WBEZ | Michael Puente http://www.wbez.org/tags/michael-puente Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en State, city move to crack down on petcoke in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/state-city-move-crack-down-petcoke-chicago-109412 <p><p dir="ltr">Top Chicago and Illinois officials are hoping new regulations and a legal deal announced on Thursday will crack down on the storage of petroleum coke on the city&rsquo;s Southeast Side.</p><p dir="ltr">Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan say they&rsquo;ve struck an interim legal settlement with Hammond, Ind.-based Beemsterboer, Inc., which has been storing so-called &ldquo;petcoke&rdquo; and other heavy industrial byproducts near residential neighborhoods.</p><p dir="ltr">Petcoke is a dust-like byproduct of the crude oil refinery process. It had been stored in mountainous, black piles along the Calumet River on the Southeast Side until residents began <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/southeast-side-residents-fuming-over-pet-coke-ash-109007">complaining</a> last August of health problems and demanding its removal.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;[They&rsquo;ve] been stored there without really any sufficient protections to prevent that dust from blowing into the nearby residential community, literally covering people&rsquo;s homes, covering their cars, covering their playgrounds - literally covering people when they go outside,&rdquo; Madigan said.</p><p dir="ltr">Additionally, Emanuel on Thursday announced new city regulations that would require large storage facilities to completely cover their piles of petcoke so they aren&rsquo;t windblown into adjacent neighborhoods. Smaller storage sites would simply have to block the piles from the wind.</p><p dir="ltr">Emanuel acknowledged Chicago and Illinois are behind the ball compared to places like Indiana and California, which imposed tougher petcoke regulations years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t do our job, and thank God for community leaders...who spoke up, demanded action, and we&rsquo;re now catching up to where we should have been years ago,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">But Thursday&rsquo;s actions do not mean the end of petcoke storage on the city&rsquo;s Southeast Side. Much of the material comes from BP&rsquo;s refinery plant in Whiting, Ind., which currently produces 2,000 tons of petcoke per day. A new expansion of the plant will triple that output.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Pet coke.jpg" style="float: right; height: 263px; width: 350px;" title="Southeast Side residents protest pet coke piles. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)" /></div><p dir="ltr">Beemsterboer, Inc. did not immediately return a phone call for comment. Another company that stores petcoke for BP, called KCBX Terminals, is not affected by Thursday&rsquo;s legal settlement but said it is reviewing Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed regulations.</p><p dir="ltr">BP contracts with KCBX Terminals, a firm located on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast side and owned by the politically connected Koch brothers. The pet coke is trucked from Whiting to KCBX for temporary storage.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;KCBX has handled bulk materials, including petroleum coke, on Chicago&rsquo;s southeast side for more than 20 years,&rdquo; spokesman Jake Reint said in a statement on Thursday. &ldquo;We are committed to doing the right thing and managing our operations in a manner that protects the health and safety of our neighbors.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><div>&nbsp;</div><p dir="ltr">Both companies are also facing suits from private attorneys representing residents who claim their health has been affected by the pet coke.</p><p dir="ltr">Democratic Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin visited the area this week with Democratic U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly. Some in Chicago&rsquo;s City Council have introduced bills calling for an all-out ban on pet coke in the city, but Emanuel rejected that idea on Thursday.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The idea that you can ban it - I&rsquo;m not sure will do the protection that you need to do, and immediately would be thrown out in court and we would be no closer,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, BP&rsquo;s Scott Dean says the company has no plans to stop contracting with KCBX. He says it&rsquo;s up to the company to safely store and contain the material. Dean says BP is encouraged to hear KCBX has installed a $10 million dust suppression system.</p><div><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.&nbsp;Follow WBEZ Northwest Indiana bureau reporter Michael Puente on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews</a>&nbsp;and on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/WBEZ-Northwest-Indiana-Bureau/701257506570573">Facebook</a>. &nbsp;</em></div></p> Thu, 19 Dec 2013 13:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-city-move-crack-down-petcoke-chicago-109412 Gary Airport loses only passenger airline http://www.wbez.org/news/gary-airport-loses-only-passenger-airline-107402 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Gary Airport_130528_MP.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The only passenger airline flying out of Gary, Indiana will end service this summer.&nbsp;</p><div>Allegiant Airline starting flying out of the Gary-Chicago International Airport 15 months ago to much fanfare.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was on hand to see the first flight take off, along with a host of other local politicians and dignitaries.