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Frightful Fall Fest
Frightful Fall Fest
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Public recreational access coming to Lake Calumet
Public recreational access coming to Lake Calumet

CHICAGO | Nature put on a spectacular show Saturday as political, environmental and urban planning leaders gathered on the city’s southeast side to announce a major expansion of public recreational access to Lake Calumet.

Bright sunshine, cattails swaying in the gentle breeze and flocks of geese honking overhead served as the backdrop for the announcement by Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel of an agreement to purchase 282 acres of land from the Illinois International Port District as a recreational area, transforming what was once a dumping ground for slag and industrial waste.

“Not many would believe we’re in Chicago,” said John Pope, 10th Ward Alderman. “The southeast side is associated with industry. But look at the vastness of this open space.”

Before it was fenced in as a dump site, generations of south side residents grew up roaming this acreage, fishing, hiking, playing and watching bald eagles settle in the trees, said Quinn, including himself in that group.

Tom Shepherd, president of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said he and Quinn first met in 1986 outside the gates of this fenced in area along Doty Avenue to discuss turning the land into a recreational area and nature preserve.

Long in coming, the purchase of the land “is the first step in restoring that historical connection,” Quinn said. “Located in the heart of Millennium Reserve, the new expansion will provide an improved home for Illinois wildlife, while increasing economic opportunities and tourism to the region.”

Quinn’s Millennium Reserve encompasses 210 square miles in 37 suburban communities along with the southeast Chicago lakefront and dozens of south side neighborhoods. “No child left inside” is the motto of this effort, Quinn said. “Our children need to see an eagle fly.”

The land’s $9 million price tag will be paid with funds from the Open Land Trust, created by Illinois legislators, whom Quinn thanked during the ceremony. Additional money will be needed to develop and maintain the area that will be managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Quinn said.

Emanuel said this recreational area is part of a major movement to create green spaces within the city where families can enjoy nature together.

“Our kids don’t have to go to Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan to experience nature,” the mayor said. “Spending moments with your child (in the outdoors) will build relationships. Walking, fishing, biking. Families should be able to afford places where they get a sense of wonder during the daytime and at night can look up and see the stars.”

Quinn and Shepherd acknowledged Victor Crivello’s major contributions in acquiring access to Lake Calumet. A Pullman resident, Crivello of the International Port District died in September at age 64.

“Vic was one who helped get the ball across the line,” Shepherd said.

Dan Stefiuk of Chicago biking company SRAM and a board member of Friends of Big Marsh also attended the announcement.

“We’re working on development of the Big Marsh site on the east side of Stony Island,” said Stefiuk of an adjacent area to the Lake Calumet property.

Oboi Reed and Jamal Julien co-founded the Slow Roll Chicago earlier this year and joined the celebration.

“Slow Roll Chicago is bicycling movement that connects a diverse group of people to utilize the activities of bicycling to improve communities,” said Reed, who grew up in the Chatham neighborhood. “This is an urban oasis, an opportunity for people in the community to reconnect with nature, to regain the passion for being outdoors.”

Hammond resident Frank Madeka said connecting regional bike trails is vital.

“I can ride from Pulaski Park (on Sheffield Avenue in Hammond) to Buckingham Fountain (on South Columbia Avenue in Chicago) in one hour and 15 minutes on my regular clunker of a bike,” Madeka said.

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Superintendent salaries reflect districts' needs, wealth
Superintendent salaries reflect districts' needs, wealth

When Lake Ridge School Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley asked for a raise this year, it created an uproar -- with teachers, parents and even some students protesting.

So how much do superintendents and key administrative staff earn, and how are education, experience and responsibilities measured against salaries?

Johnson-Shirley earns $126,250 a year but asked for a raise of $23,750 to bring her salary to $150,000. She said this would bring her in line with other superintendents. She also believes she has the education and experience for the job, with academic scores also improving under her administration.

Today, some students come to school carrying the stress of poverty and family dysfunction, and school leaders are judged by how well students perform on standardized tests. Almost every district has a growing free and reduced-price lunch population as it wrestles with the most basic needs like keeping students properly fed and clothed.

The Lake Ridge School district previously came under state scrutiny with a possible takeover of Calumet High School by state education leaders. Johnson-Shirley said she made staff adjustments and the district remains intact with staff ratings of effective and highly effective. She implemented a New Tech program at the high school, then expanded it to the middle and elementary schools. Test scores have improved and the graduation rate is 92.1 percent.

"The district has improved tremendously. Calumet New Tech High School and Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School are creating a professional learning environment that is moving students to college- and career-readiness," she said.

Valparaiso Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia began his job this summer with a base salary of $140,000. Before that, he was superintendent in Portage and Union Township Schools for a decade each, and had been in the Valparaiso Community Schools previously. 

"I think they brought me in because I was the most capable candidate," he said. "I think my history and commitment to the town and school district was a help, along with my success in previous assignments."

Frataccia said there is a lot that goes into choosing a superintendent, some of which is education and experience. He said the size of the district matters a little but should not be the primary variable.

"In a smaller district, the superintendent is the first person in line for several different positions," Frataccia said.

"You may be the superintendent and also the curriculum director and in charge of transportation. It's a hard job. The successful superintendents I know focus on the purpose of the organization, which is to prepare kids to be successful."

Because of the education and experience that superintendents and their key administrative staff bring to the job, Frataccia believes the salaries in his district are appropriate.

"Frankly, I worry more about beginning salaries for teachers than I do about the rest of the staff," Frataccia said. A beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree starts at $35,000 a year in Valparaiso.

Hammond School Board member George Janiec, connected with the largest school district in the area, said when they review Superintendent Walter Watkins' salary, or salaries for other key administrators, they look at the wages of other local school leaders. Watkins earns $152,798 per year.

"We take a look at what's competitive," Janiec said. "We look at a lot of different factors including the size, complexity and financial health of the district, along with the academics."

Districts work to find the right fit

East Chicago School Board President Jesse Gomez said when they were looking for a superintendent, they sought someone with the education and knowledge to turn the district's finances around. The district has a $6 million deficit.

The board hired veteran educator Youssef "Dr. Joe" Yomtoob, 75, and gave him a five-year contract. Yomtoob often jokes he came cheap at $125,000 a year. Because of his age and other outside benefits, Yomtoob doesn't take the health insurance, nor does the district pay any money into the Indiana Public Employees Pension Program on his behalf. However, he does get other perks, such as a $5,100 stipend for a car and cellphone, and $21,000 goes into a retirement plan annually.

In addition working as superintendent, Yomtoob is taking over the role as human resource director.

"He has turned around other districts which were having financial problems," Gomez said. "Those were the strengths that we noted in him. He is working for less than the previous superintendent."

