Bernard Schoenburg: No push, for now, for Illinois Rushmore

Bernard Schoenburg

Six years ago, when he was merely a state senator from Bloomington and not yet the Republican nominee for governor, BILL BRADY pushed an idea that was something like an Illinois version of Mount Rushmore.

One of his constituents, DENNY ROGERS, whose long resume includes being a sculptor, had brought to Brady the idea for a possible Illinois Presidential Memorial Monument, which could be on a 400- to 600-acre site and feature 40-foot-high bronze heads of Illinois-based presidents.

At the time, that would have included Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Ronald Reagan, who had all lived in the state. Now, of course, a fourth Illinoisan could be included.

Brady, back then, had sent a letter to former first lady NANCY REAGAN seeking support, and at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, sought out leaders of delegations from other states to give them packets of information as part of an effort to generate interest that could lead to private backing. The monument was seen as including an outdoor amphitheater with at least 8,000 seats, a museum and shops — all in all, a great tourist draw.

In a news release at the time, Brady said that his office, for several years, had been “in discussions with national-level designers, illustrators, sculptors, as well as developer and banking individuals about the exciting concept of creating a national/international monument, grounds, and building complex” to honor the presidents.

No such park yet exists in Illinois, of course, so when I recently came across the column I wrote about the issue back then, I thought I’d see where things have gone.

Rogers, who said the idea for the monument grew out of discussions at a bronze art show in Colorado some years back, said people in the Peoria area became quite interested, contacted him, and serious discussions were held about the project that could cost more than $50 million. He said one area that was considered was bluffs along the Illinois River north of the city. Another area discussed some years ago was near Starved Rock State Park.

But Rogers now says interest dried up after President BARACK OBAMA got elected — not because he’d be another president to feature, but because of a change in the mood of those who might have kicked in money. The thought, said Rogers, was “it was kind of futile to work on putting something together that would be of a capitalist nature with an anti-capitalist president.”

“You can’t take, for example, Caterpillar, penalize them for success, and then ask them for a donation,” he said.

CAROL TRUMPE, a Republican member of the Peoria County Board, said she and her husband, RICHARD, did in fact get interested in the project and worked with Rogers on it after seeing a story about Rogers in the winter 2006-07 edition of an Illinois State University alumni publication. Rogers had taught for 20 years at ISU, as well as being a forensic illustrator and commercial artist, owner of rental property and a long-ago aide to Bloomington-area GOP state lawmakers. He’s also a Springfield native.

Trumpe said she never spoke directly with Brady about it, but had understood he was a supporter. She said the “economic crunch” that hit had a big impact, though she also agreed with Rogers that with Obama elected and Democrats in charge of state government, not to mention competing projects for donated dollars, it was “not a setting in which we could go out and raise money.”

“I would say I do,” she said when asked if she agreed Obama is anti-capitalist.

PATTY SCHUH, spokeswoman for Brady’s gubernatorial campaign, said the project was always supposed to be privately funded, and Brady had heard there was no recent support materializing, so he hadn’t pushed it.

“It’s certainly not something that would ever be considered at this point for public funding, with the condition of state finances,” Schuh said.

“If the project were to go forward, Bill would certainly support including President Obama,” Schuh added. “We would certainly claim him as an Illinoisan.”

Tusk sheds some light

When I think of BRADLEY TUSK, I generally think of a very young-looking man with a New York accent who almost never wore a tie and was working his thumbs over a BlackBerry in a corner of the room even during news conferences conducted by his boss, then-Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH.

Back then, it became apparent over time that Tusk had an understanding of the policy issues he was talking about. But his job was also to explain away the goofiness of his boss, so that hurt his image a bit.

After his testimony last week at Blagojevich’s trial, I respect him more for being that too-rare type who, at least from what we can see, knew right from wrong and was willing to keep it in mind even in the face of his overly ambitious and blustery boss.

What did we learn? That when Blagojevich wanted to hold up a state grant needed to finish construction on an athletic field at a school in then-U.S. Rep. RAHM EMANUEL’s Chicago district until Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood talent agent ARI EMANUEL, would hold a fundraiser for the governor, Tusk applied the brakes. As told in Chicago Tribune trial coverage, Tusk called lobbyist and Blago confidante JOHN WYMA to make sure he didn’t pass on the threat, and he called then-general counsel BILL QUINLAN to say, “You need to get your client under control.”

I’ve always loved court testimony, because people under oath talking to lawyers have a harder time hiding things. So a favorite part of the Tusk testimony, for me, was the part going into how detached Blagojevich was from the job he was elected to do and he always professed gave him the chance to get up every morning and help people.


“Blagojevich was frequently unavailable when crucial decisions needed to be made on signing or vetoing bills,” the Trib said. “The responsibility for giving an up or down to legislation, said Tusk, often was ceded to him, even though he was all of 29 years old. ‘He wasn’t always engaged in the process,’ said Tusk, adding that he once had to hunt down the governor at his tailor.”

It was always striking how well fitting Blagojevich’s suits were, and we learned when he was governor that while trying to play populist, he wore ties that cost $135 or more. But we also saw that day-to-day things governors do, such as act on requests for pardons, piled up. It always seemed like he just wasn’t doing the job.

Tusk is now a political consultant in New York. Thanks to him for helping explain what was going on in the dark times in Illinois.

Patterson joins Cullerton

The Statehouse pressroom is losing one of its veterans, as JOHN PATTERSON is leaving the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights to join the staff of Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago.

Patterson takes the job of deputy press secretary as of July 5.

“In that role, he will assist the senior staff, including me, in managing and planning issues-based media relations for the Senate president and for the caucus as a whole,” said press secretary RIKEESHA PHELON.

She said others on staff have done similar work, but the Patterson position — which will pay $72,000 annually — is new.

Even with that new position, Phelon said, Senate Democrats are expecting to spend only 80 percent of their budgeted amount for fiscal 2011.

A native of Farmington in Fulton County, Patterson, 40, has a journalism degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He worked for Lee newspapers in Springfield for 3½ years, covering his first session in 1996. He joined The Daily Herald in 2000.

Patterson and his wife, TRICIA, who works in Department of Public Health labs, have two children.

“Given our plans to stay in Springfield, this was a unique opportunity that arose at the right time,” Patterson said. “I couldn’t really pass it up.”

I’m hopeful that the departure of Patterson doesn’t leave another void in the pressroom at the Statehouse, and another medium without its own, dedicated voice, but given the changes in the media world, nothing is assured.

JOHN LAMPINEN, editor of the Daily Herald, which has circulation of about 130,000, told me it is “premature” to say if the bureau will be kept open.

“As with all jobs in the industry these days, we are evaluating the position,” Lampinen said, “and evaluating what other options may exist for covering the news. … We’ve got to do an honest study on it.”

Patterson and I have alternated host duties in the past couple of years during seasons of the weekly show “CapitolView” on WSEC-TV and other Network Knowledge stations, and it’s another place he’ll be missed. He has quite the sense of humor — not unlike the Senate president he’s going to be working with. And that couldn’t hurt in state government right now.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 217-788-1540 or