WBEZ | U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin http://www.wbez.org/tags/us-sen-dick-durbin Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en AG: Guantanamo detainees won't go to Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/ag-guantanamo-detainees-wont-go-illinois-100050 <p><p>U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says the Obama administration continues to maintain the position it will never seek to transfer detainees in Guantanamo Bay to Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois.</p><p>Durbin says Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed under oath the Obama administration&#39;s position that it won&#39;t move detainees, many being held on terrorism charges, to Illinois.</p><p>Durbin is working with Illinois and U.S. officials to come up with funds for the federal purchase of Thomson for use as a maximum-security federal facility.</p><p>Thomson is a 1,600 cell prison about 150 miles west of Chicago. Durbin says its sale to the U.S. has bipartisan support from members of the Illinois and Iowa congressional delegations.</p><p>The Justice Department has said the acquisition of Thomson will help alleviate serious federal prison overcrowding.</p></p> Wed, 13 Jun 2012 09:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ag-guantanamo-detainees-wont-go-illinois-100050 Urban farm breaks ground in Englewood http://www.wbez.org/story/urban-farm-breaks-ground-englewood-93170 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-October/2011-10-14/026.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The first farm to open under Chicago’s new urban agriculture ordinance broke ground in Englewood on Friday.</p><p>Honore Street Farm will be on 58<sup>th</sup> and 59<sup>th</sup> Street and managed by Growing Home, a nonprofit organic agriculture business that employs individuals who’ve had problems with employment instability or substance-abuse.</p><p>The surrounding neighborhood of Englewood is known to have food deserts – areas lacking retail outlets that sell fresh, healthy food. The farm will open next spring with hoop houses. For more than 20 years, the land had been an abandoned lot.</p><p>The farm is an extension of the existing Wood Street Farm, which operates on the next lot over and grows produce from arugula to spinach to tomatoes.</p><p>Growing Home sees itself as an antidote to the food-desert problem, and Honore Street Farm will help out.</p><p>“This will more than triple what we’re able to produce,” said Harry Rhodes, executive director of Growing Home. “The demand is huge. One of the goals of the Englewood Urban Agriculture Task Force is to create a large number of farms. So we’re showing the way and showing others how it can done. By scaling up we’re showing how urban agriculture can be a business.”</p><p>Until recently, Growing Home said getting the right zoning designation took ropes of red tape. In September, though, the Chicago City Council passed the so-called “urban ag ordinance,” which formally recognizes the field. It expands the size of community gardens to allow for farms and commercial sales. Rhodes said these changes made the groundbreaking of Honore Street Farm much easier.</p><p>As urban farms, Honore and Wood look the part. The farms are near vacant, weed-strewn lots. There’s a viaduct nearby and broken beer glass litter the sidewalks.&nbsp;</p><p>U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited the Friday groundbreaking. In between buying vegetables at the Growing Home farm stand, he told WBEZ the farm can help boost the local economy.</p><p>Durbin said farmers markets’ increasing acceptance of food stamps is one way to help eliminate food deserts. But the federal food stamp system – known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – has fallen short. &nbsp;Retail outlets that participate in the program are supposed to offer a modicum of fresh produce and other items, but a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/audio-engineering/federal-food-stamp-program-fails-some-low-income-chicagoans">WBEZ investigation</a> showed these standards are low and rarely enforced.</p><p>“The only question I have in return is, Do these folks have any alternatives nearby?” Durbin said. “The dilemma is we want to make sure there’s some food available. And in many places the options are so limited that if you don’t give that mom with a baby and [the mom has] very little money a place to go for even a loaf of bread, it’s going to be very, very hard for her to get by with food stamps.”</p><p>When asked if the federal government should do a better job, Durbin said, “Of course we should. That’s not good. We’ve got to do a better job giving variety and more opportunity.”