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The contract with Allegiant was seen as a sign that the Gary airport could be a serious player in the sweepstakes to become the Chicago area&rsquo;s third major airport. But now, the Las Vegas-based airline says it will stop its twice-a-week route to Orlando, Florida by August 10th.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Allegiant informed the airport in a letter earlier this month. In a statement, the airline cited a lack of strong demand for the flights.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The airline will end its run by offering $70 one-way tickets to Sanford, Florida, outside of Orlando, beginning in June. Allegiant Air says it&rsquo;s open to flying out of Gary again in the future, but as of now, the service doesn&rsquo;t meet its revenue model.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Allegiant Air joins a growing list of airlines that have come and gone at the Gary airport. Other notable failures were a re-booted Pan Am Airlines, and the notorious Hooters Airline which both ended flights around a decade ago.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The difference being that not long after ending passenger service from Gary, those airlines ceased operations entirely. That&rsquo;s not likely to be the case for Allegiant Air, which still flies to a number of destinations.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Gary airport authority board chair Nathaniel Williams says the ending of the service had more to do with Allegiant Air than with Gary.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;They have a history of doing this in other cities,&rdquo; Williams said Tuesday morning at the board&rsquo;s regular meeting. &ldquo;We offered them great service here.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Williams says for now they want to concentrate on completing a multimillion dollar upgrade before year&rsquo;s end -- or risk losing FAA funding for it.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Our initial project is to try to extend that runway,&rdquo; Williams told WBEZ. &ldquo;So, what we&rsquo;re trying to do is get underway with it and make sure that&rsquo;s solid before we start our business development.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Williams says once the effort to extend its main runway is complete, he&rsquo;s confident the airport will be able to attract larger passenger jets and airlines. But Williams admits the effort to persuade several railroad companies to move rail tracks that are in the way of the new runway has been difficult.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We just have a little snag in the road right now,&rdquo; Williams said.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The airport will also soon seek proposals to take the airport private. Board member David Bochnowski, who is a well known bank president in Northwest Indiana, says inquiries have been strong.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;I believe a public-private partnership makes sense but we&rsquo;re going to let the market tell us,&rdquo; Bochnowski said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had interest come as far away as London.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Corporate and private charter jet service continues at the airport.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><em>Michael Puente is WBEZ&rsquo;s Northwest Indiana Bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews</a></em></div><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Tue, 28 May 2013 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/gary-airport-loses-only-passenger-airline-107402 'Afternoon Shift' #177: Live from Crown Point, Indiana http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-29/afternoon-shift-177-live-crown-point-indiana-103490 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Kogan&#039;s Indiana_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><script src="http://storify.com/WBEZ/afternoon-shift-177-live-from-crowne-pointe-india.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="http://storify.com/WBEZ/afternoon-shift-177-live-from-crowne-pointe-india" target="_blank">View the story "'Afternoon Shift' #177: Live from Crown Point, Indiana" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p> Fri, 26 Oct 2012 12:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-10-29/afternoon-shift-177-live-crown-point-indiana-103490 Is Illinois really in a financial mess? New state website makes the case http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-really-financial-mess-new-state-website-makes-case-97849 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/RS5200_AP060608042465_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois taxpayers who want a first-hand look at how the state spends money can now get their fix, or so says Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. On Monday she launched <a href="http://ledger.illinoiscomptroller.com/" target="_blank">The Ledger</a>, a comprehensive online financial database that she says sets a new standard for transparency.</p><p>“Beyond providing the day’s balances and transactions, the site allows taxpayers to inspect state revenues, expenses, contracts and salaries, all without having to move from their home computer,” Topinka said.</p><p>Some of the information taxpayers can access include:</p><ul><li>Daily general funds balances and bond rating information;</li><li>Unpaid bill totals on file at the state comptroller’s office;</li><li>A state contract database providing agreement descriptions, with an option to obtain the document itself;</li><li>A salary database detailing payments to all state employees;</li><li>Revenue and expense database containing all transactions;</li><li>All state financial reports;</li><li>Automatically-generated Freedom of Information Act requests for additional information.