Tom's Mailbag April 4, 2014
This week, more street questions, more political questions, more restaurant questions and I finally get smoked out on the James Kilgore story.
There may not have a mailbag next week. I’m headed east (beyond Danville even) for a few days and many not have time to sort through the correspondence. But send me your questions and comments and we’ll try to get to them either next Friday or in two weeks.
New Urbana street signs
“Why is the city of Urbana going around and replacing the perfectly good street signs on all of the stoplights with white/black signs?”
According to Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray, the street signs are no longer perfectly good. They are more than 12 years old and they are peeling and no longer exhibit the “retroreflectivity” needed to be seen at night. The new signs meet federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices standards, the old street signs do not. Public works crews are removing all the downtown signs that have the “half-moon” city of Urbana inscription. Gray said the signs normally last about 10 years.
New surface for Market Street
“Who is responsible for the road conditions on North Market Street from Olympian Drive to I-57? Why has this road not been resurfaced? It has been in horrible condition for years.”
Good news, says Champaign acting city engineer Dave Clark. A one-mile section of North Market from Olympian Drive to Ford Harris Road likely will be repaved this summer. The section north of Ford Harris was repaved by the Illinois Department of Transportation within the last two years, he said.
The city expects to let a contract out for bid in late May, have the city council award a contract in June and have construction start around July 1. The work, which will require intermittent closures, should be completed by late September.
Clark said the project will require exposing the old concrete pavement that is under the asphalt pavement, “rubblizing” or breaking up the concrete, and then applying a new asphalt pavement atop that.
New race in the 103rd
“Tom, handicap the 103rd race post-primary. Sure looks like the GOP has a real chance with a moderate, organized candidate against somebody who can easily be described as extreme.”
One thing about politics, don’t even try to predict the future. Who would have guessed that Tim Johnson would retire as congressman after winning the 13th Congressional District primary in 2012, and that his longtime trusted aide, Jerry Clarke, would not be his favorite to succeed him? Who would have guessed that David Gill, after three unsuccessful runs for Congress, would upset the national Democratic Party’s annointed candidate, Matt Goetten, in 2012 and then almost defeat Republican Rodney Davis in the general election that year? And who would have guessed that Carol Ammons would defeat Sam Rosenberg so easily in the Democratic 103rd House (Champaign-Urbana) race last month?
All I will make note of is that the district, which includes almost all of Champaign-Urbana, was drawn by Illinois Democrats to be a Democratic-dominated district and that retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson won it with 69 percent of the vote two years ago.
Kristin Williamson appears to be a good candidate, a good fit for a Champaign-Urbana district, but I thought the same thing in 2004 about Republican Deb Feinen and she got clobbered by Jakobsson, who drew 62 percent of the vote in a three-way race when the district was less Democratic than it is today.
Ammons may not be the candidate that Jakobsson was, but I’ve learned not to underestimate her or the passion of her supporters. We should know better around Labor Day if the House Republicans in Springfield think Williamson can win; if they start directing big bucks here we’ll know they think it’s worth the investment.
New vote count in Champaign County
“I keep hearing that the recount which showed Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten’s office only counted 8 percent of the 5,284 votes cast for one candidate on Election Night was ‘unprecedented.’ Has there ever been a countywide recount, or ‘retabulation’ as Mr. Hulten likes to call it, due to a clerk’s ballot design error in any other Illinois county before Mr. Hulten’s error? Or is this truly an unprecedented situation?”
It’s certainly unprecedented in recent years, but whether it has happened before in Champaign County’s 180-year history, or anywhere else in Illinois, can’t be determined. The good thing for Hulten and for the election process is that the erroneous count didn’t come in a close general election race, but in a down-ballot, uncontested race in a primary.
New restaurants in C-U
“I’m always pleased to see new restaurants opening in the Champaign-Urbana area. I notice a new development near McCallister’s in north Champaign, actually the parking lot next to it. Any idea what’s going in there?
