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Hidden dangers: Additional cases of lead exposure in Cairo public housing complexes revealed

CAIRO — Over the course of roughly a decade, from 2004 to 2015, when James Wilson and Martha Franklin were in leadership roles at the Alexander County Housing Authority, 13 children living in ACHA properties tested with elevated blood lead levels of at least double — and in some cases triple or almost quadruple — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended public health intervention level, according to data provided to the newspaper by Southern Seven Health Department.

Of those cases, each representing a unique child, 11 of the children were residing at the time at Elmwood or McBride, family public housing complexes in Cairo that Housing and Urban Development has slated for demolition. Two of the children were residing in the family public housing complex in Thebes known as Mary Alice Meadows.

The data obtained by The Southern Illinoisan only represent cases where the testing was conducted by Southern Seven Health Department, the local health department that provides services in the state’s lower seven counties, including Alexander. Other children may have been tested during that time frame by their family physician or in another health care setting. Duplicate cases, where a child’s blood lead levels were elevated on consecutive tests, are not included, according to the local health department.

As well, the data do not reflect cases of children that may have tested between 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood — the CDC's recommended intervention level — and 10 micrograms per deciliter, the state's intervention level, which results in case management for the child, and potentially an environmental investigation of his or her environment.  

Lead exposure, particularly in very young children, can stunt development and lead to irreversible and lifelong health and social challenges. That's true even in low doses, particularly if the exposure occurs over a long period of time.

HUD claims former ACHA director falsified compliance with lead safety rules

Editor’s note: This is the first in a short series of stories that the newspaper will publish in the coming days on the responsibilities of owners and managers of HUD-subsidized housing to protect children from lead poisoning; Southern Seven Health Department data on elevated blood lead level cases of children living in ACHA properties; and HUD's ability to enforce its lead safety rules and regulations. 

HUD: Ex-director falsified compliance  

In a civil complaint filed late last month against Wilson and Franklin, in which the federal government is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties and assessments under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986, HUD claimed, among other things, that Wilson and Franklin failed to follow the federal housing agency’s lead safe housing regulations, and that Wilson falsified compliance.

The complaint only cites one case, from 2003, of a child living at Elmwood and McBride testing with an elevated blood lead level. HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said the federal agency was unaware of the data obtained and reviewed by The Southern indicating there have been at least 14 additional cases since then (13 of the 14 cases were during the time Franklin and/or Wilson were associated with the ACHA, and one after) of children testing with elevated blood lead levels in ACHA properties.

In addition to the 2003 case, Brown said HUD was aware of only one other case, which was of a child testing with an elevated blood lead level earlier this year. According to Southern Seven Health Department's data, a child tested with an elevated blood lead level between 20 and 29 micrograms per deciliter some time in 2017.   

According to HUD officials and other experts on lead exposure in government assisted housing, the civil complaint against Wilson and Franklin marks the first time  in recent history that HUD has sought civil penalties against housing authority managers for alleged failure to comply with the agency’s Lead Safe Housing Rule and/or Lead Disclosure Rule, which both apply to federally owned or subsidized family housing constructed prior to 1978. Much of the ACHA’s housing stock was built pre-1978, the year the federal government phased out consumer uses of lead-containing paint.

Tom English / Tom English, The Southern 

Some of the units at the Elmwood Place housing complex are boarded up, pictured here in December in Cairo.

The allegation is among many in the complaint that seeks hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and assessments against the two, but is one of the most serious because it directly concerns the health and safety of children. It also raises a number of questions about HUD's ability to compel compliance with its lead safe housing rules and regulations.    

HUD’s civil complaint states that between 1991 and 1995, the ACHA conducted testing to identify lead-based paint, which concluded that it was present with in the ACHA units and common areas.

Although the ACHA conducted some abatement work on door frames, interior window frames, wood bathroom accessory rails and stairway rail caps in 1993 and 1994, lead-based paint remained on other sources within common areas and units, the complaint states. In September 2003, it was discovered that a child residing in an AHCA complex had an elevated blood lead level, which prompted the Illinois Department of Public Health to send a licensed lead inspector/risk assessor to conduct a lead investigation at the property.