</li></ul><p>Topinka hopes the new set of online tools will provide more than just financial data.</p><p>“The object of the exercise is to make everything that we know of in the comptroller’s office public. If we know it, you’ll know it,” Topinka said. “We think it’s the only way we’re going to get the state back on a footing here on integrity and undercut some of this corruption that’s gone on and horseplay. So when you see it, it’ll be for real.”</p></p> Mon, 02 Apr 2012 16:24:57 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-really-financial-mess-new-state-website-makes-case-97849 Jackson on Peotone groundbreaking: ‘Bring your own shovel’ http://www.wbez.org/story/jackson-peotone-groundbreaking-%E2%80%98bring-your-own-shovel%E2%80%99-97782 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-March/2012-03-30/RS5195_Petone 1a-scr.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>There are many types of ground-breakings. There are the unceremonious ones with no politicians in sight, and there are others where politicians line up to synchronize their shovel-holding for watching cameras. And then there’s the kind that Jesse Jackson Jr. wants to have on April 21. This one, which Jackson calls a “people’s groundbreaking,” is a symbolic move to regain traction on his drive for an airport in Peotone.</p><p>Jackson has spent years trying to transform a farm in Will County into a massive national airport named after President Abraham Lincoln, and he hopes some showmanship will break a political logjam.</p><p>“We will be there symbolically maybe with dozens — maybe even with a couple of hundred — people who agree that it’s time for us to move forward on this project,” Jackson said.</p><p>Politically speaking, Jackson is feeling confident and it may be as good a time as any for him to revive the long-standing airport issue. He handily won this month’s Democratic primary in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, an area that was redistricted recently and includes the site for the proposed airport.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-30/RS5196_AP120320153840.jpg" style="float: left; width: 253px; height: 350px; " title=""></p><p>Jackson points out that the state of Illinois already bought more than 2,000 acres of land for the project, and, he claims, he’s nearly finished with lining up private financing.</p><p>Jackson says with some political will, the jobs and economic growth should start soon.</p><p>“For the first time the global economy will be on the South Side of Chicago and the South Side of Chicago will have access to the global economy and that’s where the jobs are,” Jackson said. “Right now, the global economy is out by O’Hare and beyond. And so these are the hopes and dreams of a region.”</p><p><strong>Would groundbreaking end political fight or rekindle it?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>From another vantage, Jackson seems to be jumping the gun with his “people’s groundbreaking.” The federal government hasn’t approved a new airport for Peotone and it might not weigh in for at least two years.</p><p>And, it’s not clear where things stand politically. If Will County’s own politicians have any say, the airport will come later — much later.</p><p>“This idea of coming in and having a groundbreaking I think is just disrespect to the citizens of eastern Will County. It’s disrespectful to the municipalities out there,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. He especially scoffs at Jackson’s claim that construction could start soon, maybe even by June.</p><p>“You know, making those kinds of statements is just irresponsible,” he said. “Nobody is going to begin construction of an airport.”</p><p>Walsh also points out that the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t officially ruled on the question of whether the area actually needs a new airport.</p><p>Still, the paramount issue is one of control: Walsh wants state lawmakers to authorize an airport board made up of people primarily from Will County itself. Jackson’s plan includes outsiders, including representatives from Cook and Kankakee counties.</p><p>“Our Will County residents are going to be the ones most affected by this,” Walsh said. “Their quality of life is going to change. Some of these people, their families have been around here for a 150 years, and I have a responsibility to represent them in their quality of life for the development of this airport.”</p><p>So, where is Springfield in all of this?</p><p>The state of Illinois has been behind a Peotone airport for years, but the pace has been glacial, with progress coming in fits and starts. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is offering major moral support.</p><p>“We have a metropolitan area of Chicago that’s an underserved area of the south. Having an airport in Peotone is important and we shouldn’t forget it,” Gov. Quinn said.</p><p>But Quinn’s statements don’t come with concrete, financial backing, and there’s a new wrinkle in the discussion about regional airports. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now pushing plans for a fourth runway at O’Hare, which is already expanding. The proposal, which Emanuel laid out earlier this week, is to boost O’Hare’s capacity by 300-thousand passengers and reduce delays by 80 percent. The mayor argued that expanding O’Hare would be cheaper than the other alternatives. Not so with Peotone.</p><p>“I’m opposed to it,” he said. “That’s why I want to make sure that O’Hare is modernized.”