WBEZ | Illinois http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Morning Shift: Remembering Judy Baar Topinka http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2014-12-10/morning-shift-remembering-judy-baar-topinka-111214 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/djwhitelightning1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We remember Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and her legacy that spanned over three decades. And, we get details on what City Council members plan to vote on before the year ends. Plus, it&#39;s our weekly dose of Reclaimed Soul with Vocalo&#39;s Ayana Contreras.</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115/embed?header=false&border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Remembering Judy Baar Topinka " on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 08:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2014-12-10/morning-shift-remembering-judy-baar-topinka-111214 Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka dies http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213 <p><p>Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the first woman in Illinois to serve in two state constitutional offices, died early Wednesday, less than 24 hours after having a stroke, according to her office. She was 70.</p><p>She served as state treasurer and comptroller, and had a humor and political style that could pump up&nbsp; Illinois&rsquo; sometimes stuffy political scene.</p><p>&ldquo;I am a Republican. I&rsquo;m also a conservative, but I&rsquo;m not crazy,&rdquo; Topinka told a crowd supporting same-sex marriage last year.</p><p>That style helped her get elected to the state legislature in the 80s.</p><p>She ran statewide in the 90s and became the first female state treasurer, a job by all accounts she valued.</p><p>&ldquo;Judy Baar Topinka was someone who was both financially conservative, but also very reasonable in wanting to make sure that the State of Illinois paid its bills on time,&rdquo; said Laurence Msall, who heads the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog group. He said even in the 90s, Topinka was warning about bad spending and borrowing habits of state government and some of the practices that have earned Illinois its poor financial reputation.</p><p>As she won more elections, Topinka became more involved in the state Republican Party, becoming its chair. In 2004, she led the party to a candidate who would spectacularly lose against Barack Obama for the U-S Senate seat.</p><p>Remember Alan Keyes?</p><p>Two years later, Topinka made the decision to quit her post as treasurer to run for higher office. She ran against Rod Blagojevich for governor. It was an ugly, negative campaign. But after the fact, Topinka said she&rsquo;d felt an obligation to take on Blagojevich.</p><p>&ldquo;I gave up a job I absolutely adored. I loved being state Treasurer,&rdquo; she told WBEZ in January 2009. &ldquo;I was good at it. But he had to be stopped. I thought I could do it and I thought that good would triumph over evil. Obviously it did not.&rdquo;</p><p>Topinka lost that election.</p><p>After Blagojevich was arrested - when she was not a candidate for office - Topinka talked in a way most politicians don&rsquo;t: challenging the voters who went for Blagojevich, who eventually went to prison for corruption.</p><p>&ldquo;It makes us all look like a bunch of bozos,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Not only that we got taken to the cleaners by this guy for four years, but that we were stupid enough to elect him for a second four years. I mean, what does that say about the people of the State of Illinois?&rdquo;</p><p>But she didn&rsquo;t stay away from politics for long. In 2010, Topinka&nbsp; won the race for state comptroller, the person who writes the checks for the government.</p><p>Pat Brady, the former chair of the Illinois Republican Party, said her bounce-back - and moderate politics - should be a model for other Republicans running statewide.</p><p>&ldquo;In Illinois, if you want to win, look at the Judy Baar Topinka model, which is the model that Mark Kirk followed. Somewhat the model that Bruce Rauner followed,&rdquo; Brady said.</p><p>Pat Pavlich says her stands on politics were grounded in her neighborhood life. Pavlich used to be township supervisor for Riverside, Topinka&rsquo;s home community, and she&rsquo;s a long time friend.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know if you&rsquo;re familiar with the Houby Day Parade, but that was a favorite of Judy&rsquo;s. It was a part of her Czech heritage coming out,&rdquo; Pavlich said.</p><p>Pavlich says even in more recent years, when she&rsquo;d need a cane or walker, Topinka couldn&rsquo;t be kept from walking that Houby Day Parade, a festival about mushrooms.</p><p>Topinka had her vices. She smoked. She liked caffeine.</p><p>She also liked polka, and Pavlich says she just liked taking care of people and her beloved dogs. And she thrived on the theater of politics and the responsibility of government.</p><p>There were others interests, too. In the few years she was out of politics, Topinka returned to her early training - journalism - and briefly had her own radio show on a small west suburban-based station, WJJG. She called it The Judy Show.</p><p>And it was all she needed to let that charismatic personality come through.</p><p>Lawmakers who shared the political stage with Topinka spoke warmly of her public and private personality.</p><p>&quot;I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka,&quot; Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. &quot;Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature (who) paved the way for countless women in politics.&quot;</p><p>Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called Topinka one of the state&#39;s &quot;all-time greats&quot; and noted her &quot;one-of-a-kind personality (that) brought a smile to everyone she met.&quot;</p><p>Topinka, a Republican and native of the Chicago suburb of Riverside, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor. She always described herself as someone who knew state government inside and out.</p><p>&quot;I know who makes things run. I know who talks and doesn&#39;t make things run. I know what agencies could be doing that they&#39;re not doing,&quot; she told the AP in 2006. &quot;I&#39;m just a worker bee.&quot;</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/topinkabush.png" title="President Bush is introduced by Republican candidate for Illinois Governor Judy Baar Topinka, left, at a campaign fundraiser at the Drake Hotel, Friday, July 7, 2006, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)" /></div><p>Topinka previously served three terms as Illinois state treasurer, was a former Illinois GOP chairwoman and ran for governor in 2006, losing to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Judy Baar Topinka in Her Own Words</span></p><p>If you followed Topinka&#39;s life and career in Illinois you probably have heard her spout off. WBEZ gathered a few of our favorites here.