” — Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson [“A matter of perspective,” July 12]
When a 20-year-old suspect being chased by Springfield police sought sanctuary in the Abundant Faith Christian Center, officers continued pursuit, disrupting the church service and Tasering the suspect before leading him out in handcuffs. At a press conference staged just after a meeting between Pastor Jerry Doss and Police Chief Ralph Caldwell, Doss criticized the SPD’s handling of the incident, saying that the situation would have been handled differently if it had taken place in a church on the city’s west side. Simpson — as a member of both Abundant Faith and the City Council — had arranged the meeting. However, in an interview with Illinois Times she distanced herself from Doss’ comments.


SISTERS ARE DOIN’ IT FOR OTHERS

“There is a kind of environmental apartheid we practice, so if our lead and other metals can be smelted in a place where people are poor and don’t have the power to fight the companies, it’s OK. But it’s not. Those families have the same hopes and dreams for their children as we have for ours here in Springfield.” — Sister Beth Murphy, former communications coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield [“Sisters to the rescue,” Aug. 2]. This summer, Beth Murphy and her fellow sisters from Springfield and Peru shared the story of La Oroya — the site of Doe Run Peru, a lead smelter affiliated with St. Louis-based Doe Run Resources Corp. Doe Run Peru has been accused of spewing lead and other toxins into the village for nearly a decade, and though the company claimed that it has continuously improved local conditions the sisters argued that the area’s children continue to display blood-lead levels five times higher than the recommended limit.


NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

“Everybody was sorry that she had a problem in the family, and everybody was sorry she was burned, but nobody wanted her to talk about that episode. There were people who wanted her to just leave this alone. The damage had been done.”
Don Irvin, former Jefferson County state’s attorney, explaining why he chose not to prosecute Ike and Mike Mahmood for trying to kill Ike’s daughter Aidah [“Twice burned,” Aug. 16]
A crime committed in 1972 stirred readers when it appeared on our cover. “Twice burned” told the story of Aidah Mahmood, just 15 years old when her father and uncle doused her with gasoline and set her afire as she slept. She survived, but her relatives were never charged with a crime. A Mount Vernon detective recently reopened the case but couldn’t make arrests because the statute of limitations on attempted murder had expired.

A CADILLAC PRAIRIE
“Most state projects are only looking at five to 30 species. It gives an idea of how much we are able to do here and what makes this such a great project. We’re able to do a Cadillac job and show diversity.”
Vern LaGesse, founder and president of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley [“Prairie wildfire,” Sept. 6]. The Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary, a 120-acre habitat in Loami featuring more than 150 different plant species, became the center of controversy this fall when JP Morgan Bank, the administrator of the property’s trust, moved to rezone five acres into a public park and construct a visitor center. Area neighbors initially cited safety and privacy concerns but agreed to a compromise when the trust offered to reduce the building’s size and to impose stricter limits on the public’s use of the sanctuary.

EMBRACING DIVERSITY

“Those women who came over here and welcomed me will never know how much that meant to me, because that’s what I’m after — a neighborhood.” — Lisa Reeves, new resident of Eastview Estates [“Not in my black yard,” Sept. 27]
Officials in the Homeowners Association of Eastview Estates didn’t initially embrace Lisa Reeves. It wasn’t because she would be the first white head of household in the area nicknamed Black Panther Creek; it was just that her home was being constructed by Habitat for Humanity, and association officials feared that it would lower property values.


PAINT THE TOWN BLUE
“I broke my nose last year, pretty much shattered it, actually. When I was board-checking, attacking a defenseman, he shot the puck at the zone, and it hit me in the nose. I separated my shoulder last year, pulled my groin a lot, and had a couple of concussions.” — Jon Gaffney, 19-year-old Springfield Junior Blues forward and Brooklyn, N.Y., native [“On the edge,” Oct. 4].

Earlier this fall, Jon Gaffney and three other young hockey players from across the country confirmed that maybe Springfield is known for more than just Abraham Lincoln and horseshoes. The cover story spoke to the national reputation and success of the Springfield Junior Blues — the oldest of 17 teams in the North American Hockey League and a proven route to Division I scholarships — but the players had more fun boasting of their “war wounds” and admittedly nutty pregame rituals.


THE RISING COST OF IRAQ

“I don’t think we need to get in a debate over whether Illinois will take care of her veterans, because she will. . . . It’s a cost that we’ll pay for many, many years, but it’s a cost people are willing to pay in exchange for what these people have done for us.” — Maj. Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs [“Does not compute,” Oct. 18] Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth says that states will have to bear much of the economic costs associated with war, which has cost Illinois taxpayers approximately $25 million, according to estimates of the National Priorities Project. It’s already taking place in Illinois, which has created or expanded several veterans initiatives, including a testing program for posttraumatic-stress disorder and employment and housing programs to meet federal shortfalls.