</p><p><strong>How big could it really be?</strong></p><p>One thing that hasn’t come up so far is whether Jackson’s vision of a mammoth airport is realistic. Airlines are experiencing rapidly increasing fuel costs, and they’ve already questioned whether there’s enough demand at O’Hare and Midway, let alone Peotone. Plus, there’s another airport in Gary, Ind., that’s already running. It, like O’Hare, is already undergoing expansion.</p><p>All of this has Dr. Joseph Schwieterman of DePaul University questioning how much more airport capacity we need.</p><p>“There’s just no question that Peotone and Gary are really fighting for part of the same piece of pie and probably both can’t succeed,” Schwieterman said. “The market’s just too tough. Southwest expanding, Milwaukee and O’Hare’s being enlarged. There just isn’t enough market to go around for everything.”</p><p>But all those things don’t necessarily knock Peotone out of the airport sweepstakes. Schwieterman says a massive airport in Peotone might be out of the works, but, “the good news for Peotone is a micro small airport is in the realm of possibility, something very small: one runway, a couple of gates.”</p><p>Rep. Jackson is not buying the idea that Peotone should shoot for a small project, and he’s more than willing to draw out some heavy rhetoric for his cause.</p><p>“A generation ago there were those who blocked schoolhouse doors to stop progress. You really can’t stop progress,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t work. History is replete with figures who stood in the way of social, political and economic progress and that’s exactly what this airport represents.”</p><p>Jackson said he’s undeterred, and invites everyone to come to Peotone for his so-called people’s groundbreaking on April 21. He does say, though, that people should bring their own shovels.</p></p> Fri, 30 Mar 2012 22:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/jackson-peotone-groundbreaking-%E2%80%98bring-your-own-shovel%E2%80%99-97782 Daniels signs police entry law http://www.wbez.org/story/daniels-signs-police-entry-law-97521 <p><p>Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed one last bill to bring this year’s General Assembly to a close.</p><p>That bill, Senate Enrolled Act 1, lays out in greater detail when a homeowner can refuse entry to a police officer.</p><p>The law comes as a result of last summer’s ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court that concluded Hoosier homeowners cannot refuse entry into their homes by police, even if the officers arrive without a warrant.</p><p>“After close inspection, I have decided to sign Senate Enrolled Act 1.&nbsp;Contrary to some impressions, the bill strengthens the protection of Indiana law enforcement officers by narrowing the situations in which someone would be justified in using force against the,” Daniels wrote in a prepared statement. “Senate Enrolled Act 1 puts into place a two-part test before a person can use deadly force against a law enforcement officer:&nbsp; First, it clarifies and restates the current requirement that a person reasonably believe the law enforcement officer is acting unlawfully.&nbsp;Second, it adds that the force must be reasonably necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the citizen.&nbsp;This second requirement is not part of the current law.”</p><p>The law comes four years after an Evansville, Indiana man sued police after being arrested following a domestic disturbance.</p><p>The court’s ruling caused an uproar, prompting protests and marches outside the Indiana State Capitol. Critics saw it as an affront to a person’s right against unwarranted search and seizure.</p><p>After much debate, Hoosier lawmakers passed Senate Enrolled Act 1 on the last day of the session earlier this month. Daniels signed the bill into law Wednesday. He says it narrows the conditions under which someone could use force against police.</p><p>Critics worry the law could give people justification for attacking police officers. Daniels refutes that.</p><p>“Law enforcement officers will be better protected than before, not less so.&nbsp; What is troubling to law enforcement officers, and to me, is the chance that citizens hearing reports of change will misunderstand what the law says,” Daniels stated. “The right thing to do is cooperate with them in every way possible. This law is not an invitation to use violence or force against law enforcement officers.&nbsp;In fact, it restricts when an individual can use force, specifically deadly force, on an officer, so don’t try anything.&nbsp; Chances are overwhelming you will be breaking the law and wind up in far worse trouble as a result.”</p><p>The law goes into effect on July 1<sup>st</sup>.</p></p> Wed, 21 Mar 2012 23:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/daniels-signs-police-entry-law-97521 Hammond residents decry cuts to bilingual program http://www.wbez.org/story/hammond-residents-decry-cuts-bilingual-program-97236 <p><p>Parents of bilingual students in Hammond, Ind., are upset over possible cuts to the bilingual education program. Dozens of them demanded answers during a Hammond school board meeting Monday night at the school district’s headquarters.</p><p>Hammond resident Irene Mendoza came with at least one hundred other parents. She knows the School City of Hammond wants to cut its budget, and she made the case that the bilingual department should be spared.</p><p>“Our children and Latino teachers are all under attack. The people who understand our culture are the ones that being attack,” Mendoza said. “They are not being promoted but are being demeaned and having their salaries cut.”</p><p>Superintendent Walter Watkins said the district is indeed examining salaries, but there’s no discrimination going on.