July 31, 2010

Iron Girl's first finisher has a Racine connection

 Lauren Jensen led the field after the swim and cycle races

The drizzle at 6 a.m. called me back to bed, but I resisted and headed down to North Beach -- where more than 350 women athletes got themselves psyched for the inaugural Aflac Iron Girl Racine Triathlon.

To all I spoke to, the weather was a plus -- well, maybe not the 68-degree Lake Michigan water temperature, but at least there was no stifling heat.

The race got off without a hitch, four divisions separated by age and about five minutes, starting at 7 a.m. First was an 800-meter swim, followed by a 30K bike race and a 5K run.

First finisher in slightly more than an hour  was Lauren "Shark" Jensen, 43, of Muskego, who led all the way. Jenson, a pro athlete, has a Racine connection: her husband, Todd, is a Horlick High School graduate. She is a professional triathlete and physical therapist and has been teaching swimming and coaching athletes for over 20 years. She's finished second or third in half a dozen triathlons so far this year.

Second across the finish line was Shirley Crocker, 52, of Madison, seen at right.

The official results show:  First,  Lauren Birkel, 1:06:16; Second, Lauren Jensen, 1:06:28; Third, Stacey Kiefer, 1:07:08.

Complete results and official times will be posted here.

Spectators had umbrellas; competitors had heart

20 seconds before the start of one of the swimming heats
...and the ladies are into the water!

Volunteer Elizabeth Shauer, 9, of Racine, had a medal for all finishers

NAACP: Downtown Racine report released 'prematurely,' but raised important issues

An NAACP report suggesting African-Americans are not welcome in Downtown Racine was released "prematurely," but drew attention to inequities in the city, according to a statement from the organization released Saturday morning. 

The executive committee of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met Wednesday to discuss the controversial report titled, "A Report on the State of Racine's Downtown." The closed session meeting resulted in the following statement from branch President Michael Shields: 
As a branch of the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the nation, the Racine Branch recognizes that race and racism is a factor in the socio-economic status and advancement of people in Racine and in the United States. All though this report was released prematurely the report does draw attention to these inequalities within the City of Racine. The Branch will continue to work further to correct these racially bias issues by working with community leaders and organizations to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Racine. 
Privately, people in the organization say the branch intends to re-write the report incorporating more data, and then re-release it to the public. The hope is the report will start a conversation in the community about economic opportunities for African-Americans in Downtown Racine and throughout the city.

July 30, 2010

Heckenlively: Ryan, GOP vote against helping 9/11 first-responders

Yesterday, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) joined with 154 other House Republicans in voting against helping the brave men and women who cleaned up the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act failed on a two-thirds vote, denying compensation and medical benefits to thousands of first responders who worked at Ground Zero.

Democrats voted for the bill, 243-4, while Republicans voted against it 155-12. The bill by New York Representative Carolyn Maloney would have created a World Trade Center Health Care program within the National Institutes of Health to provide health monitoring and treatment of first responders and cleanup workers who responded to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The cleanup of Ground Zero exposed rescue and construction workers to numerous toxic chemicals, leaving many with chronic respiratory illnesses and others with cancer. Over 800 World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers have died since 9/11. Zadroga, a New York City police detective, was the first NYPD officer whose death was attributable to exposure to toxic chemicals at Ground Zero. He died January 5, 2006.

On September 12, 2001, Rep. Paul Ryan (D-Janesville) stated: "In searching for this hope, amid the sorrow, we need only turn to the firefighters, police officers, medics, and rescue workers who have put their lives on hold -- and often in mortal danger -- to respond to this crisis. Their courage, determination, and action are examples for us all." Sadly, nine years later, Ryan and his Republican colleagues provide an example of how not to treat our fellow citizens.

"The men and women who responded to the World Trade Center crisis did so knowing they were placing their health and safety at risk. This country owes them a debt that cannot be repaid. The least we can do is
provide them with medical treatment." said John Heckenlively, Democratic candidate for Congress. "These men and women were there for this nation in its hour of need. We should be there for them now that they need us."

It's official: Our trout grabs the state record!

Roger Hellen, left, and Joe Miller with  trout caught at Salmon-a-Rama on July 16

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said so today.

Lake Michigan Brown Trout Reels in New State Record;
41 pound 8 ounce monster a sign of the great fishery

MADISON – It’s official: the 41 pound, 8 ounce brown trout Roger Hellen of Franksville caught in Lake Michigan on July 16 is now a Wisconsin state record fish.

The Department of Natural Resources received Hellen’s application earlier this week and has confirmed the new state record, which smashes the old record by nearly 5 pounds. The previous record was 36 pounds 8.9 ounces and 40.5 inches for a fish caught August 23, 2004, in Lake Michigan in Kewaunee County.

Hellen’s is the ninth state record set this year, and the first for a fish caught by hook and line. The other records have been for fish taken using alternate methods, including a spearing record for lake sturgeon and six bowfishing records. One of those bowfishing records, for smallmouth buffalo, was established for the first time in March and has changed hands twice since, once in April and again on July 1.