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/180866235&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Topinka remembered</span></p><p>Many in Illinois politics offered their rememberances of Topinka Wednesday morning in statements and on social media</p><p>For Illinios state senator Christin Radogno, a fellow Republican, it was Topinka&rsquo;s refreshingly non-political style that first drew her in years ago:&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I wasn&rsquo;t particularly political at that time at all, but she really struck a cord with me. She was very blunt, honest, but always humorous&mdash;not an angry kind of a person.&nbsp; I mean, we have people who are blunt and honest but that have an angry undertone but she never had that. She definitely struck a cord with me, she was always blunt and honest.&quot;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. <a href="https://twitter.com/CompTopinka">@CompTopinka</a> was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply.</p>&mdash; Bruce Rauner (@BruceRauner) <a href="https://twitter.com/BruceRauner/status/542639529447141376">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her leadership improved Illinois &amp; paved the way for women in politics.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542664979452022785">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. Today the entire state mourns the loss of one of the greats.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542665109550948352">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Statement from Mayor Emanuel on the passing of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka <a href="http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp">http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp</a></p>&mdash; ChicagosMayor (@ChicagosMayor) <a href="https://twitter.com/ChicagosMayor/status/542687348832866304">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>IL politics lost its Polka Queen last night &amp; I lost a friend. Judy Baar Topinka was one of a kind. My prayers go out to her family.</p>&mdash; Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorDurbin/status/542685698244243457">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Saddened on passing of my friend Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a trailblazer for women. Prayers are with her family</p>&mdash; Dan Rutherford (@RutherfordDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/RutherfordDan/status/542647672667373568">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>One of the great ones, Judy Baar Topinka sure knew how to have fun. <a href="http://t.co/hWEAmSbLSf">pic.twitter.com/hWEAmSbLSf</a></p>&mdash; Chicago City Clerk (@chicityclerk) <a href="https://twitter.com/chicityclerk/status/542687756812828672">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Illinois s lost a great public servant, and Illinoisans lost a champion and a good friend with passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.</p>&mdash; Bill Brady (@Bill_Brady) <a href="https://twitter.com/Bill_Brady/status/542679222347911168">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka wasn&#39;t just a trailblazing woman; she was fun. Here, in second-hand duds. And slippers. :) <a href="http://t.co/RbIQx2FtYQ">pic.twitter.com/RbIQx2FtYQ</a></p>&mdash; Amanda Vinicky (@AmandaVinicky) <a href="https://twitter.com/AmandaVinicky/status/542682008481042432">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213 The Study Guide: Candidates on the big issues http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-candidates-big-issues-111034 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/sparknotes Quinn Rauner.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>With the election just days away, we gave Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner a questionnaire on five big topics: Education, the minimum wage, income taxes, pensions and jobs.</p><p>You can see the full questionnaires (and the candidates&#39; full answers) <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-top-issues-candidates-own-words-111034#fullquestionnaire" target="_blank">below</a>, but we&rsquo;ve also worked them into a kind of SparkNotes guide for Illinois voters. We kept the negative barbs out of this guide, but as you&rsquo;ll see in the full questionnaire, both candidates couldn&rsquo;t help but take swipes at each other.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/174639538&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Income Tax</span></p><p>If you&rsquo;ve watched any of the <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/il-election-2014-raw-debate-1" target="_blank">three debates</a>, or even turned a television on in Illinois lately, you&rsquo;ve probably heard the candidates talking about income tax on the campaign trail.</p><blockquote><p><strong><a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/il-election-2014-raw-debate-1" target="_blank">Listen to raw audio from the three Illinois gubernatorial debates</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>It&rsquo;s partly because the State of Illinois&rsquo; budget is in a bit of trouble. Take the backlog of bills, for example: State estimates can vary, but right now Illinois is dealing with more than $4.1 billion in unpaid bills.</p><p>Back in 2011, Gov. Quinn signed a bill that boosted the income tax rate up to five percent for four years, though it was scheduled to drop down to 3.75 percent at the end of this year.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s since said the state needs to &ldquo;maintain the state&rsquo;s income tax where it is today&rdquo; as part of his balanced budget plan. Quinn says his plan will help pay down Illinois&rsquo; bills, avoid cuts to education, public safety and human services, prevent property tax increases and provide additional property tax relief.</p><p>Meanwhile, Rauner says he wants to bring that income tax rate down.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to roll back the income tax hike if we want to attract high-quality jobs back to Illinois,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the ultimate way to fix the budget&mdash;by having more tax-paying citizens.&rdquo;</p><p>Though both candidates were asked what the &ldquo;right income tax rate&rdquo; would be for Illinois, Rauner didn&rsquo;t specify a number. In his campaign literature, Rauner says he would roll back the income tax rate to three percent over the next four years.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Minimum Wage</span></p><p>The minimum wage debate has been important not just between Rauner and Quinn but across the state and the country. We asked both candidates if they&rsquo;d raise the minimum wage, and if so, by how much, and when?</p><p>Rauner&rsquo;s gotten flack about moving back and forth on this issue. <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-09/news/chi-rauner-on-minimum-wage-flap-i-made-a-mistake-20140108_1_minimum-wage-federal-rate-bruce-rauner" target="_blank">Videos</a>&nbsp;and audio have surfaced that show Rauner calling for cuts to Illinois&rsquo; $8.25 minimum wage. But in our questionnaire, he says he is for raising the state minimum wage, with some caveats:</p><p>&ldquo;The state of Illinois should implement a phased-in minimum wage increase, coupled with workers&rsquo; compensation and lawsuit reforms to bring down employer costs,&rdquo; he wrote. He added that he&rsquo;d support an increase to the federal minimum wage so that Illinois remains &ldquo;competitive with our neighboring states.