September 6, 2008

Sphere Madness auction ends with surprise 'winner'

Bidders compete for their favorite spheres

After a summer dispersed throughout downtown Racine, the 74 art spheres that made up Sphere Madness were together Saturday afternoon for the last time -- all assembled in Memorial Hall for their final event: their auction.

Barely two weeks ago, a team of two judges pronounced their assessment of the spheres, awarding $6,000 to three prize winners and also naming five honorable mentions. Saturday, the public spoke -- with its wallet, and named its favorite spheres.

They weren't the same. The auction-buying public paid top dollar for a sphere not mentioned at all by the judges. Selling for the highest bid drawn out by Auctioneer Bob Hagemann was a sphere totally overlooked by the judges. Princess, designed by Lynn Spleas and Jeff Dolezal and sponsored by S.T.A.R.H.S., was a fanciful recreation of Cinderella's carriage. It was bought by Ronald E. Jones, vice president of manufacturing, at Styberg Engineering.

Although Lynn Spleas didn't win the judges' praise, she was pleased by "winning" the auction ... and happy with the $2,150 her artwork earned for the Downtown Racine Corporation, which puts on the annual street art promotion. "The money all goes to Racine, so it's a good thing," she said.

The second-highest auction price went for A Starry Night, a re-creation in more than 8,000 mosaic pieces of Vincent van Gogh's painting, done by Sherri Shaver, and sponsored by Monfort's Fine Art Gallery. It went for $2,050. It had received honorable mention by the judges.

Botanical Bubble, by Kathleen Lippold, sponsored by Photographic Design and Donald and Gabriella Klein, sold for $1,500.

The auction was in two parts: 25 of the spheres were sold through a voice auction, and the rest through bids accepted in a silent auction. The voice auction raised more than $15,000 for DRC, but 15 of the silent auction spheres did not attract the $350 minimum bids required. A list of the unsold spheres will be available Tuesday, and they will be on display at 413 Main St., available for sale through Friday for $350 each. Any spheres remaining after Friday will be part of a raffle whose winners will be picked at Party on the Pavement on Saturday, Oct. 4.

Update: And here's the list of the unsold -- and still available -- spheres. First $350 takes whichever you like:
Magic Bead Ball, Shine, Growing Green, Fireworks Fanfare, Cherry Flavor Paver, Death Star, Knots Landing, Big Fish Bowl, Sorcerer's Spell, The Rose Ball, Color Burst, HEADerLINES, Pond, Sweet Treats, Around the Yard, M C Escphere, Escargooo, Mod Pod and Ball of Yarn.
Stop in the DRC office at 425 Main Street or call 262-634-6002. The spheres are pictured online.

A new look for a 132-year-old barn

Jim Limburg's finishing touch

Gary and Sally Nelson's big, faded red barn on Airline Road has served three generations of farmers in his family, and survived a lot of history. It was built in 1876, the year Samuel Tilden was elected president according to the popular vote. (How Rutherford B. Hayes then snatched the White House from him is a story for another day, and perhaps a lesson for this year's voters.)

The barn was bought by Gary's great-grandfather back in 1915 (Woodrow Wilson was president, if you need another touchstone), and was used as a dairy barn by Gary's father until 1984.

Now, although he works as a mechanic for Racine Unified, he and Sally raise sheep -- they have 15 ewes and about twice as many lambs most years -- and the barn anchors a hobby farm, more or less, whose 112 acres are rented out.

Still, it sits by the side of the road, unaware of the goings-on that will affect its future.

Earlier this year, highway engineers came through, and stuck two stakes in the ground. One, was placed right at the south corner of the barn; the other, across the narrow road, would have bisected the barn had it been on the other side. The stakes represent the northern limit of an upcoming intersection project; at one point, there were plans for a roundabout at the nearby corner of Airline Road and Spring Street but now it will just be a traffic light. The barn has been spared although a shed will be taken down.

This morning came the second change, one the barn would no doubt smile about, if 132-year-old barns allowed themselves to show emotion. The crew from Racine County's Quilts on Barns project arrived before 8 a.m. (What is it with these artists? Can't they ever sleep in?) and installed a red, white and blue barn "quilt" on the face of the Nelsons' barn. The quilt square is in the Indian Paintbrush pattern, and was painted by staff members of the SC Johnson Office Support Network. It was sponsored by Sew 'n Save Fabric Gallery.