Hellen caught the fish in Lake Michigan north of Racine while competing in a fishing tournament. The fish measured 40.6 inches long and weighed 41 pounds 8 ounces on a certified scale at a local meat market, according to Cheryl Peterson, the state fisheries technician who weighed, measured and processed the fish at the tournament.

With that certified weight, Hellen’s fish would appear to squeak by the 41 pound 7 ounces world record brown trout caught last year in the Big Manistee River in Michigan.

“It was very exciting – it was certainly the biggest trout or salmon I’ve ever seen,” says Peterson, a fish technician on Lake Michigan since 1997. “We knew as soon as it was on the scale it was going to be a new state record.”

Chomping on round gobies

The brown trout fishery in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes waters, like the salmon fishery, is supported by stocking originally done to help control populations of alewife, an invasive fish species, but now done as well to support what’s become a popular fishery.

Now, the browns appear to be chomping on a newer invasive fish species – round gobies -- helping fueling good survival and fishing, says Brad Eggold, DNR fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan.

“One of the things we’re finding is the trout species are less discriminating when it comes to food, compared to Chinook,” he says.

“We know from stomach samples they really go after round gobies and we know there are a lot of gobies. That could be why we are seeing really good survival of the fish and good condition.”

Alewives are key forage items for Chinook, and populations of the invasive species are at near-historic lows since they became ubiquitous in the lake in the 1950s.

“We’ve really seen an uptick in brown trout fishing probably in the last 10 years, primarily in bigger harbors like Milwaukee and Racine and Sheboygan,” he says. Winter fishing in the mouths of harbors has been particularly popular, he says.

Lake Michigan fishing has been going strong this summer. “The numbers and variety of fish anglers have been catching, particularly in the last four weeks or so, has been excellent,” Eggold says. “We’ve settled into a pretty good summer pattern. The warm weather and winds have pushed the warmer surface water out into the lake, bringing cooler water temperatures closer to shore and making it easier to catch salmon and trout.”

The temperatures have really concentrated the fish in narrow bands, making them more accessible for anglers, especially those fishing from shore.

Wisconsin Family Action PAC endorses Chris Wright

Republican Chris Wright landed the endorsement of the Wisconsin Family Action PAC, according to Wright's campaign.

The announcement was made by e-mail to Wright from Julie Appling, chair of Wisconsin Family Action PAC. Appling said in an email that Wright aligned well with the PAC's positions.

"Virtually everything that happens in state government in some way affects Wisconsin’s best natural resource: her traditional families," Appling wrote to Wright. "We look forward to working with you in the legislature in numerous ways to strengthen and preserve this critical resource, for the good of the entire state.”

Wright said he was "honored" to receive the endorsement.

Wisconsin Family Action focuses on issues that impact Wisconsin’s traditional families, according to the organization's website. It considers marriage, life and liberty the "bedrock" of Wisconsin. WFA has been active in campaigning against same-sex marriages in the state.

Wright, a Sturtevant Village Board member, is running against Rep. Cory Mason to represent the 62nd Assembly District. The election is Nov. 2.

Racine cinematographer part of Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week'

Hossam Aboul-Magd
The debut Sunday of the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" has a Racine connection.

No, there aren't any local shark attacks - or sharks at all, for that matter - on the series of shows dedicated to the ocean's most fearful predator. But one Racine resident was up close, really close, to sharks that will be featured in one of the week's episodes. 

Shark Week
Racine cinematographer Hossam Aboul-Magd was top-side cameraman/director of photography for the hour-long show Shark Bites: Adventures in Shark Week. Hossam joined late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson in the Bahamas to film the episode, which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Hossam lives in Racine, but works around the world as a cinematographer for Discovery Channel, National Geographic, History Channel and other major networks. He moved to our city from Cairo, Egypt, and runs he and his wife's company Soura Films Ltd. from Racine.

Hossam's "Shark Week" show features Ferguson jumping into the water to swim with, touch and feed sharks. During the show, Ferguson has second thoughts about getting in the water with the sharks when he realizes he won't have the protection of a cage.

The show features Ferguson's adventure mixed in with highlights of The Discovery Channel's 20 years of running "shark week."

Celebrities and man-eating predators aside, it was just another day at the office for Hossam. He routinely travels the world to create documentaries for cable networks. Prior to shooting the shark episode, Hossam was in  Egypt, Israel, the Czech Republic, the Netherland, Spain, French Guinea and about 10 more countries, shooting episodes of "Solving History with Olly Steeds" for the Discovery Channel.

He also spent time in Michigan's Upper Penninsula shooting a reality series about a couple that owns a private zoo with over 400 animals. Hossam shot the pilot for the series that ran on National Geographic Wild back in April, and the network liked it enough to pick up three more hour-long episodes.

As a cinematographer, Hossam spend nearly all of his time behind the scenes shooting, directing and editing film. Occasionally he gets on camera, like in an upcoming episode on the zoo when a monkey climbs on his camera and steals his classes.

Hossam said he has no interest in hosting his own show. "I'm more behind the camera," he said.

Hossam did get involved with local politics last year when he followed John Dickert around with a video camera during Dickert's successful campaign for mayor. Hossam's hope was to edit the footage together into an independent documentary, but a busy international schedule has stalled the project.

