This "put down Merle Widmer" effort by the Peoria Journal Star started to my knowledge back in the late 1990's when I studied and saw tthe folly of building a then $500 million new highway from Peoria to Chicago. I wrote many a blog on why this highway didn't make sense. The need for the highway was even refuted in print by Dale Risinger, our IDOT District Manager, who would later be elected to the House of Representatives in Springfield. At the time this potential boondoggle died for lack of funding it's projected cost had reached $800 million and additional costs were rising monthly.
The Journal was a strong advocate for this highway as were most prominent "movers and shakers" in the area. (some eventually dropped their support) but the Journal, always setting their attacks on the weakest, attacked me regularly for my opposition, even ending some negative editorials with the byline 'Widmer also does not support the highway to Chicago'.
When I ran for election Peoria Public School Board District #150 in 1994 (there were 6 candidates for one board seat) the Journal attacked me by saying I did not understand public budgets despite the fact that I had in 1992 sold my company for $2 1/4 million, the most money ever paid for a local office equipment company based in Peoria. (I started the company in 1964 with a secretary and a serviceman) They touted and helped elect a woman whose major experience was in 3rd grade education. Those of you concerned about District #150 downward slide over the years may note that this slide gained acceleration in the mid nineties.
In 2000, when I was encouraged by outsider Republicans to run for the Peoria County Board against 9 year Republican incumbent Zan Ransberg, the Journal pulled out all the stops on attacking me. They even ran an Editorial attacking me and supporting Ransburg TWICE as they explained, they may have overlooked some readers. They asked why I would want to oust someone doing such an outstanding job a Ransburg. They suggested I run for the Peoria Park Board instead. (When I ran for office on the Park Board, they thoroughly condemned me) I defeated Ransburg, who was in line to be the next County Board Chairman, by 27% points. I became one of 18 board members of a nearly defunct board who had to borrow $1 1/2 million to meet payrolls 6 months later. The attacks came so virulent that when with the help of my prime supporter, we uncovered facts about Ransburg's shortcomings, Editorial Page manager Mike Bailey made me produce documentation to support all my allegations. (When I was attacked by a supplier to the Park Board who said I raised taxes 25%, a blatant lie, Bailey said he didn't have time to check out the validity of all who commented on the opinion page. yet I was forced by Bailey to validify my comment) To the JS's chagrin, I ran for Peoria County Board positions 7 times and won 7 times without the support of the Journal and without the support of many leaders of my own party. (To spite them, I spent no money on my last campaign nor put up any yard signs and still won) I served 3 full terms on the board and announced early that I would retire after completion of my third term. My retirement was given minor coverage by the Journal in the same article with congratulations to a 6-month term Democrat who was not re-elected to an appointed position.
During my Campaign to unseat Ransburg, there appeared to be some type of a "love affair' going on between Barbara Manz Drake and Zan Ransburg. And Mike Bailey had the gall to write a column asking 'who was going to be watching Merle Widmer'. Mike, who couldn't make a living in the private sector!
As I announced my opposition to excessive expenditures by Peoria County taxpayers like taking up the expense of State owned property for which we had no use, to the opposition to the County's ownership of the bound to fail Peoria Riverfront Museum; this museum strongly supported by the JS, my strong opposition to the Journals' strong support for taxpayer dollars support for the doomed from the beginning, FireFly, my opposition to the Rec/Plex, later renamed the RiverPlex, a money loser since day one for all parties concerned and a drain on the taxpaying private sector and other tax saving positions that during my three terms, allowed Peoria County to have the highest dollar surplus in decades.
During the negotiations with Lakeview Museum and the County, I was the only board member who ever raised the question "show me the money" yet my monthly or more protests never once appeared in the Journal. The Journal's editorial board even refuted me by saying the all money had all been raised by year 2010 when even to this day the new museum (PRM) has yet to raise the money promised to the taxpayers.
There was a remark made by a county publicist that appeared in the JS as to how people like me would know about whether of not the museum would succeed than the museum 'experts'.
Hm. Wasn't Richerson forced to resign and "whatever happened to Kathleen Woith"??
The latest attack was the most virulent attack that could ever be made on Peorian who had done so much for his community. When my wife who was confined to nine weeks in the hospital and a nursing home for illness brought on by her unwillingness to seek proper treatment for ailments including severe alcoholism. with my house unoccupied, I invited a woman performer from a legal entertainment club to my home to discuss the possibility of her becoming a companion to a wealthy friend who was looking for female companionship as he did his globed-trotting. This woman was recommended by another of my "friends" who had more knowledge of her and was the man that occasionally invited me to attend lunch with him and another friend at the Club Caberet in East Peoria.
The performer arrived with a 49 year aunt and a 22 year old sister. After showing them. the living room, the dining room, kitchen, kitchenette and den, my tennis trophy's, pictures, etc., the four of us sat outside and chatted under a shade tree adjacent the pool and backyard. The 22 year old said she was a student in Miami and we talked about Florida where I spend my winters. When the performer said she wanted now to talk to me personally, she and I went into the den and talked for about 5 minutes about meeting this man and her availability to travel. No sexual activity occurred other than she kissed me once and touched me once as the police report so states. She then said she had to take the other women home and would return. The time was around 5 P.M. (She did not return)
About three days after my wife returned from the nursing home she opened the file in the office where she kept her jewelry. She noted that 2 pieces of jewelry were missing and accusations and searches began. After several days, I became convinced that the jewelry had been taken by someone and called the police. Two policeman arrived and took a detailed statement from me. About three days later the Peoria Journal Star slandered me by saying the "jewelry was taken from an UPSTAIRS cabinet". We live in a ranch house and their is NO UPSTAIRS. The police report clearly states that the jewelry was taken from the office but the Journal Star, wanting to make the situation really make me look bad insinuated "upstairs" is where the bedrooms are located. The police report clearly states that the bedrooms and office are in the back of of the house yet that did not satisfy the lying JS reporter, Matt Buedell. Buedell, making further attempts to ridicule me, stated I 'stepped down' from the County Board. Stepped down means 'resigned' which all records show I did not do.
Who took the jewelry will never be known as little action was taken by Peoria Detective Roger Martin. The jewelry was not insured except through my homeowner policy. I reported the theft as I believed was my citizen duty. That the Journal Star would even send this slanderous report to the Associated Press to show how Republicans are so immoral and Democrats (100% of the management of the JS and most of the reporters are Democrats), are so moral, is further indication of the the power of the liberal far left media.
I have not named the prominent Peorian who was an occasional visitor to the Club Cabaret and first introduced me to the Club over lunch nor the wealthy also prominent Peorian who asked me to help him find a girlfriend who was free to be his travelling companion. They will never be revealed by me. That I was a frequent visitor to this club are words put in my mouth be the police interviewer. Until this story appeared, no one in Club Caberet management had seen me enough to even know my name. I might add, on my infrequent visits, I did see some prominent people including some from Caterpillar and out of town Caterpillar visitors altho I hear that out of towners' attending conventions visitors go to Big Al's, to which the City of Peoria contributed in the neighborhood of $11 million to make way for the new hotel.