</p><p>“We’re looking at salaries of not only just the aids but teachers and administrators. Theirs is nothing anti-Hispanic or anti-bilingual,” Watkins said. “It’s an issue we’re looking at across the district.”</p><p>Watkins said Indiana’s State Board of Accounts has audited Hammond schools’ spending. That report’s expected to become public in a few weeks.</p><p>The Hammond Public Schools have about 13,200 students, of which 40 percent are Latino.</p><p>The protesting parents came down especially hard on Hammond School Board member Cindy Murphy. Some called for her resignation, accusing her of supporting the reduction of salaries of Latino teacher aids in the bilingual program. Some parents labeled her as insulting to Latino/bilingual students.</p><p>Murphy said she is neither anti-bilingual nor anti-Latino.</p><p>“They categorize me as racist,” Murphy said following the meeting. “Yo hablo espanol (I speak Spanish).”</p><p>She said she fully supports the bilingual program and would like to expand it.</p><p>“My dream for the students here in Hammond is for them to be fluent in at least two languages,” Murphy said.</p><p>Murphy said there seems to be a miscommunication about the issues facing the school district.</p><p>Fellow Hammond school board member George Janiec said the board of accounts audit will likely put Hammond’s school system in a bad light. He added that one result of the audit may be stricter oversight of departments — including the bilingual department.</p><p>Still, Julie Contreras, head of the Indiana Latino Agenda, is leading a campaign called “Operation Save the Bilingual Education Program.” She claims Hammond schools have threatened to remove the bilingual education program through salary cuts.</p><p>Contreras, a resident of suburban Illinois, has asked Tony Bennett, Indiana’s Superintendent for Public Education, to intervene.</p><p>Watkins says the bilingual program is a federally funded program that is not subject to discontinuation.</p><p>Some bilingual aids could see their salaries slashed by 50 percent, with aids possible getting paid about $8 an hour.</p><p>Janiec said such positions are part-time and are not licensed teaching positions.</p></p> Tue, 13 Mar 2012 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/hammond-residents-decry-cuts-bilingual-program-97236 Hoosier lawmakers bring session to an end http://www.wbez.org/story/hoosier-lawmakers-bring-session-end-97201 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-March/2012-03-11/RS5110_Indy GOP speaker Brian Bosma 2-scr.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Back in early January, on the first day of the Indiana General Assembly session, hundreds of pro-union organizers greeted lawmakers as they came to work in Indianapolis.</p><p>It was loud, boisterous and heated as unions geared up for a fight with Republican lawmakers and tried to prevent a right-to-work bill from going through.</p><p>That fight was over weeks ago – with Republicans proving to be stronger by approving right-to-work legislation, which is now law in the state of Indiana.</p><p>The law prohibits companies from requiring employees to join a union as a condition of employment, even if a collective bargaining contract already in place calls for it.</p><p>But by Friday’s final day of the session, gone were the noise, shouts and political threats. All that remained were tired legislators looking to make last-minute changes to several bills.</p><p>The session officially ended at 2 a.m. Saturday, two hours after the required midnight close.</p><p>In the final day, lawmakers passed a bill that gives Hoosiers greater authority to resist illegal police entry into their homes.&nbsp;The law is in response to a ruling last year by the Indiana Supreme Court in the <em>Barnes v</em><em>.&nbsp;</em><em>Indiana </em>case. The ruling suggested residents could not refuse police entry into their homes, whether police officers came with a warrant or not.</p><p>Randy Head, a Republican from Logansport, Ind., says the legislature needed to address the issue because the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling was too broad.</p><p>“Bottom line for me under Barnes is that it says if a police officer is off duty and breaks into a house, clearly unlawfully, and steals something from that house or hurts someone in that house or sets fire to that house,” Head told Indiana Public Broadcasting, “the homeowner has to say, ‘Officer, stop or I’m going to sue you later.’”</p><p>But some lawmakers say the law complicates the issue even more for both the public and police.</p><p>The legislation says residents can only use force against police if they feel their life is in danger.</p><p>In the<em> Barnes</em>&nbsp;case, police in the far southwestern Indiana city of Evansville responded to a domestic abuse case.&nbsp;When police arrived, the estranged wife of a man thought to be harming her refused police entry into their home.</p><p>Police entered despite the objections of the husband, who claimed all was well.</p><p>In other action, lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits public smoking in certain places, but there are many exceptions.&nbsp;Smokers can still light up in casinos, bars, private clubs and veteran organization facilities like VFW halls. &nbsp;The law is viewed as so weak, however, that the American Heart Association pulled its support of the law.</p><p>House speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, says a lot was accomplished this year.</p><p>“Safe to say we’ve seen the strongest reform-minded General Assembly, at least in institutional memory and perhaps in recent history,” Bosma said.