Some time before 8:30 a.m., quilt hanger Jim Limburg could be seen climbing a ladder with a paintbrush in his mouth, to paint the heads of the screws holding up the 8-ft. by 8-ft. quilt panels. This was a level of obsessiveness I hadn't seen in his other quilt installations, but Limburg explained, "The others weren't as close to the road."

This is the ninth barn quilted so far this summer. Go here for pictures of the Aug. 24 marathon when five received quilts in one day, and links to previous quiltings. Later this month, another five, as far west as Rochester and Wind Lake, will be done in a single day.

And on Oct. 11, the entire project will be celebrated with, among other events, a "Quilt Hang," in which it is hoped that everyone who has a quilt will hang it outside for the day -- even if no barn is involved.
Two joggers were the first 'tourists' to see the Nelsons' barn quilt

Painters, sponsor and owners pose for the obligatory photo

There's always another quilt worth examining...

PHOTOBOOF! makes its debut on First Friday

Monte Osterman watches the kids have fun inside,
while RacinePost's Dustin Block mans the controls

RacinePost gave birth Friday night to PHOTOBOOF!

If you weren't downtown on First Friday, you have no idea what I'm talking about. But if you were, then you probably joined in the fun, as we brought our newest offspring out to play for the first time.

Parked in front of Copacetic on Main Street, our PHOTOBOOF! drew a crowd all night, as our interpretation of the old-time mall photo booth did its thing flawlessly. Men, women and children of all ages went into the booth -- many hesitantly -- and quickly became all smiles as the photo countdown began. SAY CHEESE! it said, before flashing off four pictures, and producing one of those strips of photos some of us remember fondly.

We had couples, young and old; families; sisters; the recently face-painted; a Congressional candidate and her father; a librarian; a couple proclaiming their engagement. About as eclectic a mix as you could find.

If you missed it... well, just wait until Party on the Pavement on Saturday, Oct. 4, when we bring the BOOF! out to play again.

Meanwhile, all our PHOTOBOOF! pictures from First Friday are online. See yourself, or your friends, making funny faces, smooching, or just having a good time. Which is what Downtown Racine is all about. Glad we could help.

Note: Our page of BOOF! pictures is a large one, and takes a while to load. Be patient! After it loads, right-click on any strip to enlarge. We'll figure out a way to make the page load more quickly as soon as we can.

Our first BOOF! photostrip: Monte Osterman and his daughter

BOOF! photos are for kids of all ages!

September 5, 2008

Volleyball takes center stage on First Friday

It was the final First Friday of the summer, and it was memorable. It began with volleyball clinics on Monument Square, thanks to some 80 tons of trucked-in sand. Kids were run through drills by Ross Balling and stars of today's Corona Light EVP Pro Beach Volleyball World Championships at North Beach.

I'm not sure what the exercise above proves -- the kids were trying to run while balancing the ball on their necks -- but it was harder than it looks (although the girl below seemed to master it well).

Besides volleyball, there was music and artistry. Below is artist Lance Raichert, demonstrating his technique at Monfort's Fine Art Gallery.

Two Kilties played on the street
Dairy Statesmen Barbershop Chorus performed

And the always-popular face-painting

September 4, 2008

100 attend opening of county's new GOP HQ

It was a dark and stormy night, but just shy of 100 Republicans came out Thursday to celebrate the opening of the new campaign headquarters of the Republican Party of Racine County.

Bill Folk, county chairman, said it was a successful party and many signed up to volunteer. Most had gone home by a few minutes after 9 p.m. when I arrived, no doubt to watch Sen. John McCain's acceptance speech on bigger TVs than the computer screens we stragglers employed. But Fred Dooley kindly supplied the picture above, taken earlier in the evening.

The office is at 6500 Washington Avenue, Suite 300 -- in the same building as Century Floors and Havahart Pets. It will serve as a central location for signs, literature, phone banks and information on the upcoming election.

Two volunteers watch John McCain's acceptance speech

Burlington Coat Factory opens at Regency Mall

Burlington Coat Factory officially opens at Regency Mall today, culmination of a project that we first reported in January.

At that time, Steve and Barry's announced its move from 80,000 sq. ft. of retail space that had been -- progressively -- Bergner's, then H.C Prange and then Younker to make room for Burlington's arrival. Steve and Barry's has moved into space formerly occupied by ... well, what difference does it make? It's now near JC Penney.