Gomez said Yomtoob has already saved the district $750,000.

It had been in danger of losing its bus-barn lease with the city, owing the city $1 million. Yomtoob renegotiated with East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland and settled the debt at $250,000 and a much-reduced monthly rate for renting the bus barn.

"In just that one move, he saved us money and more than covered what we will be paying him for the next five years," Gomez said. "He also has combined some positions to save money."

The chief financial officer used to make $90,000; that's been reduced to $80,000. The previous athletic director was at $90,000; that also is now reduced to $80,000.

Gary School Board President Rosie Washington said when Cheryl Pruitt was brought in three years ago, the board needed to reduce the administrative staff, increase the academic scores and deal with a multimillion-dollar deficit. A Gary native, Pruitt has previously worked in the Gary Community School Corp.

The board will vote on her contract Oct. 28, and Washington said Pruitt's salary will remain at $136,000.

"I don't see her salary as being out-of-the-box," Washington said. "At no time has she asked for an increase."

Washington said Pruitt offered a portion of her wages back this spring to help with getting grass cut at school buildings.

"She stepped up to say she would do that," Washington said. Ultimately, though, she didn't have to.

Washington said a few years ago, the Gary school administrative staff was "huge" but has been significantly reduced. She said Pruitt created a flow chart of the departments and analyzed them when she arrived. Washington said Pruitt came back to the board with a way to streamline the departments and still provide accountability.

Supers are CEOs of school districts

J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said superintendents are the most highly trained educators in the districts.

Generally speaking, a school district may be the single largest employer in any locale, Coopman said.

"They have the most employees and the largest budget they are managing. They also have the single largest transportation and food service program," he said. "With that in mind, a superintendent can be equated in industry to the chief executive officer, and that's how superintendents should be viewed."

Coopman said they make significant decisions daily.

"They basically are on call 24/7," he said. "It's not uncommon for a school superintendent to work a 15-hour day or be called on the weekend or at night about something. Because of the enormity of the job, the pool of candidates for superintendents is becoming shallow."

Coopman said in urban communities, the pool of superintendent candidates is more shallow because of the complexities of dealing with an urban district. Coopman said school boards across the state are having to look carefully at candidates and the compensation package they want to offer.

Tight budgets, more referendums

As school budgets are stressed with property tax caps, and money that once went to public schools is diverted to charter and private schools, Coopman said communities can expect to see more referendums for public schools funding.

That will further segregate poor districts from the others, some superintendents said.

Barbara O'Block, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Gary, oversees 17 schools in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, most of which accept vouchers for students.

O'Block declined to provide her salary information, saying the Diocese of Gary is not required to make its private records public.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 2008 establishing referendums as a new mechanism of school funding.

School districts can ask for a general fund referendum (the general fund supports salaries, benefits and some programs), or a construction referendum (to renovate or build a new building).

Of referendums since 2008, 51 percent have passed.

Coopman said many districts never recovered after former Gov. Mitch Daniels cut $300 million out of K-through-12 education.

"They haven't given teachers raises. They can't take care of the maintenance on their buildings," he said. Transportation and capital projects budgets are "squeezed," Coopman added.

"Schools have been handcuffed by how much money they can raise and how it can be used," he said. "Schools have multimillon-dollar investment in buildings, but it's difficult to care for those buildings with the property tax caps."

Coopman said the Gary school district is hamstrung by low property tax collection, a high free and reduced-price lunch population. He said the district is losing assessed value.

"There is absolutely not a level playing field. No two districts are alike. The disparities that occur in these types of situations are very glaring," Coopman said.

Valparaiso Community Schools will consider a referendum. Frataccia said the district will likely look at both a general fund and a construction referendum.

Frataccia said the general fund referendum is estimated at $32 million over seven years, and a construction referendum at $150 million.

"There is no deficit in the Valparaiso schools right now, but we need the money in the general fund to maintain our staff and reduce class sizes," he said. "We can better service kids. The classified folks have gone four years without a raise. Our teachers have gone about the same amount of time without a raise, though they have received their index increases."

With the money for construction, Frataccia said the district would remodel the high school, including upgrades to the HVAC, electric, mechanical, plumbing and technology. It would also build a new swimming pool while remodeling the current pool area to be an advanced manufacturing and robotics area.

It would also rehab its elementary schools. It would redesign Central Elementary School to be a neighborhood school only and build a new elementary school south of U.S. 30 to house about 450 students.

"We don't know if we will try to do a referendum in May or November," Frataccia said. "The kids need this referendum. It's about what's best for kids."

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Hammond-made tanks star in World War II movie 'Fury'
Hammond-made tanks star in World War II movie 'Fury'

HAMMOND | The World War II movie, "Fury," which won the box office on its opening weekend, stars Brad Pitt -- and a tank they used to make in Hammond.

The critically acclaimed film has drawn comparisons to "Saving Private Ryan" for its unflinchingly realistic depiction of combat. Set in Nazi Germany during the waning days of the war, the movie follows the crew of an M4A3E8 tank, which was built in Detroit and Flint, Mich., but which was a variant of the M4 Sherman that Pullman Standard Car Co. workers made in Hammond.

Pullman made railroad cars on Chicago's South Side but was pressed into military service during the war. In less than a year, Hammond native Raymond Fox set up a tank and weapons factory at 165th Street and Columbia Avenue in south Hammond. A Hammond Times editorial in 1943 said Fox was "a top-flight war plant manager and we believe there is none better in America."

Never forget, said Richard Barnes, a director of the Hammond Historical Society. 

"We have to remind people that Northwest Indiana played a critical role in winning the war," he said.

"We sometimes forget that Northwest Indiana supported the military by building Howitzers, armaments and tanks. The Pullman plant in Hammond played such a critical role that the British War Department recognized its contributions."

Tanks and mortars lined 165th Street and the road back to the plant during the war years, Barnes said. Region residents earned good paychecks building munitions that suffused the region with a sense of patriotic pride. A few of the M4 Shermans they made remain today -- near the square in Crown Point and at Central Park in Griffith.

Workers at the Hammond plant provided the Allied Forces with M3 and M4 tanks with 75 mm cannons on rotating turrets with a 1,000-yard range that gave them an advantage on the battlefield, Barnes said. They were loaded onto rail cars, and shipped off to the front in both Europe and Japan.

Serial numbers got scratched off, because enemy spies monitored them to see how many tanks were rolling off the assembly line. Production numbers and other information about the plants were closely guarded, to deter saboteurs.