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner didn&rsquo;t say how much he wants to raise the minimum wage, or when he would do it, if elected.</p><blockquote><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973" target="_blank"><strong>Citizens! Here&rsquo;s your homework: WBEZ&#39;s 2014 election coverage</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Quinn&rsquo;s also been criticized on this issue: He&rsquo;s been for raising the minimum wage, but some have called him out for not boosting it during his time in office, despite having a Democratic majority in the General Assembly. Quinn wrote in our questionnaire that he&rsquo;s working on it.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, I am currently fighting to raise the state&rsquo;s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour to help Illinois workers and working families,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Tax Education</span></p><p>We asked the candidates to dig into two issues when it comes to education: Charter schools and funding. Right now, there&rsquo;s a limit on how many charter schools can be opened in Illinois.</p><p>Rauner, a long-time supporter of charter schools and a financial supporter of charters (including one that <a href="http://raunercollegeprep.noblenetwork.org/" target="_blank">carries</a>&nbsp;his name on the Near West Side of Chicago), says he&rsquo;d throw out that limit.</p><p>&ldquo;Public charter schools are not the only solution for parents looking for better educational options,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;But they are an important resource for communities with no other option.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, Quinn says he&rsquo;d keep the 120 cap on charters.</p><p>&ldquo;I believe before moving forward with authorizing more charters, it&rsquo;s important to complete an impact study of how charter school policy has impacted the district as a whole,&rdquo; Quinn wrote.</p><p>An important note: No matter who gets elected, the state is far from reaching that 120 cap. So regardless of whether the limit gets thrown out, there&rsquo;s still room to grow in the charter sector.&nbsp;</p><p>Both candidates have talked a lot about the importance of funding education&mdash;and they&rsquo;ve criticized each other even more over that issue. But ask how much the State of Illinois should pay per child for public education and neither gives a number.</p><p>In Rauner&rsquo;s answer, he listed his experience on education boards, and the schools and programs he and his wife Diana have financially supported.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s answer is the closest we got to an actual number. He says his five-year blueprint will &ldquo;allow us to fund the foundations level up to at least 100 percent over the next five years.&rdquo;</p><p>Another quick note: the power to fund public education in Illinois doesn&rsquo;t just rest in the governor&rsquo;s pen. Right now, the foundation level of what&rsquo;s known as &ldquo;general state aid&rdquo; is currently set at $6,119. But no district gets that exact number from the state, as there&rsquo;s a formula for funding that includes local property taxes, grants and other funds. As the sausage gets made, that original per-pupil amount can be molded and changed into something different.</p><p>So no matter who is governor, the general assembly holds the key to what districts get per student. &nbsp;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Pensions</span></p><p>Ah, pensions. We couldn&rsquo;t have an Illinois voter guide without addressing this topic. The State of Illinois currently faces a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-pension-problem-how-big-it-really-109659" target="_blank">$100 billion dollar</a>&nbsp;pension shortfall.</p><p>Quinn says the best way out of the pension mess is the pension reform bill he signed last December.</p><p>&ldquo;The comprehensive pension reform I fought for a [sic] signed into law will eliminate our unfunded pension liability and stabilize our pension system,&rdquo; Quinn wrote.</p><p>The reform package includes reductions to some workers&rsquo; benefits and boosts the retirement age. It&rsquo;s currently facing a constitutional challenge, but Quinn hasn&rsquo;t released any sort of plan B in case it&rsquo;s overturned. When asked, he commonly uses a familiar phrase that Quinn credits his father with: &ldquo;don&rsquo;t take an aspirin until you get a headache.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner says he would also wait to see what the judge rules before constructing his own pension plan, but wrote, &ldquo;I have always maintained moving to a new, defined contribution system for future work is a critical component of true pension reform that would be constitutional.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Jobs</span></p><p>The State of Illinois&rsquo; job market was the number one issue during the first gubernatorial debate. While the state continues to add jobs, it still <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-states-job-creators-1029-biz-20141028-story.html" target="_blank">struggles</a>&nbsp;in national rankings. We asked the candidates to pick one job sector that they think the state should focus on first to get the economy growing again. Neither candidate chose just one.</p><p>Rauner said the state&rsquo;s economy is in such dire straits that &ldquo;we can&rsquo;t afford to focus on only one sector.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;From tech to manufacturing to energy development, we need policies that unlock the natural advantages of our state,&rdquo; he wrote.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s answer was similar.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the great advantages to Illinois is the state&rsquo;s diverse economy, and continuing to growing [sic] the economy requires a focus on multiple sectors,&rdquo; he wrote.</p><p>Quinn said the state could drive innovation by building research and technology hubs in sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, energy and IT.