Now it's Burlington Coat Factory's turn, offering "a large assortment of current, high-quality, designer and name-brand merchandise at up to 60% less than other department stores." It is considered Regency Mall's fourth anchor store, along with JC Penney, Sears and Boston Store.

The store's opening celebration today and Saturday includes prizes from a number of mall stores, plus a grand prize of a $250 Regency Mall shopping spree. To be eligible to win, you must register at the mall.

Events Saturday in front of Burlington Coat Factory include:
9:30 a.m. - Ribbon Cutting with Mayor Gary Becker & Alderman Ronald Hart
11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Jammin 98.3 live broadcast
11:30 - 1:30 p.m. Spin Chick-fil-A’s prize wheel
1-4 p.m. Meet and greet with the Racine Raiders
2-4 p.m. Lite Rock 92.1, live broadcast
3:30 p.m. Prize drawing

September 3, 2008

McKinney to vote in 'coffee bean caucus'

Are you ready for Racine's Coffee Bean Caucus, Round 2?

Well, it's underway, at the Grounds Keeper Cafe at 327 Main St.

Cindy Gross transplanted her "One bean, one vote" caucus from Iowa to Racine during the primary, hoping to attract campaigning candidates to her coffee shop to vote. As far as we can recall, none came forward, although plenty of customers put coffee beans in jars representing their favorite candidates -- 18 candidates at one time. (Our earlier story is HERE.)

But now, as the November election looms -- it's just 61 days away -- at least one candidate is coming.

Cynthia McKinney, Green presidential candidate, will be in Racine Friday for a "meet and greet" at Park 6, 500 Sixth Street, and before that is scheduled to cast her vote at the Grounds Keeper between 3 and 4 p.m.

“It is an act of democratic inclusion that the Grounds Keeper has included alternative party candidates in their vote along with the caffeinated corporate candidates," said Pete Karas, chairperson of the Racine Green Party. “The Grounds Keeper is clearly a supporter of democracy, as shown by their choices of brews, or voices.”

Kohl: For term/age limits, merit pay for teachers

Behind Kohl: Paul P. Harris, founder of Rotary,
who was born in Racine

In a short but wide-ranging presentation to Racine's Downtown Rotary Club this afternoon, Sen. Herb Kohl came out in favor of offshore oil drilling, merit pay for teachers, term limits for Congress and a bi-partisan approach to government.

"The only institution with a lesser rating than the presidency is Congress," Kohl said, pointing to the president's approximately 30% favorable rating vs. Congress' 12%.

"This is an unfavorable reflection of the people's feelings about Washington, and it does not serve the country well. In business, the bottom line is getting things done; in government you can get away with this (lack of productivity) for a very long time."

Kohl said he gets "a sense of the anger and the bitterness," and the government needs to find a way to come together." Looking at the presidential election nearing its conclusion -- just 62 days away --Kohl said, "I am very optimistic. The future is a lot brighter than what we think we are seeing now. We will find people more willing to reach across the aisle. It's going to be difficult, for either Obama or McCain," he said. "Both are centrists; that is their nature. Without a willingness to reach across the aisle, the presidency would be unproductive, a failed presidency."

Kohl listed some of his top issues:

-- "Find an energy policy to wean us from foreign oil." Kohl said he would support "more offshore drilling, but it cannot be separated from other programs, like alternative energy sources. One is considered a Republican program; the other a Democratic one. I'm expecting the kind of measure I can support."

-- "We need to do something about the economy. There's class envy and jealousy," he said, as "economic differences have been exacerbated. The middle class and poor are going backwards."

-- Pension security

-- Climate change

Kohl spoke at length about education, especially the failure of the public school system in Milwaukee, "where many neighborhoods are not inhabitable ... a problem spread across the country. When we have a large number of people unproductive, who do you think pays for it? We all do."

In answer to a question about school choice, and what the questioner called the "horrible" academic gap here in Racine, Kohl responded: "Anybody who had the answer would be lauded and sainted."

He mentioned meeting with New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NY School Chancellor Joel Klein, and hearing from them "how important high standards and accountability are. We all know it's not only the schools that fail; it's the homes and neighborhoods the kids come out of. I would have very high, very high accountability, and reward good teachers, measure teachers. We need to find a way to pay teachers more, and the better ones more than that, and schools that fail should be closed."

Kohl related his approach toward education to his firing of the Bucks GM and coach last year. "We were not getting the job done." Ditto in education. "For too long we've not been willing to do enough to get the job done."