"The M4 Medium Tank, or Sherman tank, as the British promptly christened it, was in service from 1942 through the end of World War II," according to the Pullman Virtual Museum. "It is the most famous and numerous U.S. tank ever made. It has fought in many wars and battles: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, to name a few. It has also served with almost every army in the world in some manner."

The Hammond plant also produced Howitzer canons, and 81mm mortars and mounts. Factories throughout Northwest Indiana supported the operation by supplying it with molds and parts. 

"What's interesting is how Fox took an empty building, turned it into a production facility, and started putting out the tanks and armaments that are really credited with helping end the war in Europe," Barnes said.

He is assembling documents and working on a presentation about Fox and the tank plant he intends to make at the Hammond library.

"More people should know these armaments were manufactured by their fathers and grandfathers, their mothers and grandmothers," he said. "They should feel pride."

 

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Five region House races drawing last-minute donations

INDIANAPOLIS | Big money is pouring into Northwest Indiana's competitive state House races as Democrats and Republicans ready their final pitches to voters ahead of the Nov. 4 elections.

The 4th District contest between state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and Democrat Deb Porter to represent the Valparaiso area is drawing the greatest number of last-minute donations, with both candidates picking up strong support from labor unions.

According to Indiana campaign finance reports, the Northern Indiana Operators Union Political Action Committee has given $25,000 this month to Soliday, one of the few House Republicans to vote in 2012 against Indiana's right-to-work law.

The chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, Soliday last week picked up $7,500 from the road builders' Build Indiana PAC, to go along the $5,000 they gave him earlier this year, and $2,000 from the Northwest Indiana Contractors PAC.

Gov. Mike Pence's campaign fund gave Soliday $3,500 on Oct. 17 and pro-business groups and individuals kicked in $18,000 more this month.

Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC, a group supporting charter schools and private school vouchers, gave Soliday $5,000 on Tuesday.

The four-term lawmaker needs the money. He reported Oct. 10 just $52,596 cash on hand and campaign debts of $48,668, as Porter, a public school teacher for three decades, launched $393,000 in television ads, according to her pre-election campaign finance report.

Late Saturday, a campaign manager for Porter said the $393,000 was not correct, saying a clerical error added a zero and the number really is $39,300. Joel Smith, of the Porter campaign, said its working with the state to fix the error. 

The Indiana State Teachers Union's IPACE PAC is the top donor to Porter's campaign giving her $63,000 through Oct. 10 and another $14,000 since then.

Iron Workers Local 395, the Laborers Union and United Food and Commercial Workers together kicked in $10,000 for Porter this month. The House Democratic caucus added $26,000 to Porter's fundraising total on Oct. 1.

In the 11th District, comprising the southern third of Lake and Porter counties, Republican Michael Aylesworth, of Hebron, burned through $36,756 since April 12 and his campaign was nearly $5,000 in debt Oct. 16 when the House Republican Campaign Committee gave him $25,000 to finish the race.

His opponent, Democrat Jim Metro, of Cedar Lake, had $35,844 to spend as of Oct. 10, thanks in part to $49,303 in donations from the teacher's union.

Since then, Metro has taken in $15,000 from the Operators Union of which he is a member, $9,000 from Iron Workers, $2,000 each from the Pipe Trades, Auto Workers and Food and Commercial Workers unions and $1,000 each from three Laborers union locals.

Bill Fine also was nearly out of money until House Republicans swooped in Oct. 17 with $13,500 to support his challenge to state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, in the 12th District of Munster and Highland.

Reardon reported $38,964 cash on hand after picking up $20,000 from the teachers union Oct. 6.

In the 15th District of Schererville, Dyer, and portions of St. John and Griffith, state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, declared $35,092 to spend as of Oct. 10, compared to Schererville Democrat Jim Wieser's $7,612.

Wieser since has picked up another $2,000 from the United Auto Workers while Pence gave $3,500 to Slager.

Republicans and supporters of charter and private schools are making a last-minute push against state Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, in the 19th District, which includes Crown Point, Winfield, Lakes of the Four Seasons and portions of Merrillville and Hobart.

On Oct. 16, Republican challenger Julie Olthoff, of Crown Point, received $26,000 from House Republicans and $20,000 from Hoosiers for Quality of Education.

VanDenburgh, whose $33,404 campaign fund was more than twice the size of Olthoff's, picked up $10,000 from House Democrats on Wednesday. The teachers union also added $2,000 to its $54,303 in prior donations and Indiana bankers gave VanDenburgh $1,000.

2 hours ago
Water circus differs from traditional big top entertainment
Water circus differs from traditional big top entertainment

HOBART | Cirque Italia may appear like a traditional circus at first, with its sprawling tent and the smell of popcorn wafting from the concession stands. However, a little further inside the tent is bumping club music, fog machines and multicolored lights. And there is no center ring, but a streaming water fountain encircling the performers.

The circus is in the parking lot of South Lake Mall in Hobart, near the JCPenney store entrance. The shows began Friday evening and will be continuing today at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Cirque Italia is the nation’s first traveling water circus, said Jamie Goodrich, box office manager.

“We normally say it is a European-style circus,” Goodrich said. “There are no elephants, scary clowns or lions. It is acrobatics, aerialists and jugglers … it’s not what people traditionally associate with a circus.”

A shimmering mermaid twirled in the air, suspended by silk loops hanging from the ceiling. Performers balanced on a tower of stacked cylinders and did daring acrobatics high up in the air.

For the laser show, a performer manipulated streams of technicolor rays to the beat of dubstep music.

The clown, Coco, had more of the demeanor of a dance club DJ, getting the audience grooving to the music, than the typical red-nosed circus character with multicolored hair.

“It was awesome, it had unique twists,” Tasha Miller, of Gary, said. “I liked the contortionist, and the twins were captivating. They all have their own unique components.”

Miller brought her family, including Auzara, 4, who loved meeting the mermaid. Alicia Allen, of Gary, said this was her children’s first circus visit.

“It was very exciting- better than a regular circus,” Allen said. “The water affects were great, the kids never saw anything like that.”

Contortionist Julliet Carballo drew cheers from the crowd when she performed a handstand while using her feet to pick up a hat and place it on her head. She has been practicing contortionism since she was 6 years old.

“You feel special on the stage, when the audience is all looking at you, it makes you feel good,” Carballo said.

Twins Megan and Morgan McKenyon did a nautical-themed aerial acrobatic act. While they are twirling 25 feet up in the air with no harness, they rely on their ability to be mentally in sync during performances, and the several of hours of practice they put in to perfect their act.

“There are moments when you forget about the rest of everything, and you are in the moment,” Megan McKenyon said. “You take yourself away from stress and fear, and in that moment, you take away someone else from that, too. That is really rewarding.”

