CARBONDALE — Carbondale ushered in the holiday season a few days early this year with its first-ever community tree lighting ceremony.
The 10-foot Fraser fir was illuminated at 5 p.m. Monday evening in front of City Hall before an audience of community members and city employees.
“This is a new tradition for us, and it will become an annual tradition on the Monday before the Lights Fantastic Parade,” Mayor John “Mike” Henry said in his introductory remarks.
He reminded the crowd of Giving Tuesday, an annual event that supports participating nonprofit organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Attucks Community Services, Carbondale Main Street, Good Samaritan Ministries, The Women’s Center, Carbondale Community Arts, I Can Read! and WDBX Community Radio.
“Give to your favorite charity tomorrow, or your favorite civic organization. They do much-needed and very good work for us here in the city of Carbondale. Also, I want to encourage everybody, as you keep hearing, to shop local. The city needs the revenue,” he said.
A group of about 30 children from Kids Korner, the Carbondale Park District’s child care center, led a countdown before the lights were turned on.
“We always try to include the kids in all the activities — we want them to really feel as much a part of the community as the adults do, and it’s the holidays,” said Kathy Renfro, executive director of the Park District. “So the magic of the kids and the excitement that they bring, you could see from today just how enormously pleased they were to be introduced to the mayor. I think we’re really growing some fine citizens here in Carbondale, and the more we can include them, I think the more we’ll hear their voices.”
The tree will light up at 5 p.m. each night throughout the holiday season. It was donated to the city by George Sheffer of Murdale True Value.
“This is our community. This is where we live, work and play. These are my neighbors. These are people we care about, OK. I love this town. I love Southern Illinois. Why wouldn’t you?” Sheffer said. “… I think the greatest part of any holiday is the giving. When you give, you don’t expect it, but you get so much more back.”
City Manager Gary Williams said city staff decided to incorporate the tree lighting ceremony into its holiday festivities as a way to bring more people to downtown and to celebrate the Lights Fantastic Parade, which begins at 6 p.m. this Saturday.
“It’s just about trying to improve our tradition,” said City Manager Gary Williams.
Henry expressed disappointment that he will be out of town during the parade this year, but said he was glad to see so many people out for the tree lighting ceremony.
“It brings folks together,” Henry said. “I think it’s a lot of these sort of little things, everyday things, that will help bring Carbondale back, attract folks to stay in Carbondale, retire here, hopefully, get some young families to stay here and graduates from SIU to stay here. You just have to keep doing things on a lot of fronts to make it a hometown.”
CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has so infuriated some far-right members of his Republican party with his actions on abortion, immigration and other issues that he's now facing a primary challenge as he seeks a second term.
GOP state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a staunch social and fiscal conservative from suburban Chicago, is raising money and circulating petitions to get on the March ballot. She says Rauner pledged during the 2014 campaign to stand up for taxpayers and not press a social agenda but instead "ended up putting in the social and economic agenda of the Chicago Democrat bosses."
Ives and others from the party's right flank say Rauner's greatest offenses were his signing of measures that provide state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions and that limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He also supported billions in subsidies for power giant Exelon Corp.
Rauner said in the spring that he would veto the abortion bill, but he signed it months later, saying he believes all women should have the same health care options.
"He lied to us," said Ives, a West Point graduate and veteran elected to the Legislature in 2012. "None of us trust him anymore."
Rauner enters the race with huge advantages in name recognition and fundraising. Ives has raised roughly $300,000 for her bid, while Rauner has about $65 million and easy access to millions more.
The former businessman has been making campaign stops throughout Illinois, pledging to keep up his fight against the Democrats who control the Legislature. He has also continued to blast the state's most powerful Democrat, House Speaker Michael Madigan, over an income tax hike passed as part of a deal that ended a more than two-year state budget impasse.
A Rauner campaign spokesman didn't directly respond to questions about Ives' candidacy or her criticisms.
"Governor Rauner is focused on fighting for Illinois' future and defeating Mike Madigan's machine so Illinois can have property tax relief, term limits, and we can roll back the Madigan income tax hike," spokesman Justin Giorgio said in an emailed statement.
With the candidate filing period opening Monday, Ives said she'll have the signatures she needs to make the March 20 ballot. It remains to be seen how much her candidacy might hurt Rauner — or whether it might even help him in the long run.
Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said most likely "it'll be a wash."
Ives is getting support from an anti-abortion activist base that "is basically done with Rauner," said Republican businessman Vince Kolber, who knocked on doors for Rauner in 2014 but is now volunteering for Ives' campaign. Assuming Rauner makes it to the general election, some of those voters — an important part of the GOP base — could opt to stay home on Election Day rather than vote to give him a second term.
Kolber, who has a home in Florida, said if Rauner wins the primary, he'll consider registering to vote in Florida in November rather than support Rauner again. Ives said she's "a party person" and will vote for the GOP nominee. But "My husband won't. And neither will many of my friends."
Ives' candidacy could reinforce the image Rauner stressed during his successful 2014 campaign of being a moderate and an outsider, Gaines said.
That could help him win over some independents and other voters looking for someone who's more middle-of-the-road — the kind of Republican candidate Illinois voters have historically favored for statewide office — or not beholden to a political party.
"It might generally help him if he can say 'The establishment in both parties doesn't like me because I'm shaking things up,'" Gaines said.
Democrats already have been fighting it out for their party's nomination. More than a half dozen Democrats have said they're running, including state Sen. Daniel Biss, businessman Chris Kennedy and billionaire J.B. Pritzker.
The candidate filing period ends Dec. 4. Candidates for statewide office must submit at least 5,000 valid signatures; people seeking to challenge the validity of a candidate's petitions have until Dec. 11 to file an objection that would be considered before the ballot is finalized.