As for the sharks, Hossam said it was great working with Craig Ferguson over four days in the Bahamas. Hossam directed the "top-side" crew, which means he didn't jump in the water with the 20-30 sharks that at one time came to the surface near their boat. Instead, Hossam shot all of the footage on the boat and when Ferguson surfaced in the water.

"We basically had two cameras, one top side, one bottom, to capture all of the moments diving with the sharks," Hossam said.

They wrapped shooting on July 28 and the episode is scheduled to air Aug. 5. That's a really fast turnaround, Hossam said, noting most episodes take 2-3 months to get ready for broadcast.

He said Ferguson was an "absolute joy" to work with.

"He was a professional," Hossam said. "He was very funny, witty and smart. It was a fun show." 

July 29, 2010

Flood averted!

The city issued the following press release Thursday:  

City Shines Bright Amidst Mother Nature’s Havoc

RACINE – Facing a potential flood crisis over the weekend due to heavy area rains, city officials and department heads gathered in Mayor John Dickert’s office late last Friday morning to lay out a plan of action.

As the meeting dispersed, the sun poked its head out, ever so slightly, through the rain clouds – the rays of sunshine were a sign of things to come.

“When this city is challenged it stands up together to meet the challenge,” Dickert said. “This city and its residents really came through in shining fashion. In fact, I’m not sure it’s ever shined brighter. I honestly believe there isn’t another city in this country which could beat the collective effort our residents put up last weekend. I’m very proud of our city.”

The havoc Mother Nature was trying to create was due in part to the seven inches of rain that had hit the Milwaukee area last Thursday night. The forecast at the time of the meeting in Mayor Dickert’s office was for more heavy rains in the area on Friday and Saturday. Root River was predicted to reach flood levels over the weekend and the memories of the flood of 2008 seemed to be in the back of everyone’s minds.”

During the meeting, Rick Jones, Commissioner of the Department of Works, carefully explained the plan which would be put in motion that day to police, fire, parks and recreation, health, and water and wastewater officials.

The plan had several different stages to it depending on the levels the flood waters would reach with each stage having well-laid out plans of additional action. It was quickly made available on the front page on the city website - www.cityofracine.org.

When the meeting ended the immediate concern was for 20-25 houses along the west side or Parkway Drive. There was also some concern for houses at the end of Liberty Street, along Domanik Drive, and at the far end of Luedtke Avenue by Rupert Blvd. The DPW immediately delivered sand and sandbags to the concerned areas.

Next, Chief Kurt Wahlen and his Police Department and Chief Steve Hansen and his Fire Department began delivering brightly-colored instructions in both English and Spanish to the households that could be in danger.

“The plan and the cooperation and teamwork between all the departments involved and the general public made what could have been a difficult situation a lot easier,” said Chief Hansen. “There was a tremendous amount of cooperation involved and a lot of teamwork.”

The police department also made calls to the homes in those areas relaying the DPW’s message.

“The DPW’s plan was exceptional,” said Chief Wahlen, echoing Chief Hansen’s comments. “Everything was laid out. Everything they said would happen at certain levels, happened. All we had to do was monitor it. The plan was exceptional and so was the cooperation, as well as the teamwork.”

As the house-to-house notifications began, Mayor Dickert, along with 11th District Alderman Greg Helding - Chairman of Public Works and Services and 12th District Aldermen Aron Wisneski - Chairman of Public Safety and Licensing, held a press conference with CAR25, the Journal Times and WRJN/Light rock 92.1 to further distribute information and assure the public the city was on top of things and a plan was already being put into operation.

Later on Friday, the Mayor and 8th District Aldermen Q.A. Shakoor II also went door-to-door speaking to the people whose homes could be in danger.

“We were very proactive and everything was very positive,” Alderman Shakoor said. “The city and the people worked well together. And that’s what it is all about. In order for this city to be successful it takes people, house by house, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, working together and that’s what we saw last weekend. That was the beauty of it.”

The Mayor also visited certain areas with 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner. In all, Mayor Dickert visited the potentially troubled areas three times on Friday, four times on Saturday, and three times on Sunday.

“What I saw last weekend was truly inspirational, “Dickert added. “I saw people of every race, creed, and color, people ages 7 – 70, from all walks of life, helping with the sandbags. I saw people come down whose homes weren’t in danger to help those whose homes were.”

Mayor Dickert also pointed out that Rick Jones not only put in place a great plan, but he was among those who helped fill sandbags along with union workers who came to help even though they were off the clock.

“I keep saying we are becoming known as the City of Partnerships – creating new and valuable partnerships with those outside our community and strengthening the partnerships we have within our community , “Dickert said. “The partnerships we have within our community and the teamwork we have created as a result was never more evident than last weekend.”

Unfortunately, the city did miss one house, located on Spring Street, which had already begun to take on the brunt of the rising waters before the city arrived.

“I’ll be the first to admit we were not aware of one house which was at a low level,” Dickert said. “But as soon as we found out about it we were over there doing everything we could to help,” Dickert said.”I talked to them personally (owners – Jim and Kim Marcotte) until 11:00 pm Saturday and they seemed relieved we were there working with them, their friends and neighbors, although it doesn’t make the flooding any easier.”