In a letter dated Sept. 26, 2003, IDPH advised the ACHA that the risers, baseboard and tread at the complex (the name of the complex is redacted in the complaint) were “determined to be lead-bearing substances” that “must be monitored and maintained,” the complaint states.

In 2017, a year after placing the ACHA in administrative receivership, HUD conducted a lead-based paint inspection at Elmwood and McBride, both of which were built in the early 1940s. “The inspection confirmed that lead-based paint was present on stair risers and stair stringers throughout both properties,” the complaint states.

A labyrinth of lead safe housing laws, rules 

What the complaint doesn’t mention is that the IDPH note to the ACHA also stated there were “no lead hazards found” during the state health agency’s environmental investigation that year. According to IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold, there have been five environmental investigations conducted at either Elmwood or McBride since 2000. Two were conducted between 2000 and 2005; one between 2006 and 2010; and two between 2011 and 2017, she said. 

Arnold said that during each of those five environmental investigations, lead-based paint was found, but did not pose an immediate health hazard to people. “Therefore, it needed to be monitored and have ongoing maintenance,” Arnold said, in an emailed response. “If it were considered an immediate health hazard, remediation would have been required."

Kert McAfee, lead program manager for IDPH, said that the health department was not able to trace the source of the lead exposure to the living environment of the children in any of the five cases. Water and soil also would have been tested for lead, he said. Generally speaking, where lead-containing paint is identified but intact, state laws and regulations do not demand immediate remediation action but direct the landlord to closely monitor those items for chipping and peeling paint, he said.

While lead-containing paint is among the most common sources of childhood lead exposure, other sources include water, soil and consumer products. Children could be exposed in their homes, or in another environment they frequent often, such as day care centers, schools or relatives' homes. 

The Southern File Photo 

In this photo taken in May 2016, peeling paint is seen on the ceiling of a bedroom in an ACHA Elmwood Place property in Cairo. Concerns have been raised about whether former ACHA directors neglected to test for lead-based paint.

Still, according to Southern Seven Health Department’s data reviewed by the newspaper, roughly one in three cases of tests revealing elevated blood lead levels in Alexander County between 2004 and Oct. 30, 2017, were of children living in the ACHA’s Elmwood and McBride properties. The state has designated the Cairo area a high-risk zip code for childhood lead exposure, based on a number of factors including poverty levels and the age of the housing stock. There has not been any new single-home residential construction in Cairo in at least 40 years.

Between 2004 and Oct. 30, 2017, there were 85 cases of cases of children testing with elevated blood lead levels in Alexander County — as defined by the state's intervention level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater — with 28 of those cases being found in children living in public housing in Cairo (26 cases) or Thebes (2 cases). Of note, these numbers are different and higher than the ones cited above because they include duplicate cases, where a child tested with an elevated blood lead level in one or more consecutive tests beyond the initial elevated case.  

Despite the test results showing at least a dozen individual children with elevated blood lead levels living at Elmwood and McBride over about a decade, this never prompted a complex-wide assessment of lead hazards at Elmwood or McBride. Though HUD now claims that Wilson and Franklin failed to follow lead safe housing rules and regulations, the federal oversight agency did not compel further lead testing until this year, as the developments were targeted for demolition and a transition plan finalized. The state also did not flag this as a potential development-wide concern.

Until recently, the complexes were home to more than 400 residents, about half of them children. The complexes have almost exclusively housed African-American families for years. On April 10, HUD officials announced they would begin relocating residents from Elmwood and McBride, and to date, about 95 of 185 families have moved, according to Brown.

According to Brown, only verified blood-lead levels, confirmed with a venous blood test versus a finger prick, are reported to HUD, and “HUD would not require lead hazard control if there was no finding of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards.” The Southern only cited cases provided by Southern Seven Health Department that were confirmed by a venous blood draw.

The data show that one or more unique cases of children tested with elevated blood lead levels (defined by Illinois's intervention level of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood or greater) in 2004 (two children), 2005 (two children), 2008 (one child), 2011 (two children), 2012 (3 children), 2014 (1 child) and 2017 (1 child) — according to the Southern Seven data provided to The Southern.

The reason why situations such as this fall through the cracks may be, at least in part, to blame on the hodgepodge of complex laws and regulations governing reporting of elevated blood lead levels, and what triggers intervention activities at the federal, state and local levels, and among different agencies at various governmental levels. There also have been numerous changes in recent years to these laws, rules and regulations.

