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Today’s must-read

Tuesday, Mar 28, 2017

* This NPR story on Cairo is a very good read, so go take a look at the whole thing

There is a lot of talk right now about how best to try and bring back struggling small towns, especially in the rural Midwest which Donald Trump carried easily. Many of these places would also see steep cuts in aid if the president’s budget gains traction in Congress. Visit Cairo, and at times it feels like a town on life support.

“You know, you say to your government, we want to clean it up,” Matthews says. “But we need help.”

In Cairo, there is a lot of anger and many people feel slighted. A few years back, then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn visited with reportedly great fanfare at the time and designated Cairo as a port authority. The idea was that the town could once again take advantage of all the barge traffic on the rivers. The governor left town, and so did the promise of funds.

A frustrated Tyrone Coleman, Cairo’s mayor, says the town is well positioned to take advantage of the expected increased barge traffic due to the Panama Canal expansion. After all, it’s what put the city on the map in the 1800s.

“Strategically, geographically, this is one of the most untapped resource areas in the country,” Coleman says.

Lately some state lawmakers have made renewed commitments. In a statement, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office says he is working to make Cairo and other small Illinois towns competitive. But in Cairo, that’s a tough task.

* By the way, the area’s new state Senator, Dale Fowler, has been making Cairo a priority…

* Fowler makes sixth trip to Cairo since election, discusses river development: “All I saw was potential,” Fowler said of his first trip. He has been back five more times, including Friday with Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont, and a busload of other local leaders. The group hit the highlights of town — Fort Defiance, the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and Magnolia Manor.

* Editorial: Fowler’s presence in Cairo a sign of hope: Over the years, leaders have come to the city with promises. Driving through Cairo, it’s evident most of those promises were empty. But, Cairo Public Utility Manager Larry Klein, who said in Sunday’s story that he’s seen at least 50 similar trips by politicians, this feels different. He saw something that he called “a ball of fire” in Fowler.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Nieva - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 11:51 am:

    Cairo is just a few miles from Paducah on the Ohio and Cape Girardeau on the Mississippi. Two small cities that have thrived because of the river that flows at their door. I have to believe Cairo’s death spiral is due to Illinois and Its failed policies of high taxes,over regulation, and the belief that Chicago is all the state needs to thrive. Our county of Gallatin is now to the point of no grocery store in the entire county. The school is the largest employer and our children leave for Evansville or some other area with jobs. I don’t know the answer but to say that this area is suffering would be an understatement.

  2. - SMH - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 11:51 am:

    Every ten years or so…politicians and journalists get excited about Cairo. But. Nothing. Ever. Happens.

  3. - DuPage - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:06 pm:

    It’s going to be hard to do without a state budget, and revenue to match federal funds. I don’t that will happen with the Rauner/no budget situation. Also, the Trump administration has vowed to cut federal money for these sorts of things. So federal grants that were around a couple years ago were not applied for by Illinois, and the opportunity was lost. Meanwhile our governor was running around the state preoccupied with his Turnaround Agenda. Best of luck, Cairo.

  4. - Keyser Soze - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:13 pm:

    Eliminate state taxation in Cairo. See what happens.

  5. - Smitty Irving - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:19 pm:

    Nivea -
    Think the legacy of the 1909 lynching of a black man, Will James, or the 1967 Race Riot that started after the alleged jailhouse suicide of a black man, Private Robert Hunt, home on leave, have any bearing on Cairo’s problems?

  6. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:28 pm:

    Over 20 years, the federales have pumped $3B into the Olmsted Lock and Dam project. It’s the biggest and most expensive inland waterway project in U.S. history, 15 miles up the Ohio from Cairo.

    Have there been no economic benefits to Cairo citizens from that long-term project and payroll?

    If not, could it be for the same reasons that K-Town residents don’t benefit economically from the Greater Loop building boom, just a few miles away?

  7. - e - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:30 pm:

    A public policy dilemma: When there are too many problems to solve and not enough dollars to go around, are all small towns worth saving?

  8. - Rod - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:52 pm:

    First off I think this NPR statement is a problem: “Cairo has also struggled with a lot of racial tension over the years. There were violent race riots in the 1960s. The federal government intervened in the 1980s to get more minority representation at City Hall, and over the years Cairo’s population has shifted from being majority white to majority black.” Cairo today is according census data 69.6% African American, it’s a bit more than just a majority black, but formally the statement is correct.

    In 1900, Cairo had a population of 13,000, of which 5,000 were black. By 1970 the population of Cairo declined to about 6,200 of which about 2,300 were African American. The history of racial violence in Cairo goes back far beyond the 1960s that the NPR story discussed, one big incident took place in 1909, when an angry white mob lynched an African-American man who was believed to have raped and murdered a 22-year-old white girl. His body was filled with bullets, burned, and chopped to pieces. This was correctly noted in Smitty Irving’s post.