Asked about Congressional term limits, Kohl joked that he is in favor, "For everyone but me!" but went on to say, "I think they're good... after 12, maybe 18 years." He also said he favors some kind of age limit for Congress. "At least in the Senate, we have had some in their 80s and 90s. They're not what they used to be." For the record, Kohl is 73 and has been in the Senate for 20 years.

Kohl also said he favors public financing of election campaigns, because those who must raise funds to run for office -- unlike the wealthy Kohl who says he doesn't raise any campaign funds -- "are voting not only where their conviction lies, but where the money is." He also suggests weekend voting, pointing out that America's elections date back to the time when rural farmers came to town on Tuesdays to conduct their business. "It's not relevant any more," he said, suggesting that weekend elections, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, might increase the percentage who vote in presidential elections from 60% to more than 80%.

Trouble at Regency Mall?

A reader left this comment on the site today:
I used to work at the mall and everyone hands down says its going downhill. It's very hard for stores to make their quotas and when the stores make abit of a profit, CBL steps in and takes a percentage according to their lease contract. It doesnt help when they pay in lint balls rather than actual money.

Heartsfield sets final Summer Nights concert

UPDATE, 9/13: Cancelled, due to rain. Moved to Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.

Heartsfield will perform during the season’s final Summer Nights at the Square concert on Saturday, Sept. 13.

Heartsfield toured throughout the '70s and '80s, spreading foot-stomping, good-time country rock, while paired with Charlie Daniels, Eric Clapton, Loggins & Messina, Fleetwood Mac and more.

Originally formed in 1972 by Perry Jordan with J.C. Hartsfield, both from the South but living in the Midwest, the band developed a distinctive Southern flavor.

Summer Nights at the Square concerts are from 7 – 9 p.m. Guests are invited to bring their lawn chairs. Refreshments are available for sale. Summer Nights at the Square is sponsored by a grant from the Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation in cooperation with the Downtown Racine Corporation.

Crime-fighting: Federal funds ... or sand?

Crime: What to do about it? Here are two approaches.

1. Sen. Herb Kohl will announce a federal grant for the Kenosha Sheriff's Department at 10:30 a.m. today, funds for improved technology in squad cars "to help officers fight crime and improve road safety." We have no idea how much money is involved, or exactly what the funds are for (in-squad video cameras? seat belts?). Kohl, the sheriff and other officials will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. at Fabiano Park, at 818 12th St. to make it all clear. "The resources are being made available this year as Kenosha police have been combating an increase in gang-related and violent incidents in the city," Kohl's press release stated. UPDATE: See below.

Yes, we'll be churlish and wonder whether Kohl has followed crime statistics here in Racine...

2. But, of course, Bloggers notice yet another approach to crime. Along with links to short stories in two MSM outlets about a Kenosha "initiative to combat increasing gang activity and violence," a veritable "crackdown" that already has led to a dozen arrests, blogger OrbsCorbs, writing on the JT Irregulars site, notes:
Meanwhile, authorities in Racine have decided to step up their anti-crime efforts with the announcement that additional sand will be trucked into Monument Square this Friday for local politicians and civic leaders to stick their heads into.

"We're not quitting until we don't see a damn thing!" declared one city official.
Ah, a sense of humor while the bullets fly.

UPDATE: Here's what Kohl brought Kenosha: $178,600 for the Kenosha Sheriff's Department. As I guessed above, the funds "will assist with the installation of digital cameras in police vehicles that will be used in evidence gathering and as a deterrent for street crime."

Kohl said: "This summer has been a tough one for the people of Kenosha, and a reminder that our police officers need every advantage they can get to do their jobs and keep the peace. With these funds, the Sheriff’s Department will be able to upgrade the technology they use to gather evidence to catch criminals and protect ordinary, law-abiding citizens.”

Specifically, the federal funds will enable the department to purchase and install 38 video cameras in all of its police squad units. On May 16, 2007, a Kenosha deputy was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. "This tragic event highlights an important function of in-car video cameras – to gather evidence. In this case, thanks to tips from residents and great police work, a suspect was taken into custody. However, had the deputy’s vehicle been equipped with an in-car digital camera, it would have served as a safeguard to ensure that the perpetrator could be identified, shed light on what happened at the scene, and serve as irrefutable evidence when the perpetrator is charged with killing the officer," Kohl said.

September 2, 2008

City Council to vote on $1 million referendum to hire additional officers

There's one item on tomorrow night's City Council agenda: approving a Nov. 4 referendum to raise $1 million to hire 12 more police officers.