The sisters said they improvise and try to make each act a little different, keeping their routine fresh.

“We both have abilities on our own,” Morgan McKenyon said. “But when we are together it is easier to wack something together- come up with different things.”

Goodrich said this is Cirque Italia’s first time in Indiana, and so far they have had a good turnout for their shows. The Florida-based company normally tours the Eastern seaboard.

The circus owner, Manuel Rebecchi, said he wants to have more shows in Indiana next year.

Rebecchi said the circus started in 2012, and it was created out of the desire to make a one-of-a-kind experience.

“I did research before opening the circus,” Rebecchi said. “I went to shows, and every show I went to see, big shows; small shows, were all the same style… And I thought, I can make something special, something unique.”

Rebecchi said he “is not a fan of having any animals in cages,” and instead wanted skilled performers to carry the show.

He said the water fountain and water effects, along with unique acts such as the laser show, set the circus apart from others. Also, all of the props and the tent are from Italy, where Rebecchi and his family are from.

“Basically Cirque Italia is getting bigger and bigger,” Rebecchi said. “Where else can you see water under a circus tent, out in the middle of nowhere- in a parking lot?”

Where: Southlake Mall in Hobart parking lot, near the JCPenney entrance

When: 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m Sunday

Cost: Depending on seating section, $20 to 50 for adults, $10 to $45 for children. In certain seating sections, with each adult admission, there is one free child’s admission.

Tickets can be bought at the box office at the circus, online at cirqueitalia.com/tickets, or by calling (941) 704-8572.

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Memorial Opera House rededicated
Memorial Opera House rededicated
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Pumpkin-Palooza wraps up European Market season
Pumpkin-Palooza wraps up European Market season

CHESTERTON | Miniature cows, princesses, butterflies, SWAT team officers and ballerinas came out to Pumpkin-Palooza at Chesterton’s European Market on Saturday to trick or treat from vendors and decorate their own pumpkins.

It was the last day of the season for the market which has been held every day this year since early May.

“We’ve had great weather all summer — not too hot, not too cold, real mild,” Market Manager Deanna Kasch said.

“We’ve had close to a full house every Saturday. Like today, we have 72 vendors and a great crowd,” she said.

Pumpkin-Palooza drew the crowds Saturday, thanks in part to the temperate weather and sunshine. Even the dogs came out, some in costume, like a pit bull dressed as a princess and a Chihuahua in a sombrero and poncho.

Caden Koedyker, 7, of Porter, was dressed as Iron Spider — a cross between Iron Man and Spider-Man.

“I’m trick or treating and got some lollipops. I made a monster bookmark at the library,” Koedyker said, displaying a Popsicle stick decorated with buttons and his own artwork.

Shoppers browsed among bushels of apples, burgundy and golden mums, Indian corn and pumpkins as a man played an accordion.

Bela Fouch, 10, of Porter, said that her "Alice in Wonderland" costume was one from last year because she is still working on this year’s costume — the Cheshire Cat.

“I’m decorating my pumpkin by making it white and then I’m going to do polka dots. I like how there are crafts here today,” said Fouch as she painted her pumpkin.

Across the table from her, her brother Ben Fouch, 7, was dressed as a zombie.

“I was a werewolf last year and wanted to be a zombie because it’s kind of related, but different,” he said, painting his pumpkin with stripes.

3 hours ago
PNC hosts first Haunted Trail
PNC hosts first Haunted Trail

WESTVILLE | Screams, shrieks and the sound of chainsaws revving rang from the pitch dark woods of the Purdue North Central campus Friday evening, as students hosted the Halloween Haunted Trail to benefit student athletics.

The inaugural event featured a dozen different scare stations across 10 acres of woods and fields behind the baseball diamond on the PNC campus. For $5 each, groups of visitors followed a student guide with a single flashlight into the night for a 20-minute fright hike.

Tom Albano, PNC athletic director, said more than 60 student athletes planned and created the scenes and played the ghoulish characters in the event, which included werewolves, zombies, chainsaw-wielding murderers, creepy hitchhikers, escaped convicts, crazed clowns and even Jason from "Friday the 13th" and Michael Meyers from "Halloween."

“This is all organic,” Albano said. “They had to embrace it, make it their own and have fun.”

Albano said all PNC student athletes participate throughout the year in fundraising events, and many contribute time to area nonprofits, including ValPLAYso, the Salvation Army and community “soup kitchens.”

Jordan Polito, of the men’s baseball team and a senior business management major, hid among the stalks of a cornfield, spade in hand, waiting to spring, in a scene called "Children of the Corn."

Polito said the group began planning the event weeks ago, and spent the day setting up the scenes in the woods and fields.

“I’m doing this with a lot of my friends, and we’re having a lot of fun,” said Polito, of Schererville.

The group hoped to raise $1,000 per night at the event, which ran Friday and Saturday, and is also scheduled for Oct. 29 from 7 to 11 p.m.

Madison Anderson, Ashley Belt, Tiana McQueen and Josh Belt, all of Portage, were excited to start the trail.

“I love this stuff,” said Anderson, 17, who has been to the area’s premier haunted houses, including Haunted Hills Hospital in Portage, Reaper’s Realm in Hammond and Amherst Asylum in Valparaiso.

Ashley Belt, 17, said her brother Josh, 13, is “crazy about this stuff.”

“It’s just fun. I laugh at the people who cry,” said Josh Belt, pointing at his sister.

Albano said if this year’s event is successful, the group plans to host it annually, every night the week before Halloween.

“We hope it really catches fire,” Albano said.

The PNC Halloween Haunted Trail continues Wednesday, Oct. 29, from 7 to 10 p.m. on the university campus at 1401 S U.S. Highway 421 in Westville.

4 hours ago
Slayings reminiscent of serial killer Urdiales
Slayings reminiscent of serial killer Urdiales

The investigation surrounding Darren Vann and a trail of dead bodies in the region last week bears eerie similarities to a serial killer captured in Hammond in 1997.

Andrew Urdiales, of Chicago's Southeast Side, captured national attention when he was arrested and charged in the murders of two women on the Chicago side of Wolf Lake near the Hammond border. 

Urdiales and Vann are both local residents and former Marines who were stationed in California in the early 1990s. Both served stints at Camp Pendleton in 1991.

The military veterans allegedly had sex with and killed prostitutes in the region. In the end, both men were captured by Hammond police due to encounters with call girls at Hammond hotels.

The investigation into the Wolf Lake murders led police to trace Urdiales' steps back to the bases where he served in the military. Those probes led to charges in four murders in Orange County, Calif., spanning from 1986 to 1995. 