</p></p> Sat, 15 Oct 2011 13:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/urban-farm-breaks-ground-englewood-93170 Metra receives millions from federal government to combat toxic emissions http://www.wbez.org/story/metra-receives-millions-federal-government-combat-toxic-emissions-93106 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-October/2011-10-12/3358400418_c75d2e513b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The federal government is giving Metra more than $5 million to help reduce toxic emissions. This comes a year after a Chicago Tribune report that found high levels of diesel exhaust at Ogilvie train station and in some commuter rail cars.</p><p>In a statement, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said reducing train emissions will save Metra fuel and help limit commuter exposure to harmful air pollution.</p><p>The money was approved by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for planning. It will be used to replace engines on two trains and incorporate technology that will help engines shut down and start up faster on another 24 trains.</p></p> Wed, 12 Oct 2011 22:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/metra-receives-millions-federal-government-combat-toxic-emissions-93106 Englewood Flyover to take aim at rail congestion http://www.wbez.org/story/englewood-flyover-take-aim-rail-congestion-93015 <p><p>A project aimed with halting one of the region’s worst rail logjams broke ground Monday on Chicago’s South Side.</p><p>The so-called Englewood Flyover will cost $133 million. Organizers hope it will ease congestion near 63<sup>rd</sup> and State Street, an area that sees an average of 14 Amtrak, 78 Metra and 46 freight trains battle for space each day.</p><p>The Englewood Flyover will build a bridge to carry the three Metra Rock Island District Line tracks over the four Norfolk-Southern freight tracks. The bridge — to be completed by 2014 — will also allow for expanded Amtrak service around the Midwest.</p><p>Several politicians gathered near the flyover site on Monday morning. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the project will create 1,500 jobs.</p><p>“What does it mean when freight traffic and passenger traffic can move through this city more quickly? More jobs. Not just the jobs in building this project but the reputation of Illinois as the crossroads of the nation,” Durbin said.</p><p>The funding sources include $126 million from the federal government and more than $6 million from the state’s Illinois Jobs Now program. The Englewood Flyover is also part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (<a href="http://createprogram.org/">CREATE</a>,) an effort that is supposed to modernize local rail operations, reduce harmful emissions and ease highway congestion.</p><p>Nearby resident Bob Israel, a union laborer, showed up at the groundbreaking with skepticism.</p><p>“It’s just a dog-and-pony show — trust me,” Israel said.</p><p>“We’ve been hearing about this CREATE program for 10-15 years. They say they’re going to hire from the community but I’ve been hearing this for years,” Israel said. He likened it to the Dan Ryan Expressway project, which Israel said didn’t do a good job of community hiring.</p><p>At the press conference, Israel asked Quinn who would ensure that the Englewood Flyover project would employ community residents.</p><p>Quinn didn’t give an answer.</p></p> Mon, 10 Oct 2011 18:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/englewood-flyover-take-aim-rail-congestion-93015 Politicians not working the State Fair like they used to http://www.wbez.org/content/politicians-not-working-state-fair-they-used <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-18/PQ state fair &#039;11_AP-Seth Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/PQ%20state%20fair%20%2711_AP-Seth%20Perlman.jpg" style="width: 512px; height: 335px; margin: 5px;" title="(AP/Seth Perlman)"></p><p>U.S. presidents once made a point of visiting the Illinois State Fair, where dusty tractors rambled past carnival rides and livestock farmers showcased prized cattle.</p><p>On Wednesday, as the state’s Democrats held their annual Democrat Day at the Springfield fairgrounds, the head of the state party did not show, only one congressman appeared and the governor left the main event after a few minutes.</p><p>The poor turnout reflected the fair’s diminished value for politicians. Once a celebrated affair that connected Chicago politicians to downstate voters, the state fair seems to be losing its political capital.</p><p>Elected officials of both parties now tend to visit the fair only briefly for staged, hour-long rallies at a shaded lawn on the fairground’s northwest corner. Then they slip into air-conditioned vehicles or hop on golf carts and head to fundraisers.</p><p>“You don’t see them anymore,” said fair historian Pam Gray. “They used to be out there walking the streets. But now, why would you come out here and get all sweaty when you can shoot a blog across the Internet? The way we communicate is the big difference.”</p><p>During the administrations of Republican governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, hundreds of state workers would abandon their desks for free beer and pork sandwiches at the fair. But a gradual reduction in the state workforce and a crackdown on patronage fizzled their attendance.