I had been told the governor had never visited a state park, but it was never confirmed. The Associated Press got it on the record from one of Rod Blagojevich’s spokesmen. Here’s the story, which AP labeled as an exclusive.
By Deanna Bellandi
The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Gov. Rod Blagojevich won’t know what he missed when two dozen state parks and historic sites shut down because of budget cuts.
That’s because he’s never visited them, according to Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.
“A lot of people haven’t been, I mean the decision to close them are based on attendance figures not on whether the governor likes them or not,” Guerrero said.
The Democratic governor has made no personal visits or held official events at the 11 state parks and 13 historic sites slated to close over the next two months to help close a $2 billion budget hole, Guerrero said.
Being a no-show isn’t likely to do much for the image of a governor already chided for being too Chicago-centric, starting with his refusal to live in the executive mansion in Springfield.
Some of the historic sites slated for closure have ties to Abraham Lincoln, including his father’s reconstructed log cabin near Charleston and the Vandalia statehouse where Lincoln was a state lawmaker before Springfield was the capital.
More popular Lincoln sites, including the 16th president’s tomb and the Old State Capitol where he delivered his “House Divided” speech, both in Springfield, won’t close. Illinois is gearing up to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday next year. The tomb had about 339,000 visitors last year and about 109,250 people visited the Old State Capitol.
“I’d love to see the governor visit all the historic sites,” said Jim Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois, a preservation advocacy group.
The closures send the wrong message, Peters said.
“It sends the message that tourism is not as important,” he said.
Other sites to be closed include the Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston, which had about 82,700 visitors last year, the Vandalia Statehouse, which nearly 31,700 people visited, and the birthplace of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg in Galesburg, which had nearly 8,600 visitors last year, according to state figures.
The state’s largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the governor’s absence from the places he wants to shutter shows he’s out of touch with what goes on there.
“I think the governor needs a better understanding and appreciation of the essential services that state employees provide and of the tremendous effort and sacrifices they make to provide those services,” union spokesman Anders Lindall said.
The administration had to make “tough decisions” on budget cuts, Guerrero said. State agency budgets were slashed, hundreds of workers are being laid off and others are being forced to take unpaid leave.
The Illinois House has voted to reverse some of Blagojevich’s budget cuts, but the Senate isn’t expected back in session until November to take up the matter.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has launched an online petition drive to stop the closure of the 11 state parks.
“I think it’s important to visit state parks,” Quinn said. “Anybody in statewide office should spend time there.”
Rachel Pfaff of Morris has started her own online petition to oppose closing the parks and has collected nearly 29,000 signatures. Since Blagojevich hasn’t visited the parks he doesn’t understand what they mean to people, she said.
“It makes me very angry,” Pfaff said. “This is a place where my children go to fish and play.”
Just because Blagojevich hasn’t visited the targeted historic sites or parks, including the Channahon Parkway State Park and Illini State Park in Marseilles, doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate them, Guerrero said.
“He’s a student of history so … he obviously realizes the significance of all the sites,” Guerrero said. He added: “But it was just a matter of being fiscally responsible and having to do what was right for the whole state.”
Blagojevich not visiting adds weight to the argument that the administration’s decisions on what sites to close are not subjective, Guerrero said.
Personnel issues, including union concerns, have delayed the closings of the parks and historic sites. The historic sites, initially set to close Oct. 1, will now close Oct. 15, although some will be open on a limited basis for special events. The state parks, originally scheduled to close Nov. 1, will instead close Nov. 30.
That gives Blagojevich more time to get in a few visits.
Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills in Springfield contributed to this report.