</p><p>Quinn and Rauner have both turned to their backgrounds as proof of their ability to create jobs. Quinn has held a lot of job announcement press conferences ahead of the election, like this week&rsquo;s news that <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141028/NEWS07/141029791/amazon-plans-illinois-operations-1000-jobs" target="_blank">Amazon</a>&nbsp;will open a distribution center here. But even as <a href="http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.il.htm" target="_blank">job</a>&nbsp;numbers continue to improve for Illinois, Quinn has faced criticism for the state&rsquo;s low overall employment <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141021/NEWS02/141029953/how-the-latest-jobs-report-helps-and-hurts-quinn-and-rauner" target="_blank">levels</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, Rauner has spent a lot of time talking up his work with GTCR, a private equity firm he built (the R stands for Rauner), as well as explaining how his career in business could help him fix Illinois&rsquo; financial woes. But he hasn&rsquo;t escaped criticism either: Rauner&rsquo;s faced <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141022/BLOGS02/141029923/what-one-rauner-business-deal-says-about-the-candidate" target="_blank">hit</a>&nbsp;after <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-25/news/ct-illinois-republican-governor-race-met-0126-20140126_1_gtcr-bruce-rauner-court-awards" target="_blank">hit</a>&nbsp;of &nbsp;accusations of mismanagement in some of the companies GTCR invested in.&nbsp;</p><p><font color="#333333" face="Arial, sans-serif" size="5"><span style="line-height: 22px;">Quinn&#39;s full questionnaire answers<a name="fullquestionnaire"></a></span></font></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_76517" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/245046312/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><font color="#333333" face="Arial, sans-serif" size="5"><span style="line-height: 22px;">Rauners&#39;s full questionnaire answers</span></font></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_62842" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/245051905/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-d822f4cd-673d-da73-c09f-937f1d4b2ed0"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian.</a>&nbsp;Education reporter Becky Vevea also contributed to this reporting. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZEducation" target="_blank">@WBEZEducation</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-candidates-big-issues-111034 The difficulties of getting voters invested and informed about elections http://www.wbez.org/news/difficulties-getting-voters-invested-and-informed-about-elections-110997 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Voter01_0.png" title="From left: Rudy Garrett of Chicago Votes registers a new Cook county voter outside the CTA red line Roosevelt road. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></div></div></div><p>Inside the quiet lobby at Norwegian Hospital in Chicago, Martin Torres quietly approaches people with a pen and clipboard. He&rsquo;s with the Latino Policy Forum and this day happens to be the last day people can register to vote for the upcoming midterm elections.</p><p>He&rsquo;s turned down several times. Some people are already registered, some cannot vote because they&rsquo;re not U.S. citizens. He enters a full waiting room and goes straight to Charnese Stevens, 19, and her friend Kabronte Hicks, 18. Stevens tells Torres she registered and tells Hicks to get registered. She even tells him to check the box where he can work as an election judge.</p><p>As Hicks fills out the voter registration application, Stevens looks up at me and asks what the election is about. I explain she can vote for the next Illinois governor, candidates for U.S. Senate, state races and several ballot initiatives. When asked if he&rsquo;s going to vote, Hicks says that until he was asked to register on this day, he never thought about voting. Torres says that&rsquo;s common.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of people register when they&rsquo;re asked to register. That&rsquo;s when they get involved,&rdquo; Torres said. &ldquo;Otherwise, it&rsquo;s not the first thing they look forward to doing when they first get up.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s what dozens of organizations are counting on for election day. The umbrella organization Every Vote Counts registered more than 100,000 people as the deadline approached. Torres explains by registering today, they can vote in next year&rsquo;s mayoral election.</p><p>But Stevens doesn&rsquo;t know who&rsquo;s going to be on that ballot. When I asked her if she knew who Rahm Emanuel was, she said no.</p><p>Rudy Garrett is laid back with her approach to getting people to register. At the CTA Red Line stop off Roosevelt Road, Garrett fist bumps people she meets and even when she&rsquo;s turned down, she offers a smile along with a high five.</p><p>Along with getting people to register and getting her offer turned down, sometimes she&rsquo;ll have to teach a mini civics course to explain the process. She&rsquo;s had to explain that Nov. 4 is election day, that this is not a presidential election year, who the candidates are for governor and some of the ballot questions. This doesn&rsquo;t surprise Tari Renner, professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s unfortunately part of the American political culture. We know the least about our politics compared to any other society. Bar none,&rdquo; says Renner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s one of the reasons campaigns cost so much. It&rsquo;s the least engaged who tend to be the swing voters that decide elections. And that&rsquo;s why we&rsquo;re inundated with negative ads.&rdquo;</p><p>Renner knows a little about this process. He&rsquo;s also the mayor of Bloomington and has seen all kinds of political campaigning in his time. In 2009, Renner lost a municipal election, in a population of 80,000, by 15 votes. He says disengagement happens despite civics education and the constant barrage of political ads. Renner cites an election tactic from a decade ago that&rsquo;s still being used today.</p><p>&ldquo;The Bush administration back in 2004 had these anti-gay marriage, protection of marriage referenda on the ballot in many states. They never thought that any of these things would come to fruition, that we&rsquo;d actually ban gay marriage,&rdquo; Renner said. &ldquo;They knew that would motivate their base to get to the polls and that would help Bush in some really tight races.&rdquo;</p><p>On the November ballot, there&rsquo;s an advisory question about whether the state&rsquo;s minimum wage should be raised to $10 an hour, up from $8.15. Many community groups have pushed that non-binding referendum to get their base out on election day. Katelyn Johnson, executive director of ACTION NOW, says that issue, and not the governor&rsquo;s race, will motivate people to vote.</p><p>&ldquo;I think any time people have a chance to vote in their self interest and to vote in a way that can actually speak powerfully to the demand, I think people get excited about that,&rdquo; Johnson said. &ldquo;I think this is an opportunity that people can see themselves as being a part of a process and have an additional meaning to that vote.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s the message Garrett relays as she approaches people. She knows some may be lying just to get away from her. Garrett just moves on to the next one.</p><p>&ldquo;Sometimes you just get people who are like &lsquo;I just don&rsquo;t know. I&rsquo;m not sure. Maybe I should get registered&rsquo;,&rdquo; Garrett said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just making sure you ask every single person. Because the more people you ask, the more people you&rsquo;re likely to get more registered.