Drought, elections top news in 2012

Originally Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2012, 9:55 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 30, 2012, 12:37 am
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Staff report

Hot air and politicians were constants in the lives of Quad-Citians in 2012, a year that brought the worst drought in decades as well as presidential and congressional elections that flooded us with endless ads and candidate visits.

Those topics were the ones followed most closely during the year by readers at Quad-Ciities Online, as measured by the click-throughs to news stories.

A quick review of the Top 10 stories:

1. The drought

Dry and hot. Hot and dry.

Such was daily life in the Quad Cities as the worst drought in decades settled in. Days with highs in the 90s were commonplace -- there were 40 during the three summer months, far above the long-term average of 17, according to the National Weather Service.

Swimming pools and air conditioner repairmen were busy as July alone produced 22 above-90 days, as well as five 100-plus days.

The heat was unrelieved by rain. Statewide, rainfall was about 9 inches below normal through the end of August. For most of the Quad-Cities area, the shortfall was 12-16 inches, according to the Illinois State Water Survey.

One result was dramatic falls in farm yields. Illinois corn production was just 64 per cent of 2011's, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The drought lives on, as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers struggles to keep the Mississippi River open to barges south of St. Louis.

The mid-December storrm -- the first measurable snow in 290 days -- brought some improvement in soil moisture, but the U.S. Drought Monitor reported in mid-December that 78 per cent of Illinois still ranges from abnormally dry to being in severe drought.

2. A Congressman turned out

For the second consecutive election, the Illinois Quad-Cities area voted out its representative in Congress. Bobby Schilling, a Republican who had beaten incumbent Democrat Phil Hare in 2010, went down in his turn to Cheri Bustos, a former East Moline City Council member.

According to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, $12.1 million was spent on the Schilling-Bustos race, making it the fourth most expensive in the country for the U.S. House in terms of spending by outside groups, which put a combined $8.8 million into the election, the Sunlight Foundation found.

The cost per vote was estimated at $38 for Congresswoman-elect Bustos, based on the $5.7 million spent on her campaign - with outside money included - and the 150,575 votes she received.

The cost per vote was estimated at $48 for Rep. Schilling based on the $6.4 million spent by his campaign and outside groups, and the 132,033 votes he received.

The loss of the Congressional seat was part of a disappointing year for Rock Island County Republicans, who had made significant gains in 2010 and had fielded candidates for most offices n 2012.

Democrat Mike Smiddy took fresh man State Rep. Rich Morthland's District 71 seat, Democrats also fought off Republican challenges to seats held by State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, and State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.

3. Parade of prospective presidents

First the Republicans came for the Iowa caucuses. There was Ron Paul and Rick Santorum; Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann; Mitt Romney and ...well, whoever the rest of them were.

Unlike most years, when the candidates tend to forget about Iowa after the caucuses, 2012 saw both President Obama and Republican candidate Romney return again and again to Iowa, the six electoral votes of which were improbably seen as critical.

President Obama traveled to Iowa 10 times, holding 17 political events and five official events. Two of the visits included stops in the Quad-Cities. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were in the Village of East Davenport on Aug. 15. He returned to Davenport on Oct 24, for a stop at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.

Mr. Romney was in Iowa 13 times, including two stops in the Quad-Cities, one at LeClaire Manufacturing in Bettendorf on Aug.. 22 and the other at Seven Cities Sod in northwest Davenport on Oct. 29.

For the record, the President won Iowa. 52-46.

4. Building a riverfront future

A bevy of bigwigs gathered Aug. 29 in Moline to break ground for Phase II of Western Illinois University's Riverfront Campus at 3300 River Drive.

Gov. Pat Quinn, among those wielding shovels, said "We've got to have skilled workers, well-educated citizens who get the job done, no matter what they take on."

.Five buildings are planned as part of Phase II, expected to cost $42 million and open in 2015. The buildings will house the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Human Services, and Fine Arts and Communications.

"The business community is thrilled to see Phase II of the WIU Quad Cities campus taking shape," said Tara Barney, president and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. "Employers in all industry sectors are excited about the expanded offerings for students and employees as well as the business opportunities this phase of riverfront development will spark in our region."

The first phase of the campus was completed in January, built around the former John Deere Technical Center. The 60,000-square-foot structure cost about $18.2 million and houses the College of Business and Technology and all undergraduate programs, academic and student services, and university administration.

The school is being designed to minimize its environmental impact, using recycled materials, energy saving techniques and alternative energy when possible. Plans for the riverfront campus started nine years ago with Deere's donation of the property.

Planning for a third phase is under way.

5. Davenport lusts for a casino

Davenport announced in October it was negotiating a deal to purchase Rhythm City Casino for $46 million and intended to run the casino through a not-for-profit board. The move, to be financed a $48 million general obligation bond issue, would keep gaming profits in the community, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said.

"This is a transformation that could truly maximize the full value of the gaming license for the benefit of this community for years to come," the mayor said .