The city did catch a break as the weekend progressed, the additional five inches of rain that was predicted for Milwaukee on Friday never developed, the seven inches that hit the Chicago area on Friday night stayed well south of Racine, and despite the possibility of additional heavy rains predicted, after noon on Friday, the city only got some light showers early Saturday morning and a sprinkle later that night.

“I had the utmost confidence in all the departments involved and that the plan we had in place would help us meet whatever developed,” Dickert said. “I just kept telling people ‘Pray it doesn’t rain.” Thank God He was listening to our prayers.”

Perhaps that was the best partnership of all over last weekend as it certainly aided in Racine being able to shine as a community.

The community has the ability to shine again this week as an organized cleanup will take place on Saturday from 12-2 pm. Interested volunteers should meet at Water Substation on Parkview Drive just off of West Sixth Street.

Celebrating 175 years: Mysterious Pilgrim Mills, Inc.

 Old Horlick's elevators used by Pilgrim Mills, Inc. All photos from Oak Clearing Farm and Museum.

By Gerald L. Karwowski, racinehistory.com
For years a number of brightly colored lithograph tin containers with the product name Pilgrim Minute Oats were turning up in antiques stores and flea markets all over the Racine, Wisconsin area. The unique Racine cans had graphics of a classic American Pilgrim and directions in six languages.

A brief search of city directories turns up a Pilgrim Mills, Inc. in 1957 at the Horlick’s Malted Milk plant at 2230 Northwestern Avenue. Then one night while surfing the Internet I typed in Pilgrim Oats and with some research solved a mystery that had been in the back of my mind for many years and here’s what I ended with.

In the 1950s a young entrepreneur named George Pellegrin became involved in farming and the production of grains and certified seeds. He used the seed profits to buy a grain processing plant and storage elevators at the old Horlick’s Malted Milk plant in Racine and named it Pell-Bari Farms (dealers in wholesale seeds). Soon after the name was changed to Pilgrim Mills and they began to manufacture and market oatmeal at retail prices as Pilgrim Minute Oats. ("Pellegrin" in French means "pilgrim" -- hence the name George Pellegrin chose for his company and oatmeal.)

The effort became a disaster and Pellegrin realized that he had been naïve to attempt to compete with a giant like Quaker Oats, which controlled the shelf space in the retail market place. Pellegrin had counted on export sales, which is the reason the containers have cooking directions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic. He soon found the international regulations, duties and currency exchange were eating up all his profits.

Allen's Merchandising, 1959
Pellegrin’s only redeeming experience from the failed oatmeal business was his wife Dorothy’s idea about what to do with a train box car load of unused, brightly painted oatmeal cans and invented a game called "Holi Boli," which used 10 of the metal containers held together in a 16” x 17” cardboard box and a few red and white Ping-Pong balls.

According to Pellegrin family lore, George dealt directly with Donald Allen, president of Allen’s Merchandising and got him to buy the entire lot of games by playing to his weakness: gambling. George knew that Allen loved to wager, so he got down on the floor with him and played Holi Boli for cash bets. Allen got hooked — and placed an order for the entire lot of 10,000 games!

Allen’s Merchandising was an early membership-only discount retailer and distributor. You had to have a membership card to be admitted. They were located in the front warehouse where the Pell Bari Farms and Pilgrim Mills offices were located. The production line for packaging Pilgrim Oats was also housed in that building before Allen’s rented it.

The Pellegrins had two sons in junior high school and their first real jobs in the family business was assembling the Holi Boli games. They also had to open thousands of unsold prepackaged cardboard containers of oatmeal and put the contents into 100 pound sacks for resale overseas. After the oatmeal fiasco Pellegrin continued to operate the facility as a commercial grain elevator.

In 1958 Pellegrin hired Robert Gorman to operate the business and by 1960 sold the controlling interest of business to Gorman and it was re-named Racine Grain Co.. (Pellegrin went on to a successful career in publishing as president of the Fort Atkinson-based Johnson Hill Press, publisher of agricultural trade journals.)

Today the main office of Racine Grain Co. is located at 1313 South Colony Avenue, Union Grove, Wisconsin. It is still a family-owned business and has grown to be one of the largest grain handlers in southeast Wisconsin. Robert and Joyce Gorman were the first generation and their son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Sue Gorman continue the business.

Racine Grain Co. operates three elevators; two in the Union Grove area and the original site at the Old Horlick’s complex in Racine.

July 28, 2010

City: Blue bins increase recycling

Racine's blue recycling bins are turning up green for the city.

Recycling in Racine was up 76 percent in June compared to a year ago, Public Works Director Rick Jones reported Wednesday. City residents recycled 541 tons of material in June compared to 308 tons in June 2009.

Blue recycling bins being delivered 
to the city back in May

The increase in tonnage saved the city landfill fees and generated more income through the sale of the recycled materials. The combination of savings and additional income totaled $30,296 for June, according to Jones' report. The savings exceeded the city's projection by $12,984 due largely to better-than-expected prices for the sale of recycled materials.