Law enforcement officials in North Carolina, where Vann was stationed in briefly in 1992, last week said they are reexamining missing persons and unsolved homicide cases there after news of Vann's arrest in Hammond surfaced.

'Good, old-fashioned police work'

Retired Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller was the public information officer for the Hammond Police Department in 1997 when Urdiales was arrested.

"We had several prostitute murders at the time," Miller said.

Miller said officers who worked the downtown beat, including then-rookie Officer Warren Fryer, frequently talked to known prostitutes there, who often tipped them to other crimes.

Fryer, now a sergeant on the force, met Urdiales twice in 1996. During the first meeting, Fryer approached Urdiales in his vehicle with a known prostitute and saw a revolver under the seat of his pickup truck.

"I noticed he had military boots on and said they had a pretty good shine," Fryer told The Times shortly after Urdiales' arrest in 1997. "I asked if he was in the service and he said, 'Yes, sir. U.S. Marines.'"

The weapon was taken into custody and later discovered to have been used in the killings of three women. 

Fryer encountered Urdiales five months later when he was called to the former American Inn, 4000 Calumet Ave. An agitated Urdiales claimed a prostitute stole his personal documents.

The prostitute told Fryer about Urdiales' request to handcuff her, duct-tape her wrists and have sex with him in the back of his pickup truck in a secluded area near Wolf Lake. Fryer, who had not worked on the murder cases of the women found near Wolf Lake, recognized the similarities, compiled his information and handed it over to the detective division.

Fryer's work led to Urdiales' arrest and confessions in the murders.

Miller said Fryer deserves all the praise for Urdiales being behind bars.

"If it wasn't for his diligent work, Andrew Urdiales wouldn't have been captured when he was," Miller said. "It was just good old-fashioned police work."

Killings spanned 10 years

Urdiales was sentenced to death in 2002 in Cook County for the 1996 murders of Lori Uylaki, 25, of Hammond, and Lynn Huber, 22, of Chicago in the Wolf Lake killings.

His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by then-Gov. George Ryan. Ryan issued a moratorium on executions in 2000 when 13 people on death row were released after evidence showed they did not commit the crimes.

Just before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also commuted the death sentences of all 167 people waiting to be sent to death row, including Urdiales.

Ten of those were released and pardoned while the rest had their sentences changed to life in prison.

Urdiales was again sentenced to death in 2004 in the 1996 death of Cassie Corum, 21, of Hammond. He killed her and dumped her body in the Vermilion River in Pontiac, Ill.

Urdiales twice escaped the death penalty in Illinois but could face death in California. 

He was one of 15 men whose lives were spared in 2011 when Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in Illinois.

The following day, California officials began the process of having him extradited.

Urdiales, now 50, is being held at the Orange County jail awaiting trial for the California murders.

Howard Gundy, senior deputy district attorney for Orange County, said last week he expects Urdiales to go to trial in 2015.

California does have the death penalty and Gundy said prosecutors intend to seek it for Urdiales.

No executions have been carried out in California since 2006. A federal judge last month ruled the state's law unconstitutional. The case is being appealed.

4 hours ago
Chicago man shot in Hammond
Chicago man shot in Hammond

HAMMOND | A Chicago man was taken to an area hospital and is in unknown condition after being shot shortly after 5 p.m. in the 2000 block of Davis Avenue, according to police.

The unidentified man was struck while in front of a residence and a red vehicle was seen leaving the area north on Davis Avenue, said Hammond police Lt. Richard Hoyda.

Police were notified of the shooting at 5:19 p.m. and no description of possible suspects is available, Hoyda said.

Anyone with information about the shooting is encouraged contact Hammond police at (219) 853-6490.

4 hours ago
Dogs put best paw forward at AKC show
Dogs put best paw forward at AKC show

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Hundreds of dogs sauntered through the Porter County Expo Center on Saturday seeking honors at the Valparaiso Kennel Club's annual AKC Dog Show.

More than 600 dogs representing 129 breeds are expected to compete this weekend for Best of Breed and ultimately Best in Show. Groups include sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting and herding.

The event also features vendors hawking everything from dog clothes to grooming supplies and treats.

Special guest John Meeks, executive director of the United States War Dogs Association, Chapter 3, was on hand again to raise money to supply military dogs with much needed equipment such as cooling vests, boots and goggles or “doggles.”

Show organizer Scott Wasserman said dogs in the show are bred for good health and temperament, and they are good family dogs.

“It's all about the health of the pet,” he said.

Riley Lautenschlager, 15, a junior handler from Indianapolis, helped get several Australian Shepherd dogs ready for their turn in the ring.

The dogs' fur was sprayed with mist, rubbed with mousse to give it volume and then blow dried.

Baby powder was applied to their paws to make them look whiter and thicker.

“There are a lot of little tricks,” Lautenschlager said.

Across the room, professional handler Lisa Bettis, of Goshen, was busy preparing a Polish Lowland sheepdog named Barbie for her breed competition.

“We've just started showing her,” she said.

Bettis and her partner, Ryan Wolfe, brought 15 dogs to this year's show. They have dogs in every group except toy and terrier, she said.

Sisters Dottie Heath, of Valparaiso, and June Stewart, of Lake Station, were among the many dog lovers attending the show.

“I used to have poodles and now I have Yorkies. But my Yorkies are not as pretty as these,” Heath said, nodding to two of the Yorkshire Terrier show dogs.

The Valparaiso Kennel Club's AKC dog show continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Porter County Expo Center, 215 E. Division Road. Admission is $2 per person or $5 per family. Parking is free.

5 hours ago Photos

Photos

AL HAMNIK: Game on for region hopefuls in the NBA
AL HAMNIK: Game on for region hopefuls in the NBA

Dress rehearsals are over. Rosters will be finalized Monday. The season will open Tuesday as the NBA dream continues for some and is put on hold for others.

"Everything up here is like a job interview," said Robbie Hummel, a forward on the Minnesota Timberwolves, of the constant pressure to perform.

Last season, the Valparaiso native appeared in only 53 of the team's 82 games and was on the inactive list numerous times.

Hummel is among a handful of region stars who've reached the highest level of pro basketball, joining rookie teammate Glenn Robinson III of Lake Central, rookie Mitch McGary (Oklahoma City) of Chesterton and veteran reserve E'Twaun Moore (Bulls) of East Chicago.

This is Hummel's second season, and he likely will land a roster spot given his ability to play either small or power forward, and shoot from beyond the arc.

Robinson is a second-round draft pick of the Wolves and signed a one-year contract on Sept. 17. His athleticism, attack mentality and low salary made him an attractive pick to new coach Flip Saunders.

"He's played hard and made a lot of hustle plays trying to carve a niche for himself," Hummel said of GR3.