At the state level, an environmental investigation, which is intended to identify the source of the lead exposure, is triggered if a child age 6 or younger has an elevated blood lead level at or above 20 micrograms per deciliter. (Prior to 2008, it was 25 micrograms per deciliter). As well, an environmental investigation is conducted if a child has three consecutive test results between 15 and 19 micrograms per deciliter. However, if any test result dips below 15, the process starts over — and three more consecutive tests of 15 to 19 micrograms per deciliter are needed to mandate an environmental investigation.

The rules are different if the child is between the ages of 0 and 2. In those cases, an environmental investigation is conducted for toddlers testing at 10 or greater micrograms per deciliter. Any child age 6 and younger with an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater is assigned a case manager from a local health department, but the environmental investigation is only prompted by any of the above scenarios, or by the special request of a physician. 

“It is convoluted. I will give you that, and we are attempting to simplify the regulations,” McAfee said.

HUD amends its Lead Safe Housing Rule 

It gets even more confusing when various federal regulations come in to play. While the state’s intervention level is 10 micrograms per deciliter for children age 6 and younger — or children through age 7 in places the state has designated high-risk zip codes — the CDC’s is 5 micrograms per deciliter for children under age 6.

For years, HUD’s intervention standard was a child living in a public housing complex with test results of 20 micrograms per deciliter or greater. That changed on Feb. 13, when HUD amended its Lead Safe Housing Rule to match the CDC’s intervention standards.

Under the old rule, public housing authority managers were supposed to report elevated blood lead level cases to their respective HUD regional office, but there was no time frame specified in the rule by which they must comply.

Public housing authority directors are also required to attest by signature that they followed all of HUD's lead safe rules and regulations as part of the agreement for receiving their annual capital funds. It's an agreement based largely on the honor system, and it's what HUD claims that Wilson falsified compliance with by signing forms that stated he had complied with lead safe housing rules and regulations, among numerous other unrelated HUD regulations. 

The amendments to the rule, which the agency began enforcing this summer, is an attempt to tighten HUD’s ability to provide effective oversight of its lead safe housing rules and regulations. It says housing authorities must notify both their respective HUD regional office and HUD Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Office within five days of learning of a child testing with an elevated blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter or greater, and also follow up with proof that required mitigation activities were undertaken in the short- and long-term. 

According to Brown, of HUD, the public agency’s reporting requirement timeline is triggered by its being notified of an elevated blood lead level case, not by when the medical health care professional determines that the child’s blood lead level is elevated. "In its rulemaking, HUD recognized that it does not control when medical health care professionals notify public housing agencies of case information," Brown said. 

And therein lies the rub, at least where it concerns housing authorities in Illinois.

Sharing health data an issue 

Except when a convoluted set of particular circumstances are met, as described above, or a specific request is made, property managers may never be notified by a respective local health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state only notifies landlords of cases of elevated blood lead levels when an environmental investigation is prompted by one of the above scenarios.

That means landlords are not notified when a child tests with an elevated lead level of greater than 5 but less than 20 micrograms per deciliter, unless the child is ages 0 to 2. McAfee said that notification to landlords when an environmental investigation is not triggered could amount to a violation of health care privacy laws. It's a fine line to walk between ferreting out environmental sources of lead and patient privacy, he said. 

Therefore, HUD may never be notified either, at least where it concerns children in Illinois living in federally owned and subsidized housing, with the exception of the city of Chicago, which has adopted a more aggressive intervention standard. That makes it rather difficult for the federal agency to ensure local housing authorities are complying with lead safe housing rules and regulations, despite recent changes and the mass amount of effort that went into them.

Brown acknowledged that "challenges to adequate oversight" include a lack of reporting of cases of elevated blood lead levels to public housing authorities by parents, landlords, health departments and other sources. 

So does the confusing labyrinth of laws, rules and regulations; what’s described in this article is far from the unabridged version. That means while there’s little shortage of guidance on the state and federal books, targeted enforcement and intervention is a much more difficult task.

In Cairo, there’s also no definitive proof that the children testing with elevated blood lead levels were exposed through lead-containing paint.

