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Better links to Eau Claire's expanding south side discussed

EAU CLAIRE — A planned housing development on the far southeastern corner of Eau Claire has one City Council member asking what the city may build in the future as expansion continues in that area.

During Monday night’s public hearing on Wurzer Builders’ Timber Bluff Acres project, Councilman Jeremy Gragert wanted to know what the long-term plan is to improve transportation as Eau Claire city limits push southward.

“The more we develop in this area, the more it’s going to cost the city to provide transportation connections out there,” he said.

The proposed development is on the south side of Interstate 94, which Gragert sees as a barrier especially for bicyclists and pedestrians, but also motorists who don’t want to hop on a highway to get to businesses in Eau Claire.

He asked if the city has any plans for another connection between Old Town Hall Road and the Oakwood Mall area, other than using the I-94 interchanges with U.S. 53 and Highway 93.

Deputy city engineer Leah Ness replied that Eau Claire’s comprehensive plan does include a bridge over the interstate, but there’s no time frame for when the city would plan to build it.

She did offer ballpark estimates that a traffic bridge would cost between $2 million and $5 million, depending on how far the span would be and how much land would need to be bought for it. A smaller bridge just for pedestrians and bicyclists would cost $1.5 million to $2 million, she said.

There already is a recreational trail for pedestrians and bicyclists along Highway 93, but it’s a little over 1½ miles from the site where Wurzer Builders plans to build 328 dwellings in a mix of apartments, duplexes and twin homes.

That project named Timber Bluff Acres is headed for a vote of the City Council tonight for rezoning and site plan approval. Slated for 38.4 acres on the southwest corner of Old Town Hall Road and Graff Road, the housing development will include a mix of building types. One group of apartment buildings there will be designated as senior living for residents 60 years old and older.

Eau Claire’s long-range plans foresee medium- to high-density housing being built along that stretch of Old Town Hall Road, close to the Washington Town Hall.

“The density is a little over 8½ units per acre,” Sean Bohan, an engineer with Advanced Engineering Concepts, said of Timber Bluff Acres.

Part of the project’s team, Bohan noted the potential in the future for more housing on land to the south and southwest, but at lower density. He expects those parcels would be mostly for single-family homes and twin homes, as opposed to apartment buildings.

Susan Wolfgram, a local affordable housing advocate and city Plan Commission member, spoke in favor of the developer’s plans for Timber Bluff Acres during Monday night’s public hearing. She said there is a need for housing that is affordable to the majority of the city’s workforce, but Eau Claire is running out of room within its existing borders for those buildings.

“We simply don’t have enough vacant lots to meet the need,” she said.

Wolfgram added that the proposal for the new housing does fit the definition for “workforce housing,” but she would like to see the developer make a long-term commitment to keep rents affordable.

Eau Claire’s Plan Commission gave its blessing to the project in a 5-2 vote when it met on Aug. 17 to review the plans.

A couple of town of Washington residents spoke out against it then, according to minutes from that meeting. Michelle Zumwalt said the project would create light pollution and reduce wildlife habitat. Anthony and Kristi Herbenson contended it would increase traffic in the area.

Other business

• The City Council also held a public hearing Monday night on proposed changes to its 2018 ordinance that allowed residents to raise chickens in their backyards. No one spoke at the public hearing. The council will vote at its 4 p.m. meeting today on the ordinance change, which would modify the approval process for getting a chickenkeeping license.


UW-Eau Claire students float down the Chippewa River on Monday in Eau Claire. The high reached 88 degrees, according to AccuWeather, and more of the same is expected. Highs should range from 85 today and Thursday to 91 Wednesday, the forecasting service predicted. For more weather information, see Page 10B. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.


Politics
AP
Republicans paint dark picture of future if Trump loses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans predicted a national “horror movie” should President Donald Trump lose in November, flinging out dark warnings on Monday’s opening night of their scaled down national convention.

Trump’s campaign had promised to offer an inclusive and uplifting prime-time message, hoping to broaden his appeal beyond his hard-core base by featuring the next generation of party stars including two Republicans of color, Rep. Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Hayley, Yet any sense of optimism was largely overshadowed by most speakers’ dire warnings that Democrat Joe Biden would destroy America, allowing communities to be overrun by violence.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida likened the prospect of Democrat Joe Biden’s election to a horror movie.

“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz declared.

Trump, who was not scheduled to deliver his keynote convention address until later in the week, made multiple public appearances throughout the first day of the four-day convention. And while the evening programming was carefully scripted, Trump was not.

“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Trump told hundreds of Republican delegates gathered in North Carolina, raising anew his unsupported concerns about Americans’ expected reliance on mail voting during the pandemic. Experts say mail voting has proven remarkably secure.

The GOP convention marks a crucial moment for Trump, a first-term Republican president tasked with reshaping a campaign he is losing by all accounts, at least for now.