</p><p>Twenty members of the Indiana General Assembly, including longtime Democratic Northwest Indiana legislators Dan Stevenson of Highland and Chet Dobis of Merrillville, are retiring from state politics.</p></p> Mon, 12 Mar 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/hoosier-lawmakers-bring-session-end-97201 Gary's National Black Political Convention, 40 years on http://www.wbez.org/story/garys-national-black-political-convention-40-years-97111 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-March/2012-03-09/RS5095_Jesse Jackson at Convention 2-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-09/gary political convention 1.jpg" style="width: 512px; height: 371px;" title="Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. marches into the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind. in 1972. (Gene Pesek/Chicago Sun-Times)" /></p><p>In a few months Republicans and Democrats will hold their respective conventions to officially nominate candidates for president. While it&rsquo;s a forgone conclusion that President Barack Obama will be the Democrats&rsquo; pick, no fewer than four Republicans candidates are still fighting it out at the polls.</p><p>While the cycle of party conventions seems to go back, unbroken, for many decades, there are a few instances when major political meetings interrupted the more predictable schedule of events.</p><p>One of these occurred 40 years ago this week in Gary, Ind. For three days beginning March 10, 1972, the Steel City hosted the National Black Political Convention. Some say this independent meeting forged a path forward for African-American politics, one that remains open to this day.</p><p>The event took place in the gym at Gary&rsquo;s West Side High School, which is now called West Side Leadership Academy. These days the gym hosts high school basketball tournaments &mdash; sometimes packed with thousands of fans, parents and players. But Lonnie Randolph, a veteran state senator from neighboring East Chicago, remembers how the gym looked during the black political convention of 1972, and how excited he was to be part of the historic event.</p><p>&ldquo;You hear and read about the national conventions and all that, but to have one in your own backyard, especially for the first-time gathering of African-Americans,&rdquo; Randolph said.</p><p><strong>The overriding mission: unity</strong></p><p>The National Black Political Convention attracted approximately 8,000 people from across the United States. Their mission was to establish a unified political agenda that would address poverty, unemployment and blacks&rsquo; lack of clout within the Republican and Democratic parties.</p><p>Some made impassioned pleas for African-American political and economic freedom following tumultuous events of the &#39;60s, such as the violence in Selma, Alabama, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and the deaths of major figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5095_Jesse Jackson at Convention 2-scr.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; width: 275px; height: 213px;" title="The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind. (Gene Pesek/Chicago Sun-Times)" />Some of the biggest names in the civil rights movement came to lend their voices in Gary, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.</p><p>&ldquo;We are grown. We ain&rsquo;t taking it no more. No more yes boss. No more bowing or scrapping. We are 25 million strong. Cut us in or cut it out. It is a new ball game,&rdquo; Jackson said in a passionate speech at the convention, as depicted on the PBS documentary<em> Eyes on the Prize</em>.</p><p>Jackson recently sat down with WBEZ for a one-on-one interview to discuss the convention and its &nbsp;legacy.</p><p>&ldquo;For the first time ever, really, in a political sense, this was a really major, somewhat unorthodox, political convention. People there from all over the country and the Caribbean. And even without Internet, Facebook and high technology, people came,&rdquo; Jackson said. &ldquo;Getting the right to vote in &rsquo;65 was the beginning of a process, but the convention in Gary solidified the sense of focus. This convention was overwhelming. It could not be turned around.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Convention lands in a town with &#39;only one hotel&#39; </strong></p><p>Jackson says the convention was planned at a time when the nation was experiencing heated and sometimes violent political protests, so hosting a black political convention would have been a major feat for any city. But the convention landed in the growing, but modest-sized Gary, a city on the shores of Lake Michigan with a population of &nbsp;175,000 &mdash; half of which was black. It didn&rsquo;t hurt that its latest mayor was African-American.<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5100_Richard Hatcher at convention-scr.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 206px;" title="Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher speaks at the National Black Political Conference in Gary, Ind. (AP/Charles Kelly)" /></p><p>&ldquo;It was important to have it in a city where the mayor was the host. We couldn&rsquo;t have had the same convention if the climate had been hostile,&rdquo; Jackson said. &ldquo;Mayor (Richard) Hatcher was the driving force. He chaired that convention into reality.&rdquo;</p><p>Richard Gordon Hatcher had been voted into office in 1968, making him the first black mayor of a large American city.</p><p>&ldquo;At that time, most large cities in the country, the last thing they wanted was to have thousands of black people coming to that city for any period of time,&rdquo; Hatcher told WBEZ recently. &ldquo;People said there would be riots, buildings would be burned, crime would escalate. All of those things.