</p><p>That&rsquo;s whether they know about the issues or not.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Reporter/anchor Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter </em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;</em><em>&amp; </em><a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub"><em>Google+</em></a></p></p> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/difficulties-getting-voters-invested-and-informed-about-elections-110997 Ex-felon informs formerly incarcerated of right to vote http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-felon-informs-formerly-incarcerated-right-vote-110994 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ex-Felon2.png" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="FORCE members and ex-offenders Marlon Chamberlain and Teleza Rodgers meet at a McDonald’s on the city’s west side. They work to notify ex-felons of the right to vote. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" />In a back corner at a Chicago McDonald&rsquo;s, Marlon Chamberlain sits and goes through papers under a movie poster. It&rsquo;s from the film &ldquo;The Hurricane&rdquo; the true story of Rubin &ldquo;Hurricane&rdquo; Carter, the famed boxer turned prisoner right&rsquo;s activist.</p><p>There, Chamberlain meets those recently incarcerated who want a new start. Chamberlain is with FORCE, or Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality. Chamberlin&rsquo;s job is to talk to ex-prisoners about everything from how to get a job to how to become a community leader. Part of his work includes talking about his past. Specifically the events leading up to September 2002.</p><p>&ldquo;I have a federal offense. I was arrested with conspiracy with intent to distribute and sentenced to 240 months,&rdquo; says Chamberlain. &ldquo;With the Fair Sentencing Act, I ended up serving 10 and a half years.&rdquo;</p><p>He was in federal prison when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Chamberlain remembered watching the event and cheering along while the other inmates. But even then, the political process that moved Obama to the presidency was something Chamberlain didn&rsquo;t care much about.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t believe voting mattered. I didn&rsquo;t see how things could be different or how the mayor or certain state representative could change things in my community. That connection wasn&rsquo;t there.&rdquo;</p><p>After his release, a FORCE member talked to Chamberlain at a halfway house. That&rsquo;s when he started to understand that local lawmakers and not the president decide whether money gets allocated to ex-offender programs and how sentencing guidelines are outlined.</p><p>Chamberlain also learned that ex-felons could vote. In several states, if you&rsquo;re convicted of a felony, you lose the right to vote. Permanently. But in Illinois, an ex-offender can vote upon release. Chamberlain didn&rsquo;t know that. He says lots of people with records don&rsquo;t know that either. Which is why now he&rsquo;s working overtime to get the word out before election day.</p><p>Tucked away between a dead end road and railroad tracks on the city&rsquo;s southwest side, Chamberlain meets with a group of men from the Chicagoland Prison Outreach. They&rsquo;re in a work study program and Chamberlain visits with them on Thursdays. It&rsquo;s part classroom, part bible study and part welding work study. Chamberlain starts the discussion by asking &lsquo;When was the last time anyone voted?&rsquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ex-Felon1.png" title="Marlon Chamberlain talks to a group from the Chicagoland Prison Outreach about the importance of voting (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></p><p>One person pipes up and says he voted while in jail. He too was told he couldn&rsquo;t vote, but while in the Cook County Jail, inmates awaiting trial can vote. They&rsquo;re given applications for absentee ballots. This year, the Board of Elections processed tens of thousands of new applications. Many inmate applications are rejected, mainly because addresses can&rsquo;t be verified. Out of the more than 9,500 inmates requesting ballots, around 1,300 were deemed eligible.</p><p>A person who goes by the name of Kris says even though he can vote, he&rsquo;s not interested.</p><p>&ldquo;I never cared who was in office,&rdquo; says Kris, &ldquo;I wouldn&rsquo;t even know who to vote for.&rdquo;</p><p>The class tells him he needs to do some homework to know the candidates&rsquo; platforms. Chamberlain echoes the notion of doing a little homework and cautions the class about political stereotypes. Like that all African Americans vote the Democratic ticket.</p><p>&ldquo;Because you got Democrats who won&rsquo;t do nothing. I don&rsquo;t believe in befriending politicians. You know, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies,&rdquo; says Chamberlain. He points to the very room they sit in as a result of some kind<br />of political action.</p><p>&ldquo;So what would happen if people don&rsquo;t vote for the elected official who signed off on this? Then this program goes away,&rdquo; Chamberlain notes. Kris does not care.</p><p>&ldquo;All I see is a lot of squad cars coming around. Our neighborhood, how it was in the past, it was better than how it is now,&rdquo; says Kris. &ldquo; At least we had stuff we could do. We didn&rsquo;t have to stand on the block to have fun. We actually had places.&rdquo; Chamberlain asks Kris if he&rsquo;s ever spoken to his alderman about the problems he sees. Kris shrugs, admitting he&rsquo;s never bothered to make contact. &ldquo;The city is so fou-fou right now. The city ain&rsquo;t right.&rdquo;</p><p>While most people heard a person complaining about problems, Chamberlain heard someone much like himself. A person aware of problems, who knows things could be better. Back at the McDonalds, Chamberlain meets up with FORCE worker Teleza Rodgers. She too, is an ex-felon and covers the city&rsquo;s North Lawndale neighborhood. They talk about how hard it is to get ex-felons motivated to vote. Especially since many of them live the misconception that their voting rights were taken away from them when they went to prison.</p><p>&ldquo;People who don&rsquo;t know us are making decisions about our lives or livelihoods and our neighborhoods. They don&rsquo;t live where we live at,&rdquo; says Rodgers. &ldquo;They (ex-felons)<br />tend to have an ear to that. I say we can&rsquo;t expect to have anyone do anything for us if we&rsquo;re not doing it.&rdquo;</p><p>Rodgers says there&rsquo;s no way around the impact of voter representation. And that several questions on November&rsquo;s ballot can directly impact ex-felons and others in Chicago. Like whether the state should increase funding for mental-health services, whether a school-funding formula for disadvantaged children should be reset, and whether to increase the minimum wage.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-felon-informs-formerly-incarcerated-right-vote-110994 The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chinese.