City residents received blue recycling bins this spring in hopes that it would increase recycling throughout Racine. Residents were charged $10 per household to pay for the bins.

So far, the new recycling program appears to be working. Not only did the first full month of using the blue bins exceed one year ago, it topped the single highest month in 2009. City residents recycled 354 tons of material in January 2009; this year's June total was 54 percent higher, Jones said.

In prepared statements, Jones and Mayor John Dickert thanked city residents Wednesday for participating in the recycling program.

The 28,500 carts cost the city $1,349,080.

Hearing on Park 6's fate is delayed; Sixth Street bar may still lose liquor license

Thursday's hearing on the fate of a Sixth Street bar's liquor license was postponed Wednesday as lawyers wrangle over city information.

An attorney for Park 6 requested city emails that may assist the bar's legal defense. The city is considering the request, but won't be able to respond to it before a due-process hearing that was scheduled for 5pm Thursday.

The city is trying to take Park 6's liquor license because of persistent police calls to and near the bar. Under state law, a liquor license is the property of a bar. To remove a license, a municipality must hold a trial-like hearing with the bar represented by an attorney and the licensing committee serving as the jury. The full Common Council can then affirm or overturn the committee's decision.

Park 6, opened in 2008, is a popular weekend bar at the corner of Park and Sixth streets in Downtown Racine. It's owned by Thomas Holmes.

Holmes declined comment for this story.

Ald. Aron Wisneski, chairman of the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, said he believes the city's case against Park 6 is still strong.

"The due process hearing is still scheduled," he said.

Public and private investment in Sixth Street in recent years makes it important for the city to  address problems, Wisneski said.

Seven people have visited former Racine mayor in prison

Gary Becker at one of his hearings for crimes related to an Internet sex sting in January 2009. Becker is now serving three years in prison at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution.

Seven people have visited Gary Becker at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution since he was imprisoned in March, according to state Department of Corrections records.

Becker's two brothers, his sister and four friends are on his list of approved visitors. The complete list includes:
  • John A. Becker, brother, Racine
  • Daniel Bredow, friend, Minneapolis
  • Robin Knodell, friend, Racine
  • Robert A. Namowicz, friend, Franklin
  • Robert F. Purdy, friend, Racine
  • Jane E. Schrimpf, sister, Greendale
  • James Tobias-Becker, brother, DePere 
RacinePost filed an open records request with the state Department of Corrections for a list of Becker's visitors in prison. The department provided a list of people who have visited the former Racine mayor, but could not provide the dates of the visits, or how often people visited.

Spokesperson Linda Eggert said a changeover in technology from paper to computer made it impossible to compile a list of Becker's visitors. The state only knows Becker's last visitor was Schrimpf on July 20.

Prison rules allow inmates to approve who is allowed to visit. You cannot visit an inmate if you are not on their approved visitors list. The state does background checks on all visitors to its prisons.

Oshkosh Correctional Institution allows visitors every day of the week. Inmates can have up to three visits per week, but only one visit on weekends. Up to 12 people can visit at one time, including children or infants. Up to six adults can visit at one time.

Visiting regulations are fairly restrictive. Visitors are not allowed to bring food, but can purchase food from vending machines in the visitor's rooms. They cannot bring a camera or recording device, but can bring up to 25 pictures.

The visitor's room is considering a "family atmosphere," according to prison rules. Visitors are not allowed to wear revealing or profane clothing, and "excessive displays of affection" are not permitted. Visitors are allowed to embrace and kiss inmates only at the beginning and end of their visit. During the visit they can hold hands.

Becker, 53, is serving three years in prison for attempted second-degree sexual assault of a child and child enticement-sexual contact. He was sentenced March 2 by Judge Stephen Simanek.

Becker was twice elected Racine mayor, first in 2003 and then in 2007. He resigned in January 2009 after being arrested at Brookfield Square Mall in an Internet sex sting.

Becker is the father of two daughters. His wife was granted a divorce in October 2009.

July 27, 2010

City plans to use foreclosures to revitalize its housing stock

City Development's Jean Wolfgang must feel like she's playing Monopoly these days. 

The city's associate planner is rushing to finish buying 25 properties in foreclosure for the city's Neighborhood Stabilization Project. She has until Aug. 15 to finish buying the properties or the city will lose stimulus money from the federal government. 

It looks like Wolfgang will meet the deadline. She got the OK from the city's Loan Board of Review last week to buy the last five properties. The board agreed to buy 1324 Center St., 1812 Holmes Ave., 2410 Kinzie Ave., 3002 Arlington Ave., and 1017 Augusta St.

Some of the purchases weren't ideal fits for the city's NSP, Wolfgang told the Loan Board. The city intended to buy homes in the inner city, particularly the Towerview neighborhood near SC Johnson's Racine campus, and to work with local banks to take foreclosed homes off their balance sheets. 

Homes like the one at 1017 Augusta St. don't meet the criteria, Wolfgang said, but the purchases can be completed by the Aug. 15 deadline. The good news is the city only has to meet the deadline once. When homes outside of targeted areas sell, she said, the city can be more choosy in its selection of homes to rehab. 

