Tom's Mailbag Feb. 28, 2014: Of Ellen, buffalo and Henson

Tom's Mailbag Feb. 28, 2014: Of Ellen, buffalo and Henson

Happy Friday, everyone. Another great mix of questions/comments this week, including The Ellen Show, the legacy of buffalo in Champaign County, Lou Henson Court, the Koch Brothers, Illinois’ conservation congress, Windsor Road, Carol Ammons, Kristin Williamson and John Bambenek.


“Tom, I watched the ‘Ellen’ video. Given all the hype leading up to the mob/event, it just wasn’t very funny. Have I lost my sense of humor?

Nope, not your fault. I agree. It fell flat. Maybe Ellen was having an off day in Burbank. Here, maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the short notice, maybe all the funny students were at the library or in a lab at that time.

Also, I thought it was embarrassing to the University of Illinois that no student dressed up as a character from a foreign movie. Now that would have been clever.

After all the UI is home to more international students than virtually any other campus in the United States. How about dressing as goofy grandfather George in “Hope and Glory,” the triumphant Jamal in “Slumdog Millionaire,” the persistent father Antonio in “The Bicycle Thief,” Alfredo the kind movie theater operator in “Cinema Paradiso,” or the nameless newspaper reporter in “Godzilla”? 

As highbrow as “Ellen” is, that would have been fun and artsy.

If you want humor, soon the Cubs and White Sox will be back on TV. Here’s a link to rare footage of what Wrigley Field looked like the last time the Cubs were in the World Series ...


“Why does Bloomington Road run in a diagonal line? Most of the city streets are in the common grid pattern. Are there other diagonal streets in Champaign-Urbana?”


The answer is: the buffalo.

I love this question, and this piece of local history.

As J.O. Cunningham quotes in his great book, “The History of Champaign County,” the buffalo was noted for breaking great roads across the continent on the summit of watershed.

“Heavy, fleet of foot, capable of covering scores of miles a day, the buffalo tore his roads from one feeding ground to another, and from north to south, on the high grounds; here his roads were swept free of debris in summer, and of snow in winter,” Cunningham quoted from the book, ‘Historic Highways of America.’

Even into the 1800s there were buffalo in Illinois, noted Cunningham’s book.

The Fort Clark Road, which ran from Danville to Peoria, likely was a buffalo path, Cunningham said, “and afterwards an Indian trail, where the buffalo was hunted and trapped, and finally adopted by the great tide of immigration” through Illinois.

At another point Cunningham says that successor roads to the Fort Clark Road “are still in existence as diagonal streets in the towns through which it runs, most notably West Main Street, Urbana, and Bloomington Road, Champaign.”

So the legacy of the great buffalo, long gone from central Illinois, is Interstate 74. That diagonal road started as a buffalo trail, then an Indian trail, then a white settler trail, then a rural road, then a railroad (first known as the Danville, Urbana, Bloomington & Pekin Railroad) and finally an interstate highway. 

As an aside, anyone else in favor of renaming West Main Street in Urbana “Buffalo Trace”?


“Tom, I have been getting phone calls from the Republican pollsters asking me about candidates for office in Illinois. These phone calls have a Wisconsin telephone number. I know the mega-billionaire Koch brothers pump money into Wisconsin and actually own the state but why are they bothering me? Don’t they know I’m not rich enough to be a Republican?” 


Consider yourself lucky. As far as I know, we haven’t gotten any of those calls. If you’re middle-income, where does that put us?


“Has the Illinois Department of Natural Resources set the agenda for the Illinois Conservation Congress that will be held in April? When will the IDNR release the results of the public survey used to determine the conservation priorities of Illinois citizens? Will the Conservation Congress be open to the public at all times or will there be executive sessions? Thanks.”


Here’s the lowdown from Elizabeth Norden at the IDNR:
“We’re are in the midst of finalizing the agenda and will be releasing it next week along with opening registration.

“The event itself will be held at IDNR headquarters in Springfield on April 11 and 12.

“And, we have been reviewing the results of the survey ... to help inform our agenda for Conservation Congress ... and our plan is to provide that info at CC.” 


“I have heard a lot of allegations being thrown out that (state representative candidate) Carol Ammons has a degree from a diploma mill but no definitive answer to the questions posed. Considering that George Gollin is listed on Carol’s website as an endorser and he has dedicated his career to fighting diploma mills, he must have decided that Walsingham is not a diploma mill school. My question is: has George Gollin stated his opinion that Walsingham (University in London) is not a diploma mill, and if not will he? He could certainly clear up a lot for this one confused voter.” 


Gollin’s campaign manager Monica Biddix responds: “George isn’t going to comment on that. It’s an unfortunate situation.”