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Each year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin&rsquo;s Population Health Institute put out the County Health Rankings. The rankings show how counties across the country match up on things like life expectancy and residents&rsquo; health.</p><p>Julie Willems Van Dijk is one of the directors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason we do it is to raise awareness about how healthy our communities are, and how healthy they&rsquo;re not. To do so in a way that piques people&rsquo;s interest by comparing them to other counties in their community. And ultimately in a way that helps everybody see &hellip; that health in your community is not just about what the doctors and nurses do. But it really is about decisions that are made by businesses, by government,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>Most of the counties around Chicago do really well,&nbsp; but Cook County is way down near the bottom - 75 out of 102 Illinois counties in health outcomes.</p><p>Twenty spots down the list from Cook is Edwards County. Edwards County ranks 96th of all Illinois counties for health outcomes. It&rsquo;s worth looking at because unlike most of the sickest counties, it isn&rsquo;t particularly poor. Edwards County&rsquo;s poverty level is better than the state average.</p><p>&ldquo;Income, and especially poverty are definitely drivers of health,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not what&rsquo;s happening in Edwards County.</p><p>Edwards is due south from Chicago, down near where Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana meet. It&rsquo;s incredibly sparse with just 30 people per square mile. The Illinois average is almost eight times as much.</p><p>Misty Pearson is the administrator of the Edwards County Health Office.</p><p>Edwards is one of only two counties in Illinois without an official health department. That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s called a health office, instead of a department of health like in almost every other county.</p><p>&ldquo;We are not certified by the state of Illinois, by choice, I guess. Not my choice, I would change that if I could,&rdquo; Pearson says.</p><p>The health office isn&rsquo;t certified because Edwards County leaders are so against the state being involved in their county they refuse to take health funding from Illinois because it comes with strings attached - like state oversight.</p><p>&ldquo;Food sanitation, we don&rsquo;t have that. None of our restaurants are inspected. It does [make me nervous]. There are certain restaurants I won&rsquo;t eat at,&rdquo; Pearson says. &ldquo;The only thing we can do that a health department does is vaccines for children.&rdquo;</p><p>So Edwards County - despite its low health ranking and relative economic strength - isn&rsquo;t the best indicator of the state&rsquo;s health needs overall.</p><p>The state government can&rsquo;t force people to vaccinate their kids or make counties take its money.</p><p>Still, experts say Illinois needs to come up with policies that work for Edwards County with 30-people per square mile, and Cook County with 5,500-people per square mile.</p><p>They say it can be done. Because despite their differences in population and demographics the two counties face similar health challenges.</p><p>At the top of the list is access to doctors.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Public Health has a map of areas with a dearth of primary care providers.</p><p>There are a lot of downstate counties shaded in - but there&rsquo;s also a bunch of Chicago neighborhoods -- from Rogers Park up north to Austin on the West Side and Chicago Heights down south.</p><p>Harold Pollack with the University of Chicago says the state could help poor people in urban and rural areas by raising Medicaid rates, or just paying its bills on time.</p><p>&ldquo;I can tell you that as someone who takes care of an adult on Medicaid that there are services that we can&rsquo;t use because the providers that we&rsquo;d like to use don&rsquo;t accept Medicaid,&rdquo; Pollack says.</p><p>So physician shortages might not be the happiest point of unity, but Misty Pearson in Edwards County and Harold Pollack in Chicago say they - and others - will be thinking of it when they go into the voting booth.</p><p>In a little more than a week there will be millions of people at the polls. They&rsquo;ll each have different experiences and different expectations, but they&rsquo;ll all be voting on the future of one state.</p><p>&ldquo;How are we going to make these budget numbers work &hellip; and also pay for the services that people in the state actually want and will continue to demand,&rdquo; says Pollack..</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Reporter/Producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 State government could take over a school district near you http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/artworks-000080958261-4swa0x-original.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>UPDATED Nov. 7, 2014</em></p><p>Ask Illinois residents what&rsquo;s most important to them and their families, and education is likely to be right up there&mdash;often at the top of the list.</p><p>So it&rsquo;s no surprise that citizens expect high educational standards from government (and solid financing). But most prefer their state involvement at arms length.</p><p>But the fact is Illinois, has the power to take over local schools. They can fire elected school board members and put a new superintendent in place.</p><p>Two years ago, it did just that. The state took over two school districts, one in East Saint Louis and the other in North Chicago, a low income and racially mixed suburb wedged between more the tony North Shore and Waukegan.</p><p>Chris Koch is the superintendent of all Illinois schools, and he explains it this way:&nbsp; &ldquo;You have to take actions when kids aren&rsquo;t getting the basics. And that&rsquo;s certainly what&rsquo;s happening here.&rdquo;</p><p>The school district in North Chicago had problems that read like a Dickens novel: 80 percent of kids not meeting state learning standards, burdensome debt, and school board meetings that sometimes collapsed into chaotic screaming matches.</p><p>State intervention has helped North Chicago reduce its debt. But the district is still operating on a deficit. The district superintendent there says he expects to run out of cash in four years.</p><p>But overall, education policy watchers say the takeover has been a win so far, with some private money is coming in and state superintendent Koch taking a personal interest in the people there.</p><p>But even with those positives, there is no endgame in sight.</p><p>That&rsquo;s something that worries Kenneth Wong, a professor at Brown University who&rsquo;s been watching school takeovers across the country. He says North Chicago is typical of school takeovers by state government.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m seeing also is the absence of an exit strategy,&rdquo; Wong says. &ldquo;That is, they rush into direct intervention, but then oftentimes there is a lack of details.