Long-overdue budget, eclipse among top Illinois 2017 stories
CHICAGO — The Illinois Legislature passed a long-overdue state budget this year and people in southern Illinois got to witness a long-awaited total solar eclipse.
Those were among the state’s biggest stories in 2017, a year that also saw disturbing violence, changes for some of Illinois’ most notable people and more headlines about the Chicago Police Department.
Here are The Associated Press’ Top 10 Illinois stories of 2017:
1. Illinois gets its first state budget since 2015 after Democrats in the Legislature, joined by roughly a dozen Republicans, override GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a spending plan and income tax increase. The deal follows years of political infighting between Rauner and Democratic leadership that kept Illinois from getting a budget, tripling the state’s overdue bill backlog to more than $15 billion, starving colleges and social service agencies of funding, hitting the pocketbooks of local governments, and taking Illinois to the brink of becoming the first U.S. state to have its credit rating downgraded to “junk” status.
2. A Kentucky physician is dragged from a United Airlines flight at O’Hare International Airport after refusing to give up his seat to accommodate a crew member. Video of the incident sparks outrage at the Chicago-based airline and ramps up criticism over the treatment of passengers by U.S. airlines. United later reaches a settlement with the passenger, and the four Chicago aviation police officers involved in removing him are either fired or suspended.
3. The first total solar eclipse to sweep coast-to-coast across the U.S. in 99 years draws hundreds of thousands of people to areas of southern Illinois located in the path of totality, where the sun is 100 percent blocked out by the moon. Eyes also turn skyward across the state and elsewhere for what, by all accounts, is the most-observed and most-photographed eclipse in history.
4. The U.S. Justice Department issues a scathing report of civil rights abuses by Chicago Police Department, finding a long-standing pattern of officers using excessive force and an oversight system in which many accused of misconduct weren’t investigated or disciplined. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Attorney General Lisa Madigan say the city will carry out reforms under federal court supervision, abandoning an initial deal with the Trump administration that envisioned no court role.
5. A Champaign man is charged in the disappearance and suspected death of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang, a visiting University of Illinois scholar from China whose body hasn’t been found. Federal authorities allege that Brendt Christensen, 28, a former U of I graduate student, was under surveillance when agents overheard him explaining that he kidnapped Zhang, who disappeared in June shortly after she stepped off a bus near campus. Christensen has pleaded not guilty.
6. Illinois lawmakers overhaul the state’s decades-old school funding system, increasing aid to all of Illinois’ more than 800 districts and eliminating large disparities between rich and poor schools. The historic measure becomes law just as the academic year is starting, allaying fears among some administrators about how to keep classrooms open after Rauner vetoed an earlier education funding bill. Included in the compromise plan is $75 million in tax credits for people who contribute to private school scholarships.
7. A 66-year-old man from Belleville opens fire on Republican members of Congress at a baseball practice outside Washington, D.C, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others before he is shot and killed by police. Authorities say James T. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter with a deep anger toward President Donald Trump, and that he sold his business and motorcycle before heading to the Washington area in March, where he lived out of a cargo van.
8. A former Northwestern University microbiologist and an ex-Oxford University employee are charged with murdering 26-year-old hairdresser Trenton James Cornell-Duranleau, who was stabbed more than 70 times as part of what prosecutors say was a sexual fantasy played out by the two men. Wyndham Lathem and Andrew Warren flee Chicago and are the focus of a weeklong international manhunt that ends when they surrender to the authorities in California.
9. Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan announces she won’t seek a fifth term in 2018. Madigan says it’s time for her to “seek a new challenge,” though she doesn’t say what that will be. Candidates scramble to pursue the party’s nomination in the March primary. They include former Gov. Pat Quinn and state Sen. Kwame Raoul.
10. The Rev. Jesse Jackson publicly discloses he was diagnosed in 2015 with Parkinson’s disease and has been seeking outpatient care. The 76-year-old civil rights icon says he is dedicating himself to physical therapy to slow the disease’s progress and vows to use his influence to help find a cure.