&rdquo;</p><p>Hatcher says, at the time, the nation&rsquo;s political climate was changing and blacks needed to decide how to best address pressing issues as well as achieve true equality. Hatcher, along with many other attendees, thought other means had failed.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5099_Richard Hatcher and Ragen-scr.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; width: 275px; height: 293px;" title="Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher with his daughter Ragen Hatcher in 2011. (AP/Joe Raymond)" />&ldquo;You couldn&rsquo;t get it done through the courts and it was pretty clear that peaceful, non-violent demonstrations were not going to happen anymore. But what was evolving was politics, the political sphere,&rdquo; said Hatcher, now a political science professor at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. &ldquo;The decision was made that we needed to call all of the black people that we could together from all over the country to come to a meeting, come to a convention.&rdquo;</p><p>Hatcher recalls having several meetings in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Chicago with top black leaders to decide where to host the convention.</p><p>&ldquo;So the discussion moved from, &lsquo;Shall we do it,&rsquo; to &lsquo;Where shall we do it?&rsquo; I think we tried a couple of cities and basically, the officials in those cities made it clear that such a meeting was not welcomed in their cities,&rdquo; Hatcher said. &ldquo;I suggested Gary would take the meeting. Gary could handle the meeting. There had been no discussion about the fact that Gary had only one hotel.&rdquo;</p><p>To offset a lack of hotel rooms, Hatcher says some convention visitors stayed in Chicago, but a good number were hosted in the homes of Gary residents.</p><p><strong>Time to welcome visitors</strong></p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think I had ever been to Indiana before,&rdquo; said Amiri Baraka. In a recent interview with WBEZ, the noted poet from Newark, New Jersey, recalled his impressions from the 1972 convention.</p><p>At that time,&nbsp;Baraka considered himself to be a black nationalist, and that movement&#39;s imagery and vibe were on display.&nbsp;<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5104_AP02100204224-scr.jpg" style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; float: right; width: 275px; height: 369px; " title="Amiri Baraka speaks at a poetry ceremony in Newark, N.J., in 2002. (AP/Mike Derer)" /></p><p>&ldquo;You know, it was a very striking kind of thing,&quot; he said. &quot;When we got there, Hatcher had put these red, black and green flags on all the sign posts down there. It was very exciting. It was one of the most exciting things I&rsquo;ve ever been to in my life. There were black delegates there from all 50 states, just like it was a convention for the Democratic or Republican party.&rdquo;</p><p>The convention&rsquo;s main objective was to establish a black political agenda for the nation, but coming to a consensus wasn&rsquo;t easy. There were heated, back-and-forth discussions and some delegates even threatened to walk out of the convention when they couldn&rsquo;t come to terms.</p><p>Baraka says attendees pressed on because adopting that agenda was paramount.</p><p>&ldquo;That was the reason that we gave for having a convention in the first place &mdash; that we were going to create this black agenda so that every politician would have to take this into consideration if they wanted to run,&rdquo; Baraka said. &ldquo;The things the African-American people wanted &hellip; nationally.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite the appeals to unity, divisions remained. One of the deepest was between black groups that chose to participate in the convention and those that did not. One prominent no-show was The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which avoided the meeting because whites were not allowed to participate.</p><p>That exclusion carried over to white news reporters, whose absence proved to be an opportunity for young black journalists, at a time when few minorities were in the news business.</p><p>One journalist who attended was Renee Ferguson, the current press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Ferguson had a long career as one of Chicago&#39;s top television journalists, but in 1972 she was a 22-year-old reporter with the Indianapolis <em>News</em> newspaper.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5102_Renee 2-scr.JPG" style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; float: left; width: 320px; height: 169px; " title="Renee Ferguson looks over a news article she wrote while covering the convention. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)" />&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think the <em>News</em> had hired a woman or an African-American person,&rdquo; Ferguson &nbsp;told WBEZ recently. &ldquo;They sent me because, in order to cover this, I think the organizers had said they would only have black reporters. So, I got credentialed and got to cover this beautiful piece of history.</p><p>&ldquo;When I got there it was very disorganized, much bigger than anybody had planned for and impossible actually for anybody to see what was happening. The speeches were long and there were a lot of egos and there weren&rsquo;t many women.&quot;</p><p>Ferguson says the Gary delegates grappled with a basic question.</p><p>&ldquo;Are black people going to work on the inside with the system, or are they going to have their own and work on the outside? And that was the big argument no matter what else they talked about,&rdquo; Ferguson said. &ldquo;That was the underlying intrigue and the most interesting thing for me to document as a young reporter.