    I would recommend to readers of this blog two short essays on Cairo that are much better than the NPR story. Sherman Cahal’s abandoned series essay on Cairo be sure to read the comments many from former citizens of Cairo. The second is Dave Albin’s more conservative essay on Cairo . There is also this amazing and depressing video there are 105 comments on the video.

  9. - barbie jordan - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:55 pm:

    It’s not about the Olmsted Lock and Dam project, it’s about security for our future with our kids. You’ll need to pay for the last 7 years to ‘cool people’s church-it’s the only Church with a seer as a minister. It’s imperative for the U.S. safety and preservation.

  10. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 12:59 pm:

    Smitty Irving for the win….
    Or at least the reminder that it isn’t just taxes and regulation that have hurt Cairo.

    Rampant and open racism and inept city government (Paul Ferris years ring a bell?) were problems too.

  11. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:02 pm:

    Barbie, your post is unclear. The seer must have foreseen that.

  12. - SOIL M - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:10 pm:

    While Cairo’s problems are many and could be debated for quite a while, one thing about its future is certain. The politics has to change before anything else will change. While the one party rule, which Mathews is now County Chair of, did not cause Cairo to start on its decent, it has for the last 40 years accelerated its decline and ensured nothing would change there. With Coleman and Mathews as the ring masters, you have the same circus, just different clowns.

    It is interesting tho to see Sen Fowler working with the same people who took, well lets call it “Get out the vote” money from Forby to make sure Fowler did not carry Alexander County.

    One last note– If they knew anything about developing new industry on the river at Cairo, they might first understand why all river industry there has always been on the other side of town, from Cairo to Mound City.

  13. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:29 pm:

    I’d like to know exactly what the Governor’s working on for Cairo.

    My guess is, other than the TA, nothing.

  14. - Keyser Soze - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:30 pm:

    Word…………I almost saw that coming.

  15. - Montrose - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:38 pm:

    While I do think folks downstate too often cite Chicago as the source of their woes, I do think that Cairo is literally the furthest thing from the minds of people in the Chicago metro area. They have no idea about the amount of poverty in the southern seven counties, let alone the dynamics at play. They assume that outside of Chicago, all rural communities are majority white. And the idea of actually going down to southern IL, let alone Cairo, to begin to understand the dynamics at play, is completely foreign. I think this WBEZ piece will open a lot of eyes. Whether it can lead to anything substantive and sustainable is another thing.

  16. - blue dog dem - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:40 pm:

    This is a tough one. I used to spend some time in Cairo. Great young adult memories. Not even a grocery store anymore. A port might work, but guess what, like casinos, everybody seems to have one. I am not sure Cairo can be ressurected.

  17. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:42 pm:

    Wordslinger I would guess a handful of jobs went to the people that live in Cairo but for the most part they are union jobs that were filled by people from a 60 mi or so radius. The big money has left the area by way of contractors that took the profits from the dam and left. I think Cairo has one small hardware store so with a multi billion dollar project that might have gotten enough business to keep the lights on.

  18. - SolutionJan - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 1:53 pm:

    Perhaps communities should look beyond government to solve problems. Below are two recent stories that show how 2 Mississippi towns are tackling their problems. Create and selfless.

  19. - IrishPirate - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 2:01 pm:

    Just read a review for a movie filmed in “Little Egypt”. Haven’t seen it yet. Backwoods Illinois Revenge.

  20. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 2:08 pm:

    What is particularly sad is that the town was in the midst of a multi-year economic development effort using Federal dollars funneled through the state. Sadly, Pat Quinn abandoned the town 1/2 way through the project despite making promises that it would continue. The article alludes to this and gets it partially right. But the demolition funding didn’t “dry up long ago.” In fact, it was working exactly as it was supposed to when PQ and DCEO pulled the plug.

    Governor Rauner has an opportunity to restore that funding and get the port project back on track. They had attracted a great deal of interest for the project, but that stopped when PQ pulled the plug. Hopefully that can be reversed and development and hope can return to this once great town.

  21. - SouthernDawg1 - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 2:38 pm:

    SOIL M– you left off the part about Rauner paying people in Alexander County not to vote. Funny how that never gets mentioned.

  22. - SOIL M - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 2:51 pm:

    SouthernDawg—- Well since I only spoke of what I know happened, and not rumors based on nothing but someones hot air I didnt see the point in mentioning it.

  23. - SouthernDawg1 - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 2:57 pm:

    SOIL M– Rumors? Great diversion. You must also believe that Brucie wears an $18 watch and drives a 1990 minivan.

  24. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 7:59 pm:

    Another excellent read (you’ll have to use the Google) on corruption in the Alexander County Housing Authority is in the Southern by the excellent Molly Parker. This story, iirc, actually brought in the Feds.

  25. - Collinsville Kevin - Tuesday, Mar 28, 17 @ 8:43 pm:

    They should have gotten everybody and their meager possessions out of Cairo and let it be flooded away when they had the chance. Instead, they blasted the levee and ruined well-cared for farm land.

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