Here's a list of the 25 properties the city is buying as part of its NSP:
  • 1706 Maple
  • 1537 Thurston
  • 2026 Orchard
  • 826 Forest (raze)
  • 1317 Albert 
  • 1124 Irving
  • 630 Hagerer (2 family)
  • 1100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • 1125 Grand Ave.
  • 1132 Irving Place (raze)
  • 1016 Park 
  • 720 Seventeenth (2 houses)
  • 944 Villa (2 family)
  • 1922 Deane (raze)
  • 1841 Villa
  • 931 Center (raze)
  • 1620 Flett
  • 1435 Blaine
  • 1213 Franklin 
  • 900 Park 
  • 1324 Center
  • 1812 Holmes
  • 2410 Kinzie
  • 3002 Arlington
  • 1017 Augusta

Racine daily one-liners (July 27)

The Racine County Fair kicks off Wednesday. (Burlington Standard Press)

  • A city committee rejected Ald. Eric Marcus' request to waive a $400 fee to review a city employee's records she compiled as an appointed member of the Countryside Humane Society's Board of Directors. The fee would pay for time the City Attorney's office spends reviewing the documents for confidential information. (JT)

  • The Racine Unified Board of Educations Audit Committee will hold a regular meeting at 6pm on Monday, Aug. 9 at 2200 Northwestern Ave. 

July 26, 2010

Feingold: Classified documents reveal U.S.'s 'deeply flawed' Afghanistan strategy

Leaked documents prove the U.S.'s policies in Afghanistan are "deeply flawed," Senator Russ Feingold said Monday in a prepared statement.

The website Wikileaks released 92,000 classified U.S. military documents this week about the war in Afghanistan. The leak rocked the military and suggested U.S. allies in Pakistan are actually supporting al Qaeda insurgents.

Here's Feingold's statement on what the leaks mean for U.S. policy:
"While I do not condone the leaking of classified material, these documents underscore what we already knew - the policies we have been pursuing in the region under both the Bush and Obama administrations are based on a deeply flawed strategy. In particular, the documents highlight a fundamental strategic problem, which is that elements of the Pakistani security services have been complicit in the insurgency. That, combined with competing agendas within the Afghan security forces, make it clear that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.  It is long past time that we reduce our military footprint rather than continuing to pursue a military escalation that depends on unreliable actors.  We need a new strategy, beginning with a timetable to draw down our troops from Afghanistan, so we are better able to accomplish our top national security priority of destroying al Qaeda’s global network."
Senator Feingold, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has repeatedly raised concerns about ties between elements of the Pakistani Security Services and its ties to the Taliban:
·        On May 7, 2009, Senator Feingold wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern over a seemingly “unqualified acceptance” of Pakistan’s public statements that there are no elements within ISI that are cooperating with militants or extremists.
·        On May 20, 2009, Feingold announced his opposition to the supplemental war spending bill.  In his statement, Feingold said, “this bill contains over $1 billion for the Pakistani military, and while we must not over-generalize or take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, it would be unwise and very dangerous to convey to the Pakistani military that it has our unconditional support.”
·        During a May 21, 2009 hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Feingold asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Richard Mullen, about the ISI supporting the Taliban and how the U.S. should alter its military-to-military strategy in the event the support continued.
·        On February 2, 2010, during an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Feingold asked Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair about Pakistan’s “continued support for militant proxies and about the assistance provided by some of those groups to al Qaeda.” 

Former All Saints head resigns from Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

Dr. Loren Meyer
A Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare executive who was removed as head of Racine's hospital in February resigned from the company, a spokesperson confirmed Monday.

Dr. Loren Meyer was reassigned as CEO of Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group after 50 doctors revolted and threatened to leave All Saints. Ken Buser took over for Meyer, who was transferred out of Wheaton's "South Region."

Meyer resigned after Wheaton Franciscan completed a reorganization of its Milwaukee, said Spokesperson Anne Ballentine.

Meyer joined Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in 1986 and served in a variety of roles including Vice President of Quality and Medical Education, Chief Quality Officer and Vice President of Medical Group Operations. Meyer received his medical degree from West Virginia University and completed his pediatric residency at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Heckenlively Campaign: Paul Ryan votes to let flooded residents sink

Congressional candidate John Heckenlively released a statement over the weekend about Rep. Paul Ryan's vote against federal flood insurance for people like the city residents who live along the Root River. Here's the full statement: 
Residents who live along the Root River have returned to their homes after recent floods to begin the task of restoring order and assessing damage. For the last forty years, FEMA has offered low cost flood insurance to residents who live along flood plains so when disaster strikes, there is a safety net for families to repair and heal their most important asset: their home. 
This program was enacted because private insurance companies were too reluctant to offer flood insurance. After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was overwhelmed with nearly $17 billion in claims, requiring a massive restructuring of the flood insurance program to assure it’s solvency in the future. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced Flood Insurance Reform Priorities Act (HR 5114) to guarantee flood insurance would continue to be available for American families and businesses. On July 15, the House of Representatives passed this important legislation.
85 Republicans in the House voted in favor of Waters’ bill. However, Congressman Paul Ryan of the recently flooded First Congressional District voted against it. Mr. Ryan’s vote against flood victims demonstrates a continued disdain for his constituents in times of crisis and disaster. 