Hummel played in four of the Wolves' seven preseason games, averaging 7.5 points and 16 minutes of court time with personal highs of 13 points and seven rebounds at OKC on Oct. 19.

GR3 was in five games, averaging 4 points and 9.6 minutes.

All-Star center Kevin Love is gone, and the Timberwolves have had nine straight losing seasons, but the acquisition of Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in a trade with Cleveland, and rookies Zach Levine and GR3 will strengthen an already competitive roster.

"I'm really confident I can play the power forward spot," said the 6-foot-9, 219-pound Hummel. "I played a lot of different positions in high school, but in college, I played power forward. It's a tough business, but I feel I've played well in preseason."

The OKC Thunder were bit hard by the injury bug during training camp, losing both Kevin Durant and McGary for at least the first month to foot injuries. And now you can add guard and 3-point threat Anthony Morrow (sprained MCL), who was injured in practice.

Morrow signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Thunder over the summer. Last season, he shot 45 percent from 3-point range for the Pelicans. In six preseason games with OKC, he shot 44.8 percent.

Hummel played 19 minutes in last Sunday’s 112-94 victory over Oklahoma City, made 6-of-9 shots, drew several bruising charging calls and never let up.

He was unable to chat with McGary, who was not with the team that night.

Minnesota capped its preseason Friday by slipping by the Bulls, 113-112, taking advantage of 22 points off 18 Chicago turnovers.

Hummel didn't see the court and neither did Moore. But they did get to rehash their Purdue glory days, however, though I worry about Moore's status with the Bulls.

With coach Tom Thibodeau treating every glorified scrimmage like the NBA Finals, Moore got only two total minutes in two of the eight preseason games and had a DNP-Coach's Decision in the last four.

"He's got a real good attitude," Hummel said. "He's the ultimate specialist."

That's tough to show if you're not given a chance.

We'll know a lot more this week.

5 hours ago
Police: Argument over burglary preceded fatal shooting

GARY | Police said an argument over a burglary preceded Friday's shooting death of 13-year-old Kobe Jones near his home at 1053 Polk St.

An unidentified suspect was in custody Saturday, according to Gary Police Sgt. Tom Decanter.

The teenager was shot multiple times while outside in the 1000 block of Polk Street, Decanter said. He then made his way into a house where his body was later discovered.

A neighbor from the short, dead-end block of Polk Street where the shooting occurred, who did not want to be identified by name, said he heard the gunshots while inside his house sometime between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Friday.

"They were consecutive, one after another," he said.

He said he looked out a widow and did not see anything related to the shooting until a few minutes later when the boy's mother pulled up and began shouting.

"She said, 'Somebody shot my baby, call 911,'" he said.

Neighbors said Jones, who appeared older than his age, lived at the home with his mother and other children.

The neighbors said the suspect lives across the street from the boy with a woman and children. The family was private and quiet, typically leaving the house early in the morning.

Police would only say the suspect is from the same area as the boy.

Officers from the city and Lake County Sheriff's Department were outside the boy's house early Saturday afternoon.

Detectives are looking for any information the public can provide about the shooting and said tips can be called in to (219) 881-1210.

7 hours ago
Crown Point man killed in fiery motorcycle crash

CROWN POINT | A Crown Point man was killed in a fiery motorcycle crash shortly before 2 p.m. Friday.

The Lake County Police Reconstruction Team was dispatched to the 12900 block of Cedar Lake Road on Friday to investigate a crash in which a motorcycle struck a utility pole.

Police investigators determined the motorcycle was traveling south on Cedar Lake Road and failed to navigate a curve. The motorcycle left he road on the left side, continued south, and struck the utility pole.

The driver was not wearing a helmet, police said. The motorcycle and the utility pole caught fire. Passersby pulled the driver, identified as Adam Sammartino, 34, of Crown Point, from the scene to a safe location.

Sammartino sustained severe head injuries and was airlifted to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.

The investigation determined speed contributed to the crash. Further investigation will determine whether alcohol or any illegal substance could have also been a contributing factor, police said.

The crash remains under investigation.

9 hours ago
Last chance to enter NWI Communities Halloween contests
Last chance to enter NWI Communities Halloween contests

MUNSTER | Last year's Halloween Costume Contest and Halloween House Decorating Contest both drew more than 100 entries, which is why NWI Communities will be hosting both contests again this year!

Email photos of your terrifying, yet humble abode to Celebrate@nwi.com along with your name and address. All entries will be added to an interactive map on nwi.com.

All the spooky ghosts, pretty princesses, death-defying superheros and other costume-clad folks from around the region can also share their photos by emailing Celebrate@nwi.com. Be sure to include your name, age and hometown. Young and old alike are welcome to enter this contest.

Winners will be chosen from both contests and will receive some great prizes. The deadline for both contests is noon Nov. 1. Good luck!

23 hours ago Video Photos

Photos

Religion briefs

TODAY

Church Rummage Sale

MERRILLVILLE | Living Grace Church will host a rummage sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 2408 W. 78th Ave. Money will be used to go to Nicaragua and St. Louis next year. Lunch will be available. Call (219) 769-2240.

Holiday Bazaar

HAMMOND | All Saints Church hosts a Holiday Bazaar with decorations and gifts for the holidays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 570 Sibley St. Call (219) 932-0204.

Rummage Sale

WHITING | A rummage sale will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Adalbert Parish Hall, 2124 Indianapolis Blvd. Call (219) 659-5739.

Men's Day Celebration

EAST CHICAGO | A Men's Day celebration is planned with a breakfast and a speaker from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Friendship M.B. Church at 4756 Melville Ave. Call (219) 397-1107.

Food distribution

GARY | Members of Christ Baptist Church Food Pantry Ministry will conduct a food distribution on a first-come, first-served basis, from 10 a.m. to noon at 4700 E. Seventh Ave. Call (219) 938-5504.

Food/Clothing Ministry

GARY | Zion Progressive Cathedral International continues its Divine Mandate Ministry with hot meals and free clothing to community members every fourth Saturday of the month throughout the year, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1169 Connecticut St. Call (219) 882-9466.

Fall-tober Family Fun

GRIFFITH | St. Mary Church hosts a Fall-tober Family Fun Night from 5 to 11 p.m. at 525 N. Lafayette St. A $10 wristband for children includes a jump house and 20' rock climbing wall, $5 entry fee for Mini-Basketball Contest, Bean Bag Tournament for all ages with cash prizes, outdoor beer tent with music. Hot dogs, brats, burgers, pizza, nachos, popcorn, pretzels available. Casino Night in the Small Hall featuring blackjack, roulette, money wheel, over/under dice. Call (219) 924-4163,

Halloween Spooktacular

HAMMOND | St. John Bosco will hold a Halloween Spooktacular from 6 to 9 p.m. at 171st Street, off of Columbia Ave. There will be a friendly haunted house, costume contests and cake walk. This is sponsored by St. John Bosco Youth Group. Call (219) 844-9027.