But, questions have arisen as some members of the Riverboat Development Authority, which holds the casino license, have spoken out against a city-owned casino, citing perceived shortcomings in the city's financial estimates.

The Riverboat Development Authority's approval is needed if the plan is to move forward. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).

The RDA, which distributes roughly $2 million in casino revenues to hundreds of groups and projects in the Quad-Cities' community, has yet to vote on the city's plans.

By 2015, the city wants to have a land-based casino, with the existing Rhythm City riverboat moved or sold.

6. Watching justice at work

Cameras returned to Illinois courtrooms in 2012 after an absence of more than four decades.

Cameras had been banned in Illinois courts in 1970 after the state Supreme Court ruled that photography lessened the dignity of the proceedings, distracted the participants and created misconceptions in the minds of the public.

Fifty-two years later, in January 2012, the court reversed itself, announcing that on an experrimental basis cameras and audio recording devices and computers would be taken into courtrooms with prior approval from the judge and attorneys for the parties.

The initial test came in Rock Island County, during post-conviction hearing for former United Township High School teacher Jason VanHoutte's guilty plea to three counts of criminal sexual assault, was voided.

As cases watched by camera proceeded without issue, more and more counties have opened their courtrooms. Winnebago, Henry, Rock Island, Henry, Carroll, Jo Davies, Madison and DuPage and Whiteside are among the counties now permitting cameras.

7. The KONE Centre opens

After five years of planning, design, financing and construction, an Aug. 9 celebration and official ribbon cutting marked the completion of the KONE Centre in Moline.

The eight-story building, at 1 KONE court, sits on the edge of the Mississippi River on 17th Street. Four and a half floors of the 125,000-square-foot building are leased by KONE for its North American Operational Headquarters.

The entire project, which also included a two-story parking deck and ice skating rink for the Bass Street Landing public plaza, cost $41.3 million. The project was developed by Financial District Properties, of which Rodney Blackwell is the managing principal.

Mr. Blackwell developed the building on a former brownfield site. In October, he was notified KONE Centre was the first building in Illinois to achieve Platinum certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Core and Shell.

8. Tragedy at the air show

A crash Sept. 1 at the Quad City Air Show took the life of Glenn A. Smith, 59, head of the Frisco, Texas-based Warbird Education Foundation.

He died when his L-39 Albatross, a single-engine, Soviet-made jet, went down near the Ercolina Building on Research Parkway in Davenport, north of Interstate 80.

The crowd at the air show was in shock. Just minutes before the plane went down, the performance seemed to be going smoothly. Three planes were in the air, the pilots maneuvering their gray planes with red stars on the tails.

A witness reported two planes broke away. One headed off to the left of the crowd, and one went to the right before going straight down into a ball of fire.

According to the NTSB's preliminary report, the fatal crash occurred as three planes were executing a "crossover break maneuver," but there was no in-air collision.

9. Searching for Trudy Appleby, still

Nearly 16 years after she disappeared from her Moline home, Trudy Appleby returned to the news as police revived the search for her, focusing on a small Rock River island near Colona.

Trudy was 11 when she disappeared Aug. 22, 1996. She was last seen by a neighbor who reported seeing the sixth-grader near her Moline home with a white man, about 20 years old with dark, curly hair, driving a silver or gray, four-door car.

Moline.police said a new lead prompted the news search of the island, which has been of interest shortly after Trudy disappeared.

During the revived search, trees were cut and a mini excavator was brought onto the island to help dig. Federal Bureau of Investigation cadaver dogs were taken onto the island.

After four days, police called off the search without finding the long-missing girl.

10. Yet another new zoo director

Another Niabi Zoo director was dismissed and replaced in 2012,

Mark Ryan, who had had the post just 15 months, left in January for unexplained reasons. He signed a nearly $23,000 severance agreement with the county in mid-January.

As part the severance agreement, he was allowed to continue living in the zoo director's house at Niabi until May 31, 2012.

In June, Marc Heinzman, the assistant director, was picked for the top job from a pool of 38 candidates. Mr. Heinzman began working for the zoo in 2008.


Local events heading

  Today is Friday, Sept. 19, the 262nd day of 2014. There are 103 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: Charles M. Osborn of this city, a lawyer of prominence, who voted for Lincoln in 1860 is now out strong for McClellan and will take the stump for him.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The George Fleming company had begun its dried fruit packing in a branch plant on 16th Street, Rock Island, employing nearly a hundred workers.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The cornerstone of the new Eagles home was laid. Building committee members were John Kobeman, Fred Ehmke and Frank Wich.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Former Kaiser Wilhelm, in exile, is sad as the Nazis march with communists.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Ninety-two members of the acappella choir at Davenport's West High School today accepted an invitation to perform at the New York World's Fair on June 13, 1965.
1989 -- 25 years ago: A Rock Island woman is one of 50 winners of $10,000 in cash in the Illinois State Lottery's "Celebration "89" instant ticket game. Dawn Loeffler was the third winner to be chosen through daily drawings that began Aug. 28 and will run 50 consecutive days.

(More History)