“What I’d really like to see is a Smashburger or Aurelio’s pizza (they recently opened in Peoria). Any word on either?”
The project across Moreland Boulevard from McCallister’s is for a new Star Uniforms shop.
I haven’t heard back from Smashburger.
As for Aurelio’s, Thomas Aurelio, director of franchise operations for Homewood-based chain, said there’s “nothing on the drawing board in (Champaign-Urbana) as of yet. Maybe in the future.”
And Kirk Mauriello, the company’s chief operating officer, added, “The Champaign-Urbana market is a market we would like to open in. Unfortunately, we have not found a franchisee to open in that market yet.”
“Regarding James Kilgore, the UI’s convict in residence, pulling the same stunts nowadays that he did in the ‘70s would have earned him a ‘terrorist’ label. Apparently the university administration needs some funding cuts to remind it there are limitations to the tolerance of the taxpayer, without whom they would not exist.”
Background: Kilgore, a onetime member of the 1970s-era radical group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, is listed as a visiting lecturer in the UI’s College of Fine and Applied Arts. He helps teach one section of the course “Exploring Arts and Creativity.” His salary is $4,500 for the semester.
After 27 years at large, most of it in South Africa, Kilgore served a 54-month term in federal prison and a six-year sentence in a California state prison for various crimes, including the murder of a Sacramento, Calif., woman during a 1975 bank robbery. Although Kilgore did not shoot the woman, he was one of four armed robbers at the bank heist.
My take: At least one member of the murder’s victim’s family said that he has forgiven Kilgore.
According to a 2009 Associated Press story, “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials say Kilgore was a model prisoner who tutored other inmates. Even Jon Opsahl, whose 42-year-old mother was shot to death by another SLA member as she deposited a church collection 34 years ago, expressed sympathy in a recent interview for a man he called an idealist who ‘got in with the wrong crowd.’”
“‘I wish him well and I’m glad he served his time,’ Opsahl said.
Kilgore took full responsibility for participating in the robbery and apologized to the family “with all my heart.”
He has acknowledged his mistakes, expressed remorse, served his time and by most accounts is a decent person.
He has been blessed with one of life’s great graces — a second chance — and has made the best of it. As Pope Francis might say, if Jon Opsahl can forgive, who am I to judge? (Actually the Pope has said, “Let us go forward with forgiveness.”)
It’s time to move on.
Some will be less reluctant to forgive the UI for hiring Kilgore. I don’t know why it did but he’s hardly the first faculty member or administrator to embarrass the university in its nearly 150 years: William Ayers, Revilo Oliver, Leo Koch and Andrew Ivy all come to mind.
Oh, and Robert Parker, a UI Foundation exec who spent university money on hookers in suburban Chicago.
Ayers was another 1970s-era radical. He was a founder of the Weather Underground group who in the 1974 book, “Prairie Fire,” included a dedication to a long list of people including Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan and “all political prisoners in the U.S.”
Oliver was a classics professor at the Urbana campus and a founding member of the conservative John Birch Society, who wrote 50 years ago that slain President John F. Kennedy was a communist lackey. He said that Kennedy had done much for “the communist conspiracy” but that he was tardy in the planned 1963 “effective capture of the United States” and was “rapidly becoming a political liability.” He called Kennedy’s 1963 naval blockade of Cuba a “phony embargo.” All of this was humiliating to UI administrators and trustees who publicly urged Oliver to resign while acknowledging that he had First Amendment rights.
A few years earlier Koch rattled administrators with his letter to the Daily Illini that encouraged students to engage in premarital sex. Koch was dismissed from the UI, much to the consternation of faculty members who complained of the loss of academic freedom.
Andrew Ivy was a UI administrator who promoted the drug krebiozin as a cancer cure, against the testimony of the American Medical Association. Eventually Ivy resigned as a UI vice president. In 1973 a National Cancer Institute committee found that krebiozin was ineffective.
It’s a big university. Mistakes get made. As my wise old man says, every bushel has a few rotten apples.