Super Raffle Party

MERRILLVILLE | Andrean High School will host its first annual Celebrate Andrean Super Raffle Party from 6 to 10:30 p.m. at 5959 Broadway. This unique evening transforms the school into a festive carnival for those 21 and older. Attendees can expect a menu of unlimited food, beer and wine options while bidding on silent auction items. Listen to live music or take part in one of the gaming and activity areas sponsored by extracurricular groups. The Super Raffle drawing itself will take place at 10. Cost is $50. Call (219) 887-5281, ext. 243.

SUNDAY

Trunk or treat

HIGHLAND | Immanuel United Church of Christ will hold Trunk or Treat from 1 to 3 p.m. at 2201 Azalea Drive. Kids will play games and enjoy a snack. Children are encourage to bring a canned good in for the food bank. Call (219) 924-2100.

MUNSTER | St. Paul Lutheran Church and School will host a Trunk or Treat from 1 to 3 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church and School, 8601 Harrison Ave. Enjoy the decorations, the fellowship, and the treats. Call (219) 836-6270,

HAMMOND | Trinity Lutheran Church will hold this event from 2 to 4 p.m. at 7227 Hohman Ave. There will be fun for the kids with a bounce house, Ring the Church Bell, Fire Truck (if no fires) and more. Hotdogs, chips and drinks will be served. Please bring one can of food to donate to the Local Food Pantry. Call (219) 932-4660.

PORTAGE | St, Peter Lutheran Church will hold a Trunk or Treat event from 4 to 6 p.m. at 6540 Central Ave. Call (219) 762-2673.

PORTAGE | Holy Cross Lutheran Church will hold a free trunk or treat with candy, games, prizes and s'mores from 3 to 5 p.m. at 5402 U.S. 6. Call (219) 763-6343.

Breakfast & Purse/Jewelry Sale

MERRILLVILLE | An all-you-can-eat breakfast will include biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage, hash browns, coffee, milk and juice from 8 a.m. to noon at St. Andrew Church's Ameling Hall, 801 W. 73rd Ave. A new and like new jewelry, purse, ties and scarves sale will be held to benefit the Right to Life movement. Breakfast is $6; children 6 and younger eat free. Call (219) 769-2833.

Spanish Christian music

CHICAGO | A Concert of Spanish Christian Music will b presented by the Jackie Herrera Ministry and the Rev. Ricardo Castillo, pastor at St. Bartholomew Church, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at ST. Kevin Church, 10509 Torrence Ave. Call (773) 771-2563.

Mighty Voices of Grace

EAST CHICAGO | Mighty Voices of Grace, reunion gospel concert planned from 4 to 8 p.m. at Grace Missionary Baptist Church, 3602 Ivy St.Call (219) 398-3063.

Choir performance planned

VALPARAISO | Area resident Abby Keller will perform with the Concordia University Chicago Concert Choir, Kapelle, at 4 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 177 Monticello Park Drve. The Kapelle is conducted by Dr. Charles P. Brown, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Concordia University Chicago. Call (219) 462-8207.

Healing service

MERRILLVILLE | The Love Church and The Healing Wings Clinic will hold An Oasis of Healing In An Infirm World healing and deliverance services at 7 p.m. at The Love Church, 6844 Broadway. Call (219) 779-7106,

TUESDAY

Coffee & Bible Study

HIGHLAND | Coffee Break Bible Study meets from 9:45 to 11 a.m. or 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through April 14 at New Life Christian Reformed Church, 3010 Ridge Road. Fellowship, refreshments, and interfaith Bible study. No Bible knowledge needed. Call (219) 924-7973.

Disaster Preparedness

HAMMOND | Our Father's House International Ministries continues its series of Disaster Preparedness Community Programs. Pastors Bill and Adriane Mozelle teach citizens to prepare for disasters by building a storehouse and community networks, and maintaining spiritual balance. Class will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Fountain of Living Water International House of God, 1463 Sherman St. Call (219) 554-9377.

FRIDAY

Fish Fry

SCHERERVILLE | Descent of the Holy Spirit offers fish dinners, pierogi, cabbage rolls and more from 3 to 7 p.m. at 545 Seberger Road. Call (219) 588-5956.

Halloween Blessing

GRIFFITH | St. Mary Church in Griffith will host its annual Halloween Blessing of Trick or Treaters at 4 p.m. at 525 N. Broad St. Costumed children, accompanied by an adult, will receive a special blessing before going trick or treating, from the Rev. Theodore Mens, pastor, and receive a reflective Halloween bag and treats. Call (219) 924-4163.

Trunk or Treat

HIGHLAND | Come out to New Life CRC in Highland, for a fun night of Trunk or Treat fromm 5 to 7 p.m. at 3010 Ridge Road. It's a safe fun alternative to trick or treating. Call (219) 838-0503.

Fall Festival

GARY | Mt. Zion AME Church will hold its annual Fall Festival with food, fun and fellowshipfrom 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Mt. Zion AME Church, 1765 Tyler St. Call (219) 512-2712.

Phantom of the Organ

MUNSTER | The Phantom of the Organ Halloween Concert features members of the Northwest Indiana Chapter of the American Guild of Organists performing its annual Halloween program of pipe organ music and other musical surprises appropriate to the season, from 7:13 to 8:25 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 8955 Columbia Ave.  This is a family event and there is no charge. Costumes are encouraged and treats will follow. Call (708) 895-2466.

23 hours ago
Merrillville could repeal rental registration requirements

MERRILLVILLE | The town could be on the verge of terminating its rental registration ordinance.

Merrillville had been charging landlords an annual registration fee of $50 per rental unit they have in town until state legislation went into effect this year that allows a maximum registration fee of $5.

The town’s rental ordinance, which was adopted in 2012, created minimum standards for rental housing in Merrillville and established procedure for Merrillville to inspect rental units if the town receives complaints about them.

Councilmen said the $5 fee that is allowed won’t cover the costs of completing inspections.

Councilman Shawn Pettit asked if the town could require landlords to obtain a business license through the town instead of charging the registration fee. Town Attorney Nancy Townsend said state law prohibits that action.

Town leaders are considering repealing the entire rental registration measure and that action could occur during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“$5 is a waste of time,” Pettit said.