Park 6 owner calls for ordinance to prevent loitering outside of Racine bars

Thomas Holmes, owner of Park 6 on Sixth Street, will fight for his bar's life this week during a hearing before the Common Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee.

Park 6 is facing a "due-process hearing" before the committee because of repeated police calls to the bar and a shooting outside of the bar on May 20. Nearly every Friday and Saturday night a large crowd of people congregates near Park and Sixth streets and draws 10+ police officers to the area for public safety.

But in an interview over the weekend, Holmes said the city's case against Park 6 is weak, unfair and possibly illegal. Here's why Holmes says his bar should be able to stay open:

1. He's taken several steps to address city concerns and control his crowds. He's changed how people leave Park 6 to minimize crowds along Sixth Street, raised the bar's minimum age to 25, installed security cameras and personally asks patrons to be mindful of concerns from the city and neighboring businesses.

2. Park 6 is being punished, in part, for doing the right thing. They'll turn away undesirable patrons from the bar, but the people will continue to hang out on the street. Holmes wants a city ordinance that would allow police to ticket people who are prevented from entering a bar, but continue to hang around outside. That would help Park 6, which can be selective of the crowd inside, but has no control over who's outside on the sidewalks.

3. Holmes said the shooting on Sixth Street on May 20th remains under investigation. No one is quite sure what happened, he said, and it's unfair to hold Park 6 accountable for a shooting the bar may have had nothing to do with. Police confirmed last week the shooting remains under investigation.

4. Holmes said he would have liked an opportunity to address the Public Safety and Licensing Committee before they sent him to a due process hearing. The committee voted unanimously to try and take Park 6's liquor license without notifying Holmes that it may take that action. 

5. Closing down one bar doesn't solve the problem, Holmes said, it simply moves people to the next bar. We've heard this from other bar owners. The city may crack down on certain establishments, but as soon as they do people don't stop going out. They simply find a new place to drink.

Along with talking to Holmes, I visited Sixth Street Saturday night to observe the crowds coming out of Park 6 and other Sixth Street bars. Here's a few observations:

1. There are four bars near Park and Sixth streets. They include: Henry and Wanda's, The Place on 6th, Park 6 and Raytown Roadhouse. Henry and Wanda's and Raytown Roadhouse closed before the crowds gathered outside.

2. There was a large crowd of people gathered along Sixth Street from about 1:30 to at least 2:30 a.m. (when I left). About a dozen police officers were called to the intersection to control the crowd and get people moving to their cars.

3. The Park 6 crowd, mostly from a private party, left the bar fairly quickly. Holmes lets customers out of a side door so they can reach their cars on Water Street without having to exit onto Sixth Street. That cut down on the number of people milling around on the north side of the street.

4. The Place on 6th crowd left the bar and then packed the south side of Sixth Street. A crowd of about 200 people was hanging outside of the bar, making noise and getting into the occasional fight. The only semi-serious incident I saw was two women briefly fighting before their friends pulled them apart.

5. The most obnoxious problem with the crowd was the noise. Lots of people were yelling at each other and cars were revving engines and blasting music. One complaint about Sixth Street is that apartments above stores are going unrented because of the noise on the weekends. After what I saw, I wouldn't rent there.

6. It seems like so many people come out of the bars at the same time it creates a traffic jam. One idea floated out there is a staggered closing time for the bars to try and limit crowds. Holmes' idea of an anti-loitering ordinance may also work. The problems, and potentially dangerous situations, do seem to arise outside of the bars, not inside. If the city can figure out a way to mobilize crowds around bar closing time, it could reduce the need for police and the potential for something tragic.

Root River below flood stage

Here's the latest graphic from the National Weather Service. The Root River in Racine is now well below flood stage, down to 5.5 ft. at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Racine WWII ace returns home for a family reunion

Robert Goebel, describing his air battles during WWII

 There are no schools, streets or statues in Racine named for Robert Goebel.

Which is somewhat surprising, given that the Racine native downed 11 German airplanes in World War II. Pilots with just five kills became "aces." Or the fact that he's a member of the Wisconsin Aviatin Hall of Fame, holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal, with 17 oak leaf clusters, and a Silver Star for gallantry in action.

"I did what I had to do," Goebel said this weekend, home for a family reunion at St. John Nepomuk Catholic Church celebrating the 75th anniversary of his older brother, Norbert, now deceased, and his wife, Lucille. Norbert would have been 100 this week. On Sunday afternoon, the family gathered at the Radisson Harborwalk where "Uncle Bob" talked for an hour about his WWII exploits.

He was just 19, a graduate of St. Catherine's High School, when he enlisted in the Air Force. (Before the attack on Pearl Harbor you needed two years of college for that.) He made it through three stages of flying school, six months in Panama guarding the canal, to North Africa and then through 61 missions over southern Europe, escorting bombers in the "Flying Dutchman," his P51 Mustang fighting off German Messerschmitts.