“I understand that there is a process called ‘rubblization’ that was pioneered by Marshall Thompson at the University of Illinois. I’m wondering if this would be a cost-effective and quicker method for solving this problem?”


Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray responds: “Rubblization is being considered in the preliminary design of the pavement replacement of Windsor Road. Not to be confused with crumb rubber (from old tires) that is an additive in the formula for making hot mix asphalt.”

Rubblization has been used on many segments of interstate highways in Illinois, according to the Department of Transportation.


“I couldn’t help but notice your complete dismissal of Kristin Williamson’s candidacy on WILL this week. Both Democrats are killing each other, the Democrat Party is divided, and  

Williamson is running a strong, moderate, well-funded campaign.

“I think Speaker Madigan considers her a threat, and you should too.”


Response: I went back and listened to the “Focus” program and found nothing to indicate that I dismissed Kristin Williamson’s candidacy.

Regarding the 103rd District I said that the district “is as close to a lock” for Democrats as any downstate district and, “You’ve got to say that the Democrat has a distinct advantage in this district.”

That’s hardly dismissing Williamson’s candidacy, only pointing out that the district — which is essentially Champaign-Urbana — is heavily Democratic.

Barack Obama got 67 percent in Champaign-Urbana in 2012. Democratic congressional candidate David Gill got 61 percent over Republican Rodney Davis that year. Jakobsson was reelected with 69 percent over Republican Rob Meister. The mayors of Champaign and Urbana are Democrats, and every majority-urban county board district in the county is represented by a Democrat.


Lots of support for naming the basketball floor at the State Farm Center for former coach Lou Henson, but it’s not unanimous.


“Name the floor Lou Henson Court”

“Lou Henson Orange Krush Court. This honors Coach Henson and the student cheering section that will ALWAYS be the Fighting Illini’s 6th man!” 

“Anything other than Lou Henson court would be a travesty.”

“Why not call it ‘Mediocrity Court’ — that is Henson’s legacy.”

“Call the U of I court ‘The Players.’ They are the ones that use it.”

“Why does the basketball court even have to have a name?  How about ‘the basketball court’?  But if it has to have a name, it absolutely should not be something that can be bought by a donor. The point of donating is to give money or time to an entity with no compensation other than feeling good about it.  Otherwise, you’re buying, not donating.” 


My idea is to get all the friends and neighbors of the pride of Danville, Rita Garman, to chip in to name it for her, the current Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Although she did not get her law degree from the University of Illinois, Garman does have an undergrad degree from the UI.

We could name it the “Rita Garman, Illinois Supreme Court.”


And finally ... 

“On at least two occasions, Mr. Kacich, you’ve written articles allowing partisan Republican political operative John Bambenek to attack elected Democratic officials Charlie Smyth and Laurel Prussing with highly questionable legal interpretations of Urbana municipal codes.

“Unfortunately, neither Bambenek nor you have ever provided a link to the key ordinance in question.

“Don’t you think that you at least owe your readers a link to the full text of the law that Mr. Bambenek is misinterpreting?  And shouldn’t The News-Gazette print some sort of correction to your articles where you point out that non-lawyer Bambenek’s fanciful interpretations of law aren’t consistent with the specific exemptions that have been written into the law to protect the right of free speech of Urbana employees and elected officials?”


Yes, I mentioned it in the last two paragraphs of a 24-paragraph story about Naomi Jakobsson’s endorsement (as well as Mayors Laurel Prussing and Don Gerard) of Sam Rosenberg for the Illinois House.

In the earlier story you reference (Oct. 27, 2012) I cited the ordinance and quoted from it.

Article X of the Urbana city code, titled “City Officials and Employee Ethics and Political Activity,” prohibits certain political activity by officials.

“No elected official, employee, citizen appointee shall intentionally misappropriate any city property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization,” reads Section 2-203 of Article X.

But our correspondent above, who never gives his/her name but I can only assume is a lawyer, suggests that the following provision in the city code permits officials to use city property for such purposes:


“Political activity means any activity in support of or in connection with any campaign for elective office or any political organization, but does not include activities:

(1) Relating to the support or opposition of any executive, legislative, or administrative action (as those terms are defined in Section 2 of the Lobbyist Registration Act),

(2) Relating to collective bargaining, or

(3) That are otherwise in furtherance of the person’s official duties.”


That’s seems like a broad interpretation, but I’m not a lawyer. In any case no one, including Bambenek, has pushed the issue any further. Still, I see nothing wrong with demanding high ethical standards from our public officials. 


Meanwhile, thanks for all the correspondence. See you next Friday. By that time, according to our friends at the National Weather Service, the weather may be a little nicer: “Models are trending milder next Thu and especially by next Friday as upper level trof lifts out of region temporarily.”

But only temporarily.

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