HERE COME DA JUDGE

“Heaton, Sanchez and Schmidt have reneged on their promises, passed the buck, and covered their backsides.” — U.S. District Judge Richard Mills in a letter to his fellow jurists, explaining his decision to recuse himself from any cases involving the local U.S. attorney’s office [“Blown away,” Oct. 25]
U.S. District Judge Richard Mills took this action to protest the way in which his son Dan had been treated by U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Esteban Sanchez, and Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt. Dan Mills had been an assistant state’s attorney, assigned to prosecute traffic tickets, when he was implicated in Springfield’s “big cocaine ring.” Schmidt fired Dan, and in July 2006 handed his case to the Office of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor. To this day, Dan Mills has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

TOO BIG A BURDEN

“I feel good about my job, but everywhere I go, [black] people are proud of me and I feel like I’m carrying all of Springfield on the weight of my shoulders! I’m proud of myself and the oath I took, but I didn’t sign up to carry the black population. Too much responsibility!!” — Former Springfield Police officer Tara Holder Borders [“Opt out,” Nov. 8] Tara Borders, the only black woman hired by SPD since the Renatta Frazier scandal, kept a journal during her field training. The above quote is from that journal. Borders resigned abruptly in August 2005 but didn’t publicly explain the series of incidents that made her quit until she talked to Illinois Times this year.

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

“I had planned to retire when I turn 40, so it was, like, now or never. It was like taking it down to the wire.”Mahogany Knight, talking about being crowned Miss Gay USofA at Large at the age of 39 [“Mahogany’s night,” Nov. 15] Springfield’s reigning drag queen finally got the national title she had been chasing for years when she won the Miss Gay USofA pageant in San Antonio, Texas — a Herculean endeavor that involved six backup dancers, $20,000 worth of costumes, props, hairspray, and cosmetics, and a 6-foot-tall feather headdress.

UNFUNNY CLOWN 

“We’ve arrested people in religious professions for child abuse, and of the people that we have arrested he certainly did not fit that category. They would always have kids hanging around them, offering them gifts — that didn’t seem to fit Paul’s character.”
— Tom Conway, retired sergeant with the Springfield Police Department [“Klutzo’s résumé,” Nov. 15]. A. Paul Carlock, also known as Klutzo the Clown, was arrested on Oct. 9 after child pornography was found on his computer and in his home. He was later charged with two counts of enticement of a minor and with one count of possession of child pornography. The former police officer, corrections officer, minister, and state employee also once tried to write for Illinois Times, and we tracked down and interviewed several of Carlock’s former colleagues, including Conway, who said the allegations seemed inconsistent with the man they knew. In a bizarre turn of events, Carlock died of an undiagnosed heart condition on Nov. 16 after being subdued by jailers.


TV-NEWS BLUES

“So many people at Channel 20 who got out of the business and went to work for the state government doubled their salary. There is a huge misconception that TV pays well when it really doesn’t.” — Glenn McEntyre, former WICS (Channel 20) reporter [“On the cheap,” Nov. 15].

In a cover story this fall, Glenn McEntyre joined other former WICS reporters and anchors who discussed the constraints of working in television news, from minimal salaries and low budgets to an increasing demand for quantity over quality. Although several of his former Springfield colleagues have left the business — either willingly or unwillingly — McEntyre is still happy at work, reporting the news from his new home in Cleveland.


WHO’S THE BOSS?

“Unfunded state mandates are absolutely killing us. So much of our $97 million budget is not controlled by any of the 11 of us — it’s controlled by just down the street at Second and Capitol.”
— Mayor Tim Davlin [“Calm before the storm,” Dec. 6]. The mayor warned aldermen during the City Council’s annual budgeting process in December that state law is forcing the city to increase its contributions to police and firefighter pension funds and said that a future property-tax increase would be needed. According to the mayor’s estimate, the city of Springfield expects to fund approximately $31 million in pensions by fiscal year 2017. On Dec. 18, the council decided to leave the matter of tax hikes for another year.

IN ABE’S FOOTSTEPS

“If he’s advertising a four-story new store, how is it possible for him to rent that space to attorneys?”
— Justin Blandford, site manager, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency [“Oops!,” Dec. 13]

Proving that there’s always something new about Springfield’s favorite son, historians discovered that a room on the third floor of the Tinsley Building, at Sixth and Adams streets — a state historic site, long believed to be location of the law offices of William Herndon and Abraham Lincoln — is not really where Lincoln worked. Now, a team of historical researchers, building experts, and business and civic leaders is working to make things right in time for Lincoln’s birthday bicentennial in 2009.


Illinois Times
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