Air battles are very different today than they were in his day, Goebel says. Today many battles are fought by drones, controlled by pilots safely thousands of miles away. For another:  "The guy in the back seat says, 'I fired the missile,' and the pilot says, 'Well, did we get them?' and the guy in the back says, 'I don't know; it was 10 miles away."

In Goebel's day, air combat was up close, "eyeball to eyeball," he says. "You could see the other pilot turning and looking at you in the cockpit." He rarely fired the six machineguns on his Mustang from more than 150 to 300 yards from his target ... and once his plane was sprayed with glycol and fuel from the airplane he hit, he was that close to it.

Goebel described the air battle he fought on Aug. 18, 1944 -- the day he brought down not one, not two, but three German fighters. "Fighters were getting scarce," he said, but on this day he led an "extra" flight of four Mustangs escorting B17s on a bombing run against industrial targets over Ploiești, Rumania. The extra Mustangs meant "we could get into whatever mischief we could find," Goebel said.

He described two of his kills like this: "I thought I saw some little dots flying very fast to the east, but I lost sight of them on the Russian side of   Ploiești. I was kind of doping off, not paying much attention." But suddenly, "The sky was full of Messerschmitt 109s. It was kind of like Keystone Cops: 'Are those...???' "

Goebel said he turned his Mustang into the 109s, "to give them the most difficult shot. They had two to three times the number we had; if they got to six o'clock behind us, we're dead. I cut loose my first burst (of machinegun fire). There were flashes all over him. I got a two-second burst into him and he came right out of his airplane."

"I spotted another 109 and went after him. I was going very fast; the P51 was very fast in a dive. I got some strikes. We were down to 8,000 ft. His canopy came off and he came out. His parachute never opened. I watched him fall into a plowed field. It was not a pretty sight."

By now, Goebel was all alone; he'd lost his wingman and the other Mustangs flying with him. "I couldn't raise anyone on the radio. I was 600 miles from base. "It was pretty lonely." He gained altitude to 20,000 feet, where he felt safe. "But I was alone, in a very vulnerable position. Every 15 seconds I looked all around.  I had just checked, when 'BAM!!' here come two 109s, and the three of us got into it, going round and round.

"They were hesitant," he says. "I think they were low on fuel." The Messerschmitts headed north; Goebel was headed west. "They seemed glad to leave me... well, not me! Good judgment is not found in 21-year-old pilots. I was low on ammo, in a bad position. Maybe I was a little hasty," Goebel says, describing how he "pressed in and began firing at the 109s," until one crashed.

"It was a very lonely feeling, eerie. It was dead quiet on the radio; my flying suit was drenched with sweat. I'm kind of a basket case. I'm studying my gas gauges all the way back, running on fumes." When he finally landed, his crew chief couldn't find a single bullet hole in his Mustang; it must have been engine detonation that warned him of the last two 109s, not tracers. "I had God flying with me in that plane that day," he says.

Sixty years later, when Goebel decided to write a book about his exploits, he felt a compulsion to learn something about the pilot who had ejected only to fall straight down into the plowed field. He tracked down a Belgian historian who had researched German fighter pilots and learned that there were only two fighter wings flying out of Ploiești that day, and just one airman --  Herbert Franke, pictured at right -- who died in that manner.  Goebel contacted Franke's friend by letter. "It was not an easy letter to write: 'I killed your friend...' " but they met in 1996 at a meeting of German Luftwaffe pilots and became friends. The German pilot told him, "Those were the days when we were all young and beautiful. Today, we are just beautiful."

Goebel also described the air battle he had with German ace Erich Hartmann -- who had more than 300 kills, mostly of Russian planes early in the war.  Goebel won that battle, but it's not clear whether he shot down Hartmann or whether the German's plane just ran out of gas. In either case, the German pilot bailed out -- and while he was parachuting down Goebel "flicked his armament switch to the camera-only position. He tracked the enemy pilot, depressed the trigger to activate his gun camera, and was rewarded with proof of his victory," according to FlightJournal magazine, which had the story on its cover, with an illustration of Goebel, right. Goebel flew close to the descending pilot, "raising his hand in a chivalrous gesture," before flying home. Goebel only discovered for sure who that pilot was when he compared his account of the incident to one in Hartmann's own memoir.

From FlightJournal.com

Asked Sunday about the pilot's code of honor, Goebel said the German pilot "thought he was going to be shot out of his parachute harness. Of course, I would never do that. In our group, I never saw it, and don't know anyone who did it. You fight a guy tooth and nail; once it's done, it's over."  In the foreward to his book, "Mustang Ace: Memoirs of a P51 Fighter Pilot," Goebel writes, "Like the rest of my generation, in combat I did what I had to do the best way I knew how. There was no hating, no anguish, no sense of guilt. Only an attitude of getting the job done. Since those days, I have met many ex-Luftwaffe pilots, men who were worthy adversaries. I listened as they dispassionately described the downing of an American bomber or fighter. I have concluded that their attitude, then and now, was very much like my own. "

Goebel,who is 87 today, got out of the Air Force in 1946 and returned to Wisconsin for college. After college he re-enlisted, finally retiring in 1966, and then worked in the space program. "Mustang Ace," is available at Amazon.com.