The council is scheduled to vote on Alderman Greg Helding's proposal to address crime in the city. If passed, city residents would vote on the same ballot as the presidential election to exceed state revenue caps to hire the additional officers.

Here's the JT's story on the proposal.

Here's the full resolution that will be introduced tomorrow night:

Resolution for Exceeding the State Imposed Levy Limit

Whereas, the State of Wisconsin has imposed limits on town, village, city and county property tax levies for 2007 and 2008 under Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0602; and

Whereas, it is anticipated that a similar levy limit will be imposed by the State of Wisconsin for 2009 and subsequent years; and

Whereas, the Common Council of the City of Racine, Racine County, believes it is in the City’s best interest to exceed the state levy limit as described above by a greater percentage than 2% for the purpose of hiring additional police officers; and

Whereas, the City of Racine’s levy before adjustments was $40,760,800 for the tax levy in 2007 (collected in 2008); and Whereas, the state limit would limit the increase to $815,216, for a total allowable city tax levy before adjustments of $41,576,016 for 2008 (collected in 2009).

Now, therefore, the Common Council of the City of Racine, Racine County, does hereby resolve and order as follows:

The Common Council hereby supports an additional increase of $1,000,000 in the city tax levy for 2008 (to be collected in 2009) and an identical amount in 2009 and 2010 (to be collected in 2010 and 2011, respectively) in excess of the state levy limits, before adjustments.

The Common Council directs that the question of increasing the city tax levy for 2008, 2009 and 2010 (to be collected in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively) if the State of Wisconsin imposes levy limits during the referenced time period, by $1,000,000 for each of the referenced years for the purpose of hiring additional police officers, shall be submitted to the electors in a referendum at the November general election to be held on November 4, 2008.

The referendum question shall read as follows:

Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of Racine for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year (collected in 2009) is limited to 2%, which will result in a levy before adjustments of $41,576,016, or an increase of $815,216. For the purpose of hiring additional police officers, shall the City of Racine be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year and for each fiscal year in which 2% levy limit is imposed by the state from now through 2011, by a total of $1,000,000 additional dollars per annum over the levy limit for the sole purpose of hiring additional police officers?

A yes vote will authorize the city to increase the city tax levy by one million dollars for each year through 2010 in which a levy limit is imposed by the State of Wisconsin under sec. 66.0602 of the Wisconsin Statutes, for the sole purpose of hiring additional police officers.

A no vote will limit the city tax levy to the percentage amount imposed by the State of Wisconsin under sec. 66.0602 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

September 1, 2008

Labor Day: Many savored summer's end at beach

Labor Day 2008 was the perfect official end to summer here in Racine.

Hundreds heard the call and ended up at North Beach, for swimming, sand and sun. Some came by boat, and anchored off shore, music systems serenading all within earshot. Still more hoofed it across the beach, carrying umbrellas, towels, digging tools. Others got no further than the Oasis' patio, where the music was hot and the beverages and ice cream cold.

It was a day to savor.

August 31, 2008

Another homicide...

Racine had another fatal shooting this weekend, early Saturday morning.

Police received a call about 2:30 a.m.: shots fired at 9th Street and South Memorial Drive. They found Ahattola T. Feemster, 26, of Racine, lying in the street suffering from a gunshot; he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Police said, "Preliminary investigation indicated that an argument may have occurred between several persons on the street before shots were fired." They are asking anyone with information to all 635-7700.

Another air quality warning issued here

We've lost count...

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Watch for Ozone for Door, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, and Sheboygan Counties effective 12:01 am on Monday, Sept. 1, through 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

The watch is being issued because of the forecast for elevated levels of ground level ozone, formed when pollution from power plants, factories, vehicle exhaust etc. etc. chemically reacts with hot temperatures, high humidity and atmospheric stagnation.

The Air Quality Index is forecast to reach the orange level, unhealthy for people in sensitive groups and others engaged in strenuous outside activities or exposed for prolonged periods of time. People in those sensitive groups include those with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, older adults, and active adults and ch ildren. When an air quality watch is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous outside activities during the watch period.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis should pay attention to shortness of breath, or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Ground level ozone can irritate the respiratory system, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma and chronic lung diseases, and, over time, cause permanent lung damage.

In other words, the DNR is telling you to enjoy Labor Day by staying inside. Or, if you must go outside, try not to breathe.