The town’s rental registration ordinance initially indicated some of the funds collected would have been used to increase police staffing, but town leaders later determined hiring more police officers didn't qualify as an administrative cost associated with enforcing the ordinance.

Last year the council removed all language indicating funds from the registration fee would go to police staffing.

Merrillville initially charged landlords an annual registration fee of $100 per rental unit but that was reduced to $50 per unit when the ordinance was amended to reflect the fee only would be used to enforce the measure.

23 hours ago
Cal City comes to 99-year agreement with CSX

CALUMET CITY | CSX and Calumet City have come to an agreement to end scheduled yearly payments for a licensing agreement, Treasurer Gerry Tarka announced at Thursday's council meeting.

The city has been paying CSX annually for an agreement on an easement around a water pipeline near Palmer AveNUE, Tarka said. The pipeline goes under the company's railroad tracks.

Increasing annual payments of around $400 have been made to CSX since the late 1970s, Tarka said. Calumet City has paid the firm in excess of $20,000 over the years.

"I just contacted the company because I thought it would be in the city's best interest to see if we could come up with a lump sum agreement," Tarka said.

The 99-year agreement Tarka negotiated came at a cost of $8,100.80.

Resurfacing work along Sibley Boulevard from Interstate 94 to Torrence Avenue is scheduled to begin in the spring. The Illinois Department of Transportation improvements were approved at the suggestion of City Engineer Ernest Roberts.

The city will go to bid for the demolition of properties at 248 153rd Place, 655 Lincoln Ave., 421 Pulaski Road, 1278 Price St., 611 Clyde Ave., 224 154th Place, 525 154th Place, 208 155th St., 665 Mackinaw Ave. and 701 Burnham Ave.

The city renewed it's premium for excess workers' compensation insurance with Mesirow Financial. The cost of the standard plan increased from $82,464 to $92,171. Director of Personnel George Vallis said in a memo to Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush and the City Council that there was an increase in payroll by $310,457 from 2013 to 2014, causing the increase in the cost of the plan.

Calumet City Plumbing will install a catch basin in the alley behind 660 Clyde Ave. between Clyde and Chappell avenues for $4,700.

23 hours ago
Madigan, Schimpf face off for attorney general
Madigan, Schimpf face off for attorney general

SPRINGFIELD | The man seeking to unseat Illinois' long-serving attorney general says its time for a change in the office.

Republican Paul Schimpf, a political newcomer from Waterloo, says he's trying to make the case that Democratic incumbent Lisa Madigan's hold on the post should come to an end when her third term ends in January.

"It's time to put a new set of eyes, a new perspective, in that office," Schimpf said during a recent meeting with reporters at the state Capitol.

Madigan, who is seeking to extend her tenure as the state's chief legal counsel for another four years, says the experience she brings to the table is serving the state well.

In a recent interview, Madigan said her experience gives Illinois an advantage when it comes to dealing with the myriad national lawsuits the state is involved in, ranging from mortgage fraud to identity theft.

"I have a body of expertise that has allowed me to work at a federal level in ways that have directly benefited our state, that somebody without that experience just wouldn't be able to jump in and do," Madigan said.

In a year in which a hotly contested race for governor has dominated the headlines, the contest between Madigan and Schimpf has been a low-key affair. After handily beating lesser known and underfunded candidates in the two past elections, Madigan again finds herself up against a Republican with a small bank account and little name recognition.

Schimpf, 43, is a retired U.S. Marine Corps prosecutor. His resume includes his role as the lead attorney advising Iraqi prosecutors in the trial of Saddam Hussein

Schimpf served as rifle platoon commander in the Marine infantry and was a commander of a mortar platoon commander. He also led a military legal assistance clinic and served as an energy and environment strategist for an undersecretary at the Department of Defense.

In his first bid for office, Schimpf has traversed the state counting down 14 reasons to trust a Marine in 2014.

The focus of his argument for change is government corruption. He said Illinoisans shouldn't have to accept corruption as if it were akin to cold weather during the winter.

"I think that the status quo we have now is not working," Schimpf said. "I've met Lisa Madigan. She seems like a nice lady. If you're happy with the way things are going, vote for her. I'm not happy with the way things are going."

Other campaign pledges outlined by Schimpf include limiting himself to two terms in office, emphasizing the privacy rights of Illinoisans and ensuring veterans have access to health care.

He said Madigan has spent too much time focusing on consumer protection issues.

"I think government corruption is systemic throughout our state," Schimpf said.

Madigan says her record is full of successful prosecutions of government corruption cases, including the recent ousters of two top elected officials in Rock Island County.

In September she announced charges against three former officials of the Williamson County Circuit Clerk’s Office for theft of more than $84,000 in county funds for personal profit.

“The defendants took advantage of their positions for personal gain and in turn defrauded county taxpayers,” Madigan said in a statement at the time. “This case is another example of my commitment to ensuring public integrity in Illinois government.”

Madigan, 48, is running for re-election after announcing in July 2013 that she would not be candidate for governor. With her politically powerful father planning to remain in office as the speaker of the Illinois House, she said there would be too much of a conflict of interest if the two of them were serving at the pinnacles of state government.

She said the office has a broader role than just fighting corruption, including:

-- Opening up access to public records through the creation of a public access counselor, who assists the public and reporters in determining whether government records can be withheld by public bodies.

-- Battling mortgage fraud, student loan abuse and identity theft.

-- And cracking down on child pornography.

Her work on behalf of Illinois taxpayers to collect on national lawsuits has resulted in the return of $32 for every one dollar her office receives through the state's general checkbook.

"I have really refocused a lot of our efforts on how we are bringing resources back to the people of the state," Madigan said.

As an example, she said the state has now crossed the $100 million mark in terms of recovering tax money from gas station owners who weren't paying their share to the state.

The race is showing wide gaps in fundraising.

Madigan collected $282,963 in campaign contributions during the most recent fundraising quarter. She spent $849,015 during that same time period. She entered the final two weeks with more than $4.2 million in her bank account to spend.

By contrast, Schimpf entered the stretch run with just $7,853 in his bank account. He raised $68,655 and spent nearly the same amount.

Despite the money shortfall, Schimpf said he's in the race to win.

"I wouldn't be putting my family through this hardship if that wasn't the goal," Schimpf said. "Right now our electorate is extremely frustrated. I've always felt like if I was able to get my message out, I would have a very good shot at winning this election."

Madigan said she plans to continue working the way she has since winning the post in 2002.

"Truth be told, this job is not a political job," Madigan said. "You're the lawyer. The way I've always operated is you look at the facts and you look at the law and then you do what you're supposed to do, regardless of whether its Democrats or Republicans on one side or the other. You just put your blinders on and do your job."

23 hours ago