HUD also tested the drinking water at Elmwood and McBride this March, and more than half of the 22 units from which water samples were taken tested at or above the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion. Water filters were then installed throughout all of the ACHA’s properties. HUD did not take this action until a year after it took over the housing authority, only after announcing the relocation plan that includes giving vouchers to all residents of Elmwood and McBride, and requiring they move out. A move-out deadline has not been set. 

HUD also had the drinking water at Elmwood and McBride tested for lead the previous spring, not long after taking over the ACHA. HUD officials said that in the earlier test results, all came back favorable except one. HUD officials have said they cannot explain the reason for the change in results. The city’s water, which is supplied by American Water Co., did not test positive for lead, leading officials to believe the cause could be the joints of the copper water pipes. 

14 years later 

The civil complaint against Wilson and Franklin comes 14 years after the 2003 case HUD cites in that complaint of a child testing with an elevated blood lead level. 

The two were cited for allegedly failing to disclose to tenants all known lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards at the property; failing to provide tenants with all records or reports available concerning lead paint hazards; failing to conduct risk assessments; failing to abate lead-based paint or conduct interim controls; failing to conduct visual assessments; and failing to conduct reevaluations of lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards, all of which were required of housing authority managers administering public housing programs with federal dollars.

Wilson’s only comment in response to the civil complaint filed against him was that he wanted to “wish everybody a Merry Christmas.” The newspaper has never been successful in reaching Franklin.

The data and reporting concerns and the fact that there was not intervention sooner to determine the source of lead exposure for children living at the Alexander County Housing Authority, a relatively small housing authority compared to the roughly 3,800 nationwide, illustrates how difficult it is for HUD to get a handle on compelling compliance with its lead safety rules — and how easy it is for life-threatening hazards in federally owned or subsidized housing to potentially go unaddressed for years.

The data and reporting requirements are nuanced and painstaking to follow, gather and analyze. The consequences for not doing so — at the federal, state and local levels — are potentially dire and lifelong for the children whose hazardous environments go unaddressed. Emily Benfer, one of the nation’s leading legal experts on the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in government-subsidized housing, said that HUD’s ability to compel compliance with its lead safety rules is a “major issue.”

Benfer, a distinguished visiting scholar and senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy, said the case in Cairo and others making headlines across the country in recent months and years are exposing these shortcomings on a broader scale.

HUD's Brown said the agency believes that its new rule on lead safety, which had a compliance date of July 13, will result in improvements in HUD’s ability to provide better monitoring and oversight of lead safety concerns at public housing authority and subsidized multifamily properties. Lead exposure in HUD-assisted housing is lower than in unsubsidized housing, Brown noted.

But Benfer questioned whether the new rule goes far enough to protect millions of vulnerable children living in government-supported housing in the United States. 

alert top story
After touring Elmwood, McBride on Saturday, Gov. Rauner calls conditions 'outrageous'

CAIRO – After touring the Elmwood and McBride public housing properties that federal housing officials have been helping residents relocate from since April, Gov. Bruce Rauner said it was “very, very sad to see the condition of those apartments.”

“Very sad,” he said. “No one should ever live in those conditions. It’s frankly outrageous.”

Saturday’s visit by the governor marked his first trip to Cairo since Housing and Urban Development officials, during an April 10 meeting, told residents of Cairo’s family public housing complexes that they would have to relocate because the buildings are no longer safe.

During his visit, Rauner announced that members of his administration, working across various departments, have planned a jobs and resources fair for January. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 10 at Mighty Rivers Regional Worship Center.

Rauner said that at the event, which will be open to all local citizens, state officials will be on hand to discuss employment opportunities in Pulaski and Alexander counties. The goal is to help match people looking for work with the businesses looking to hire, he said. If additional training is needed to fill available positions, Rauner said staff will work with residents to connect them to job-training resources in the region.

Rauner started his deep Southern Illinois tour on Saturday in Mound City, where he participated in a Wreaths Across America Day ceremony at the Mound City National Cemetery. Afterward, he briefly toured the McBride and Elmwood complexes and stopped by Shemwell’s Barbecue, Cairo’s locally famed eatery, where he chatted with residents and ordered a lunch to go.