&rdquo;</p><p>For his part, Koch doesn&rsquo;t seem worried about an exit strategy in North Chicago just yet. The finances and academics are still too bad.</p><p>&ldquo;We really have to be there, I think, for the longer duration,&rdquo; Koch says. &ldquo;Because you don&rsquo;t want it to go back into its prior state and that could easily happen particularly with the precarious financial situation they&rsquo;re currently in.&rdquo;</p><p>Koch is also turning his attention to other failing districts around the state.</p><p>He&rsquo;s pushing legislation that would lay out the steps needed for Illinois to intervene in failing districts.</p><p>House Bill 5537 singles out districts on state academic watch, which means they have to show better test scores, and higher attendance and graduation rates.</p><p>Ben Schwarm lobbies in Springfield on behalf of school boards and he&rsquo;s going up against Koch when it comes to state takeovers.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of anyone, especially an appointed body, having the authority to remove from office elected officials based on the decisions they made certainly isn&rsquo;t generally the way democracy works in Illinois or in our country,&rdquo; Schwarm says.</p><p>Koch&rsquo;s bill is moving in an election year in which the candidates for governor have been campaigning mostly about how best to finance education instead of education policy.<br /><br />Koch&rsquo;s actions in North Chicago provide a window into incumbent Democratic Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s strategy for failing schools.<br /><br />Republican candidate Bruce Rauner hasn&rsquo;t talked specifically about state takeovers. But he advocates for more charter schools statewide, especially for failing districts.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not fair for parents to be stuck in a school that is failing and not fitting their kids&rsquo; needs,&quot; Rauner says. &quot;We need to create options and choice, especially for lower income families that can&rsquo;t afford to move.&rdquo;</p><p><em>This story has been updated: The districts that legislation the Illinois State Board of Education supports are located all over Illinois &ndash; not just in Chicago&rsquo;s south suburbs. A spokeswoman for ISBE emphasizes that the state does not intend to take over all school boards in districts that are failing in the state, and says the legislation is not intended to make it easier for the state to take over failing schools. Instead, it&rsquo;s meant to spell out steps that the state would have to take in order to remove the school board of a failing district.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943 Rauner, Quinn battle for African-American votes http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP911111007939.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6f97a6f2-1582-0782-483a-897455cafe20">As the clock ticks down to election night, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner continue to battle over what&rsquo;s best for Illinois&rsquo; future. The top candidates have now faced off in two televised debates.</p><p>The focus of Tuesday&rsquo;s debate, three weeks ahead of the election, was mostly African-American voters, and issues they&rsquo;ll be thinking about in the polling booth. The panel of journalists posing questions to the candidates focused on jobs, the economy, the minimum wage, public safety and the state&rsquo;s finances.</p><p>And it was obvious by their responses that both candidates on stage at the DuSable Museum of African American History realized the importance of getting those votes.</p><p>&ldquo;My investments and my donations to the African-American community have totaled tens of millions of dollars,&rdquo; Rauner said, when asked about his recent <a href="http://abc7chicago.com/politics/rauner-promises-$1m-to-south-side-credit-union-/231631/">million dollar donation</a> to a South Side credit union.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve opened up the doors to many more contracts&mdash;I think it&rsquo;s up to a thousand contracts&mdash;for African-American owned businesses,&rdquo; Quinn said, to a question about government hiring.</p><p>The two also wasted no time trying to cut their opponent down to size&mdash;a recurring theme in both televised debates and on the campaign trail. Quinn accused Rauner of not hiring any African Americans in his company.</p><p>&ldquo;My opponent had 51 executives in his company, no African Americans, not one,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>Rauner shot back that Quinn was &ldquo;taking the African-American vote for granted. He&rsquo;s talking but not delivering results.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner also accused Quinn of kicking Stephanie Neely, Chicago&rsquo;s city treasurer who is black, off the list of running mates. Neely was rumored to be on the short list of Quinn&rsquo;s choices for lieutenant governor. Quinn later countered that his choice of Paul Vallas was due to Vallas&rsquo; experience with schools and budgeting.</p><p>&ldquo;African-American families are suffering in Illinois: brutally high unemployment, deteriorating schools, lack of proper social services and rampant cronyism and corruption that&rsquo;s taking away job opportunities from African Americans,&rdquo; Rauner said.</p><p>The candidates spent a lot of time in this debate talking about public safety and gun control. Rauner wouldn&rsquo;t say if he supported a ban on assault weapons. He said he believed the conversation about gun control should instead be on getting guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and creating jobs. Rauner said it was the lack of opportunity that has lead to the state&rsquo;s issue with crime.</p><p>Quinn came out in support of banning assault weapons and called for a limit on high capacity ammunition magazines.</p><p>The ongoing conversation about the minimum wage also surfaced in this debate. Rauner was pressed by the panel to explain his position, as there has been much back and forth about whether he wants to <a href="http://politics.suntimes.com/article/springfield/rauner-admits-he-once-favored-eliminating-minimum-wage/thu-09042014-113am" target="_blank">ditch</a> the minimum wage all together, or raise it.</p><p>Rauner reiterated he wanted to see a national hike to the minimum wage, so Illinois could remain competitive, but he would support raising Illinois&rsquo; minimum wage (currently at $8.25) if it came with &ldquo;tort reform, tax reduction [and] workers comp reform.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn said he&rsquo;d work to raise the minimum wage to $10 by the end of this year, though he faced questions from both Rauner and the debate panel about why he hadn&rsquo;t boosted it in his six years in office. Quinn responded that &ldquo;you have to build a majority for anything in life&rdquo; and brought up President Barack Obama&rsquo;s tactics with passing the Affordable Care Act as an example.