</p><p>Crowds also were down because this is not an election year, said state Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan). Next year, when politicians need to court votes, “you won’t be able to get through the gate,” he said.</p><p>And President Barack Obama’s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/politics/18obama.html?_r=1&amp;hp">appearances in Western Illinois</a>, roughly two hours away from the fairgrounds, also siphoned attention Wednesday.</p><p>“Had the president not been in the neighborhood, you would have seen more attendance, more excitement,” Link said.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn was among the leading Democrats who left the fair for Obama’s events, missing his own 3 p.m. barbecue to be with the president. Other politicians made similarly brief appearances or skipped the fair entirely. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chair of the state Democratic party, did not show, even though he was listed as a speaker during a morning meeting of more than 1,000 Democratic county chairmen. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who lives in Springfield, was reportedly out of town, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan spoke at a breakfast of Democratic officials but passed on the traditional Director’s Lawn lunch. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago was the only congressman to appear. But he, too, ducked out to join Obama.</p><p>Republican Day today is also expected to be sparsely attended as many of the party’s foot soldiers are in Iowa helping presidential primary campaigns.</p><p>It is a far cry from the fair’s halcyon political days, when President Eisenhower and President Nixon spent entire days shaking voters’ hands. Former governors Thompson and Edgar also spent considerable time at the fair, sweating under wide tents to greet voters who stood in long lines to meet them.</p><p>The last governor to inspire big turnout, Gray said, was Rod Blagojevich when he first ran in 2002. The fairgrounds “seemed like a cemetery” after the Democrats left that year, she said.</p><p>Quinn visited the fairgrounds several times this week, though he was met with organized protests from state employee unions that are fighting him in court over pay raises.</p><p>The fair’s Democrat and Republican days take place every August. They are a chance for legislators to meet up while the the General Assembly is adjourned and Congress is in recess and for each party to fire up precinct captains, introduce new candidates and jostle for news media attention.</p><p>But the political days have become increasingly staged events, with elected officials rallying their base in a fenced-off area without spending time among other fairgoers.</p><p>Dan Shomon, a political consultant who worked on Obama’s U.S Senate campaign, disagreed that the fair has lost its value for politicians and said it offers a platform for grass-roots supporters to see their representatives up close.</p><p>“The new guys are noticed there,” he said. “That’s where they get recruited and recognized, and you build strong relationships that last a lifetime. People wait all year for this.”</p><p>Obama “would never consider missing a Democrat Day” when he was in the state Senate, Shomon said.</p><p>Most fairgoers Wednesday seemed more interested in the harness racing and dairy shows than in the unfolding political rally.</p><p>Dusty Rincker stood in a barn just outside the Democratic rally, readying his sheep for judging.</p><p>“I think politicians need to see what’s going on in these barns,” he said, smoothing the white wool of his next competitor. “This is what made the state of Illinois—agriculture. People forget that.”</p><p><em>Kristen McQueary covers state government as part of a partnership between </em>WBEZ and the <a href="http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/">Chicago News Cooperative.</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 18 Aug 2011 13:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/politicians-not-working-state-fair-they-used Chicago Fire Department gets $639,000 grant http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-fire-department-gets-639000-grant-90124 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-04/4512912458_7715b9de07(2).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the Chicago Fire Department more than $639,000 for fire prevention.</p><p>U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in announcing the grant that Chicago has the second-largest fire department in the country in terms of individual firefighters.</p><p>The department has nearly 5,000 firefighters and paramedics.&nbsp;</p><p>The money is provided by the Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.</p><p>Illinois received 240 awards worth more than $25.4 million in 2009 for equipment, training and vehicles.&nbsp;</p><p>Durbin says the program will award about $390 million nationwide for fiscal year 2010.</p></p> Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-fire-department-gets-639000-grant-90124