Terri Childs, a longtime resident of McBride, said she spoke briefly with the governor and he wished her a Merry Christmas and mentioned the job fair. Childs said she told him that she hopes he can help partner with HUD to bring more housing to Cairo. She questioned whether he was just there for a photo opportunity, but said she hopes it becomes more than that for Rauner.

“He told me they were going to do a job fair,” Childs said. “I told him, ‘I have a job. I’ve had mine for 23 years.” Childs is a teacher’s aide at Cairo Unit District 1. She has her eyes on a house in Cairo that she wants to buy. Childs said she will find out in the next few weeks if the bank will approve her loan.

Tom English / Tom English, The Southern 

Gov. Bruce Rauner (center) and State Sen. Dale Fowler share laugh Saturday with Paul Lambert at the Little Egypt Estates in Cairo. Lambert was a longtime resident of Elmwood Place in Cairo, but has since moved into Little Egypt Estates.

Rauner closed out his day in Cairo with a tour of Little Egypt Estates, a 10-unit apartment complex owned and managed by Marion-based Shawnee Enterprises Inc., and a conversation with one of its owners, Jim Covey.

Before leaving town, he also sat down for an interview with The Southern Illinoisan.

Rauner did not offer any concrete plans to address the dire economic conditions facing the city, or dearth of affordable housing. He discussed the pro-business agenda he’s been pushing since taking office, such as workers’ compensation and property tax reform, and regulatory relief for businesses.

The governor said Illinois has not been competitive for decades, and that because of the bad business climate, Indiana is siphoning off jobs that belong in Illinois. But Rauner’s aggressive approach to pushing his so-called Turnaround Agenda right out the gate in early 2015 led to an epic showdown in Springfield with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

The standoff resulted in a budget stalemate that went on for more than two years, ending, at least temporarily, with a budget deal in July. In the meantime, the fragile economy of Southern Illinois was hammered by the lack of a budget deal, which hit particularly hard at some of the region's primary employers, including Southern Illinois University and medical providers. 

The governor, in his reelection bid, is facing a primary opponent in state Rep. Jeanne Ives next year. Most Illinoisans are anticipating a spirited 2018 general election, as well, as the two leading candidates from their respective parties, Rauner on the Republican side, and J.B. Pritzker on the Democratic ticket, are both personally wealthy. What’s been dubbed the anticipated “Battle of the Billionaires” is predicted to be the costliest gubernatorial race in U.S. history.

Tom English / Tom English, The Southern 

Gov. Bruce Rauner (from left), State Sen. Dale Fowler and Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman talk Saturday during a tour of some of the units at Little Egypt Estates in Cairo.

Rauner said his staff at the Illinois Housing Development Authority conducted an assessment of available affordable housing in Cairo after HUD’s April 10 announcement that it would begin relocating residents from Elmwood and McBride. He said the survey found that there are not many available homes that would meet the requirements of HUD’s voucher program. The governor’s downstate aide said one local entrepreneur is currently working with IHDA in an attempt to make a few more units available in Cairo.

Rauner also said he was encouraged to hear that the owners of Little Egypt Estates always have their eyes open for additional potential projects that might add to the availability of homes where people could utilize their vouchers within the city. Rauner said he was impressed by the work of Marion-based Shawnee Enterprises, which is the largest private provider of affordable housing in Cairo, and also owns developments elsewhere in the region. Rauner noted that he signed a five-year extension of the Illinois affordable housing tax credit program, in 2016, and is encouraging his staff to work closely with any local entrepreneurs.

Beyond housing, Rauner said solutions have to focus more on improving the economic standing of not only Cairo, but the greater Southern Illinois region as well.

“The real answer is more economic growth, more economic opportunity. If we don’t have that, we will never have the investment, and we’re going to have so much need for people who are in poverty, we’ll never catch up. That’s the answer,” Rauner said. “And the reality is that Illinois has not been competitive in our economy for decades. That’s the genesis of all of this problem. That’s exactly what our administration is working to change every day.”

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, who accompanied the governor on Saturday along with Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman, said efforts are moving along to bring a river port operation to Cairo. Fowler said he’s been encouraged by the momentum. “We’re inching forward,” he said.

Fowler said he recently met with SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, and the university has agreed to help with putting together a business and marketing plan for the planned port.