</p><p>The end of the debate featured a special opportunity for the candidates: Rauner and Quinn were able to ask one question of their opponent. You can listen to that exchange here:</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172278238&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_user=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The candidates are scheduled to face off in at least one more debate before the election on November 4.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian.</a></em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 A last chance for a better life http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781 <p><p>On a warm summer morning, Julia is seated in her kitchen, watching a small flatscreen on a kitchen counter. Julia, 10, smiled as she watched pictures of her family. Meanwhile, her mother Lisa, rummaged through a black and white square bag loaded with pills and bottles. It&rsquo;s Julia&rsquo;s morning routine. A pill crusher is used to grind up the medication. According to Lisa, 11 pills are needed in the morning, more at night.</p><p>Lisa and Julia are using pseudonyms for privacy reasons.</p><p>According to Lisa, Julia is thin for her age because she never has an appetite, something Lisa claimed is a side effect from all the medication. But Lisa said the pills do very little to get her daughter through the day.</p><p>An hour after she took her medicine, Julia wanted to go to a friend&rsquo;s house to see a dog named Wrigley. But she didn&rsquo;t walk to the door to leave. Julia sat frozen on the couch and just stared straight ahead. All of a sudden, Julia screamed &ldquo;Wrigley! I want to see Wrigley!&rdquo;</p><p>She did this for about 10 minutes straight. As she screamed, she leaned forward as her arms and legs stiffened. It was as if she was restrained by some kind of invisible rope.</p><p>Lisa said her daughter&rsquo;s epilepsy isn&rsquo;t the kind which manifests in convulsions. Julia&rsquo;s epilepsy renders her almost motionless. She cried with no tears. This type of seizure can happen at least once a day, sometimes more often at school.</p><p>&ldquo;When we have bad days, they&rsquo;re very bad. I can be crying, the caregiver is crying,&rdquo; said Lisa with a sigh. &ldquo;Because we can&rsquo;t do anything to help her.&rdquo;</p><p>Julia has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. While there&rsquo;s no cure for either, epilepsy is one of 40 illnesses approved in Illinois to be treated with medical marijuana.</p><p>To get it for her daughter, Lisa will have to fill out a nine-page application, including a form signed by Lisa&rsquo;s doctor saying she&rsquo;d benefit from using the drug. Because Julia is a minor, Lisa will get fingerprinted. Many have said that requirement likens them to criminals. I asked Lisa if she&rsquo;s ever thought about doing what hundreds of families have done: moving to Colorado for a special strain of marijuana many say reduces seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;On bad days, yes, I have,&rdquo; said Lisa. &ldquo;But my help is here. My family is here.&rdquo;</p><p>If Julia can use medical marijuana, Lisa hopes she can get it at one of the state&rsquo;s 60 licensed dispensaries in or near her home in McHenry County. Lisa is prepared to get a second opinion if her daughter&rsquo;s doctor doesn&rsquo;t approve.</p><p>&ldquo;Because I would like to see all these medicines diminish and cut back. I mean they have horrible side effects.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Epilepsy2_140909_yp.jpg" style="height: 188px; width: 250px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="“Julia” holds a picture of herself the day she was born. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, epilepsy a year later. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" />Everything from rashes to liver damage and even blindness. For Lisa, and countless others, what some in the medical profession think about using pot to treat serious illnesses has little influence on their decision. The American Medical Association discourages the use of cannabis. But the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago has come out in support of using medical marijuana. There are approximately 130,000 people in the Chicago metro area who suffer from epilepsy. Around 30,000 of them are children.</p><p>&ldquo;There are members of our professional advisory board that kind of felt along the same way that some parents felt (that) trying CBD oil could, in no event, be any worse than what they&rsquo;re already going through,&rdquo; said Kurt Florian, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. &ldquo;Given the successes we&rsquo;ve been hearing about, it would make sense to give it a try.&rdquo;</p><p>The strain of marijuana known to reduce seizures is called Charlotte&rsquo;s Web. It&rsquo;s named after a Colorado girl whose family fought to use it. It has little to no THC levels, the hallucinogenic property in marijuana. But it&rsquo;s high in cannabidiol or CBDs, the component said to reduce the number of seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;We had very motivated parents who had kids having anywhere from 100 to 1,000 seizures a day,&rdquo; Florian said. &ldquo;And witnessing the devastating impact those seizures were having on their children, we&rsquo;d love to see marijuana, CBD oil available in Illinois.&rdquo;</p><p>If the American Medical Association is opposed to it and the Epilepsy Foundation supports for it, an organization representing more than 140 thousand doctors, is somewhere in the middle. The American College of Physicians doesn&rsquo;t advocate using outright. But it wants more research to see whether it helps. Dr. David Fleming is the organization&rsquo;s president.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re attempting to garner is a better handle on that data,&rdquo; said Fleming. &ldquo;A handle on the science. So that we can advise our patients more effectively.&rdquo;</p><p>To do that, the federal government has to declassify the drug, now listed as a Schedule 1. That&rsquo;s in the same category as heroin. That restructuring could be more than a decade away. But some people aren&rsquo;t waiting years to get medical marijuana. Some aren&rsquo;t even waiting until next spring when it would be available in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;Mike&rdquo; from Rockford has traveled to Colorado a few times to get the prized CBD oil for his son, who suffers from autism and epilepsy. Mike doesn&rsquo;t want his real name used. He knows he broke a few laws that carry prison time if caught. When I bring up the consequences, he shrugged his shoulders, unfazed.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not breaking any laws so that we can enrich ourselves,&rdquo; said Mike. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not harmful to nobody if it&rsquo;s going to help him.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Reporter/anchor Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;&amp; <a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub">Google+</a>&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Sep 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781