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Three days with a decades-long legacy</strong></p><p>The convention is credited with galvanizing African-Americans and encouraging them to run for office. Over the next 10 years, the number of elected black politicians grew from 2,200 to more than 5,000.</p><p>Even those who didn&rsquo;t attend the event, such as former Illinois U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, said the aftereffects are undeniable.</p><p>&ldquo;Out of that was a lot of groundwork laid for blacks to run for various offices throughout the country,&rdquo; Burris said. &ldquo;The energizing coming out of that &rsquo;72 national convention certainly would energize the voters to see the power and interest in electing these various individuals to these new offices.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-08/RS5103_AP12030507831-scr%282%29.jpg" style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; float: right; width: 320px; height: 186px; " title="The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. marches in Selma, Ala., on March 5, 2012. (AP/Dave Martin)" /></p><p>Smaller black political conventions were organized in later years but none approached the size or scope of the one in Gary. Despite the fact that the nation now has its first black president, many observers contacted by WBEZ agree there&rsquo;s reason to hold another major black political convention.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s time for another one,&rdquo; said Jackson. &ldquo;While we have the joy of having the White House occupied by President Barack Obama, blacks remain in the hull of the ship, and the water&rsquo;s rising and (there is a) growing sense of desperation.&rdquo;</p><p>West Side&rsquo;s gymnasium has no plaque or other commemoration of the 1972 convention, though surviving attendees hope to keep its memory alive. To that end, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), will host a symposium on the National Black Political Convention on Capitol Hill the weekend of March 23. Organizers say they hope to draw connections between the overlooked convention and this year&rsquo;s presidential election.</p></p> Fri, 09 Mar 2012 02:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/garys-national-black-political-convention-40-years-97111 Up, up and away for Gary airport http://www.wbez.org/story/and-away-gary-airport-96467 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-February/2012-02-16/Gary airport 1_Puente.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-16/Gary airport 1_Puente.jpg" style="width: 630px; height: 354px;" title="The first Allegiant Air flight out of Gary begins to taxi to the runway on Wednesday afternoon. (WBEZ/Michael Puente) "></p><p>The first commercial flight in nearly four years took off Wednesday from the Gary-Chicago International Airport.</p><p>Allegiant Air took to the skies with a plane full of Florida-bound passengers. Vickie Lacky of Munster, Indiana was one of the 150 or so passengers.</p><p>“I flew out of the Gary airport one time in the past and it was an excellent experience,” Lacky said. “I hope the airline does well because it’s very convenient.”</p><p>Convenience is one of the main features Allegiant Air will be trying to market to its target audience in Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.</p><p>“We see a lot of potential for growth in this market and we think Allegiant is the perfect fit,” Eric Fletcher, director of airports for the Las Vegas-based airline, said to WBEZ following a press conference at the airport.</p><p>In business for about 10 years, Allegiant Air flies to nearly a dozen destinations, including on the West Coast and Florida.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-16/Gary airport 2_Puente.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 225px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Passengers in line to board the first commercial flight out of Gary, Indiana in four years. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)">For now, the airline will fly twice a week from Gary to the Orlando Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Florida.</p><p>Fletcher says his airline has a track record of being successful in markets where other airlines have not been, like Gary.</p><p>For the last decade, the Gary airport has seen a half dozen start-up airlines come and go, the most recent being Skybus Airlines, which flew for the last time out of Gary in March 2008.”</p><p>“We connect underserved markets. We go to areas where lots of people before haven’t had success in and we’ve be able to have success,” Fletcher said. “Besides a low fair, we find there are a lot of people who want to go on vacation and there are lots of people who are doing that.”</p><p>A host of Gary officials attended Wednesday’s press conference and are hoping the airline can be a success.</p><p>“This is about economic development. It’s about jobs. This is about growing our economy,” said Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.</p><p>Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson said she is confident Allegiant Air will be the first of many commercial airlines to fly out of the airport.</p><p>“We certainly think this is the beginning of good things to come out of the Gary Chicago International Airport,” Freeman Wilson said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>The Gary airport is undergoing a $150 million project to extend its main runway. The Federal Aviation Administration is giving the airport until the end of 2013 to have the project completed.</p></p> Thu, 16 Feb 2012 11:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/and-away-gary-airport-96467