People have talked about building an inland river terminal in Cairo for years and years, a fact Rauner noted. But Rauner said he sees the potential, and is interested in the project. Asked if he intended for the state to pony up financial resources for the port, Rauner said that a team of people are meeting about the project, but no decisions have been made to date.

“It’s been a long grind,” the governor said. “But persistence is the key.”

Democratic Gubernatorial Primary
At campaign stop, Pritzker tells Southern Illinois Democratic Women he's 'ready to resist'

MARION — During a campaign-stop luncheon hosted by the Southern Illinois Democratic Women on Saturday afternoon, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker billed himself as a feminist ally and a proud member of the anti-Trump resistance.

Pritzker, a billionaire investor and entrepreneur, told a crowd of 250 people at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 318 that he was “ready to listen … ready to resist and ready for the fight ahead.”

After his speech, Pritzker moderated a panel discussion featuring female leaders.

His running-mate, Juliana Stratton, state representative of the 5th District, noted in her introductory remarks that Pritzker was the first candidate in the race to choose a woman for the lieutenant governor position.

“This is a partnership, and together, we’re going to put Springfield back on the side of women and families,” she said.

In 2016, Stratton said, Illinois women made an average of $41,327, compared to the average for men of $52,161. She said equal pay for equal work will be a top priority for Pritzker’s administration.

Pritzker spoke about his disappointment after the 2016 election, when Donald Trump won the presidency in a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton.

“I was sad for our country, I was sad for the direction that it would take us in and for what it meant about and for our values. I was sad that my daughter witnessed a misogynistic, racist man defeating a deeply qualified woman for president,” Pritzker said.

Everything changed, he said, with the Jan. 21 Women’s March and the women-led grassroots movement that followed. He called women “the lifeblood of the resistance movement” who have also broken the silence on sexual misconduct and assault with the #MeToo movement.

“As I have said over and over and said to men across this state, let me be clear: I believe you, and I will always believe you,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said his involvement in Democratic politics started with his mother, who instilled in him a passion for social and economic justice activism.

“One of my very first memories, in fact, as a little kid was getting dragged around by my mother to knock on doors for Democratic candidates,” Pritzker said. “… My mother taught me how to fight for what I care about, and how to resist — my mother did that.”

He said central and Southern Illinois have suffered under Gov. Bruce Rauner with the shuttering of social service programs, and went on to sketch out the basic aspects of his platform, highlighting a need for affordable health care, universal preschool and child care, affordable college education and paid family leave.

Pritzker said public officials must do less talking and more listening, particularly to women.

“I need your advice on the challenges that we face and how we move forward. I need the help of women of color, who have been resisting for generations. Together, we will keep up this fight at a grassroots level, keep our momentum going and channel our energy into victory in 2018, and then, after we win in 2018, we are gonna go beat that misogynist in the White House!” he said.

Next, Pritzker moderated a panel featuring the founder of Action Illinois and co-founder of Southern Illinois Democratic Women Jennifer Camille Lee; Pamela Smoot, clinical assistant professor in Africana Studies and coordinator of recruitment, retention and outreach at the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University; Stephanie Fortado, a labor activist and lecturer at University of Illinois’ labor education program; and Stratton, a first-term lawmaker.

In his first question, Pritzker asked Stratton how Democrats could ensure that Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama “is the beginning and not the end of a rising tide of African-American women” voter support.

Stratton said she was grateful that black women voters were acknowledged for their role in the Alabama race, but said Democrats must strive to be more inclusive to black women, especially when they make appointments to staff and decision-making bodies.

“I think we have to remember that when we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by inclusion, or we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by listening, or we have acknowledgement and it’s not followed by really creating space at the table, then it’s not sufficient. … What kinds of ways are we going to be included so that we can have a voice and a direction in the policies that affect all of us?” she said.

Asked what makes campaigns successful, Fortado said the short answer was women.

“Every successful campaign I’ve been a part of has had a group of women in a room on computers crunching data,” she said.

Pritzker asked Lee how to keep the momentum going in the women’s resistance into 2018 and beyond. She said there are already marches planned for the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration in Carbondale, Springfield and Chicago.

“I feel like women have found their voices in the last year, and I just can’t see us leaving them behind again,” Lee said.

In response to a question about the challenges SIU has faced under Rauner, Smoot said the budget impasse was a “terrible, terrible time” for the university.

“It was a time of doom and gloom, and morale was low among faculty, administration, just all across the campus you could feel the air of despair. I think that one of the biggest challenges of the university and for me as well was to try to reassure the students that this would pass,” Smoot said.

Several prominent Democrats were present at the event, including: St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, who hopes to challenge Rep. Mike Bost for the 12th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; Natalie Phelps Finnie, who was appointed in September to replace Brandon Phelps as state representative of the 118th District and is running unopposed in the primary; Marsha Griffin, who lost to Terri Bryant last year for state representative of the 115th District and is running again; and Tamiko “T.C.” Mueller, also running for the 115th District seat.

Democratic and Republican primary elections will take place on March 20, 2018.

Illinois Bicentennial Celebration
Peoria settlement sacked, burned during War of 1812

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at

If schoolchildren learn one thing about the War of 1812, it’s that the British marched on and burned Washington, D.C.

But Illinois schoolchildren studying the war could also learn about the burning of a settlement in their own territory, one set ablaze by their own countrymen: the village located where Peoria stands today, in a location that had been settled since the late 1600s.

The conflagration there, almost certainly unplanned, gave rise to a half-century-long legal fight and slowed the city’s development.

In the early months of that conflict between the British and Americans, tensions grew in the western territories of the United States, including the Illinois Territory, because of fears that local American Indian tribes were either loyal to the British or being induced to attack American settlers, particularly after such an attack at Fort Dearborn.

Hence the decision by the state’s territorial governor, Ninian Edwards, to send a group of militiamen — some from Missouri — up the Illinois River in November 1812 to check into conditions in the village of fewer than 100 people.

“The Missourians were deeply suspicious of this thriving and peaceful village, unmolested within 10 miles of the main council site for Indian tribes that swarmed Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa,” a Journal Star archival piece from 1962 reads.

Capt. Thomas Craig’s men began to sack the town while residents were at Sunday Mass.

“In the face of protests from Thomas Forsythe, an official Indian agent and … the village priest, the property was temporarily returned,” according to another Journal Star historical recounting from 1963. “Harmless shots from across the river, probably by hunters, led Craig to say his boats had been fired upon. The French denied it, but Craig demanded the attackers be turned over to him. When the villagers protested, Craig sacked the town.

Its buildings were burned, cattle killed, the wine vaults raided and villagers were taken prisoner and shipped down river. Belated orders from the governor to belay and free the prisoners finally reached the group, with men, women and children being turned loose with few provisions in freezing weather near modern-day Alton. One of the survivors later became the wife of the state’s fourth governor, John Reynolds, who called out the state’s militia for the Black Hawk War.

The burning of the village and the stranding of its members in fact helped turn some local Indians against the American settlers.

The destruction cleared the way for the construction of Fort Clark at the corner of what is now Liberty and Water streets in 1813 as a bulwark against now-hostile Indian tribes. It remained on the site for only a few years until rebuilding of residential properties resumed nearby.

One problem: The displaced residents from 1812 had deeds to the property, dating back to the original French settlements there and began to petition Congress in 1813 to be reimbursed for their lost land. That process continued as Illinois entered its early days of statehood.

“By 1837, when surveys were made, American settlers were occupying these lots — but the sales to these inhabitants were made subject to the French claims,” Ernest E. East writes in an unpublished “History of Peoria” volume, as later recounted by local historian Bill Adams.

Some 32 former residents or their heirs subsequently filed claims on 70 lots — some of which devolved into lawsuits in county court or federal court. A piece by the Peoria Historical Society explains:

“But the legal process moved very slowly, which in turn slowed the development of downtown Peoria. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln worked on some of these cases in the 1850s. Eventually, the displaced settlers were paid thousands of dollars in reparations for the loss of their homes.”

A handful of those cases first had to go to the state Supreme Court, and one to the U.S. Supreme Court, the latter with Lincoln as one of the attorneys involved.

The litigation ended when real estate baron Charles Balance finally bought out the remaining claims on eight lots for $31,000 in 1867 — about $500,000 in today’s funds.