A deep sense of pessimism has settled over the electorate 10 weeks before Election Day. Just 23% of Americans think the country is heading in the right direction, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

More than 177,000 Americans have been killed by the pandemic and millions more have been infected.

Coronavirus-related job losses also reach into the millions

Trump and his supporters on Monday night touted his response to the pandemic while standing alongside front-line workers in the White House, although he glossed over the mounting death toll, the most in the world, and his administration’s struggle to control the disease.

Organizers also repeatedly sought to cast Trump as an empathetic figure, borrowing a page from the Democrats’ convention playbook a week ago that effectively highlighted Biden’s personal connection to voters.

The evening program highlighted the tension within Trump’s Republican Party. His harsh attacks against Democrats who are trying to expand mail voting and demonstrators protesting deaths in police custody, for example, often delight his die-hard loyalists. Yet the party pointed to a somewhat more diverse convention lineup with a more inclusive message designed to expand Trump’s political coalition beyond his white, working-class base.

Two of the three final speakers on the prime-time program were people of color: former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate.

And one of several African Americans on the schedule, former football star Herschel Walker, defended the president against those who call him a racist.

“It hurts my soul to hear the terrible names that people call Donald,” Walker said. “The worst one is ‘racist.’ I take it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”

Polling shows that Black Americans continue to be overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of the president’s performance, with his approval hovering around 1 in 10 over the course of his presidency, according to Gallup polling.

The program also featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple arrested after pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home.

“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens,” the McCloskeys said in remarks that broke from the optimistic vision for America organizers promised.

They added: “Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

Those cheering Trump’s leadership on the pandemic included a coronavirus patient, a small business owner from Montana and a nurse practitioner from Virginia.

“As a health care professional, I can tell you without hesitation, Donald Trump’s quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during COVID-19,” Amy Ford, a registered nurse who was deployed to New York and Texas to fight the coronavirus.

Some of the planned remarks for the evening program were prerecorded, while others were to be delivered live from a Washington auditorium.

The fact that the Republicans gathered at all stood in contrast to the Democrats, who held an all-virtual convention last week. The Democratic programming included a well-received roll call video montage featuring diverse officials from across the nation. The Republicans spoke from the ballroom in Charlotte and were overwhelmingly white.

Trump said he had made the trip to North Carolina to contrast himself with his Democratic rival, who never traveled to Wisconsin, the state where the Democratic convention was originally supposed to be held. Vice President Mike Pence appeared with him.

The president has sought to minimize the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and he barely addressed it on Monday, but its impact was plainly evident at the Charlotte Convention Center, where just 336 delegates gathered instead of the thousands once expected to converge on this city for a week-long extravaganza. Attendees sat at well-spaced tables at first and masks were mandatory, though many were seen flouting the regulation.

Trump also panned the state’s Democratic governor for restrictions put in place to try to prevent the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 175,000 people in the country and infected millions. The president accused Gov. Roy Cooper of “being in a total shutdown mode,” and claimed the restrictions were aimed at trying to hurt his campaign.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said she had “shared concern about the lack of mask wearing and social distancing in the room” with RNC staff and had “been assured that they are working hard to address these issues.”

Republicans will spend the week trying to convince the American people that the president deserves a second term. Aides want the convention to recast the story of Trump’s presidency and present the election as a choice between his vision for America’s future and the one presented by Biden.

“Over the next four days, President Trump and Republicans are going to talk about all we have achieved the past four years, and cast an aspirational, forward-looking vision about what we can achieve in the next four,” said GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel.

Democrats were content to let Trump’s unfiltered message drive the day.

While he campaigned aggressively across the country throughout last week’s Democratic convention, Biden made no public appearance on Monday.


National
AP
National Guard called out after police shoot Black man

KENOSHA (AP) — Wisconsin’s governor summoned the National Guard for fear of another round of violent protests Monday after the police shooting of a Black man turned Kenosha into the nation’s latest flash point city in a summer of racial unrest.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said 125 members of the National Guard would be in Kenosha by night with responsibility for “guarding infrastructure and making sure our firefighters and others involved are protected.” County authorities also announced an 8 p.m. curfew.

Dozens converged on the county courthouse early Monday evening, chanting, “No justice, no peace” minutes before the curfew was to go into effect. Some of those in attendance confronted members of law enforcement who wore protective gear and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the courthouse entrance.

They shouted at the officers, and one woman walked by blowing smoke in their faces.

The latest confrontation came after protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and clashed with officers in riot gear Sunday night over the wounding of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was hospitalized in serious condition. In a widely seen cellphone video made by an onlooker, Blake was shot, apparently in the back, as he leaned into his SUV while his three children sat in the vehicle.

Tensions flared anew earlier Monday after a news conference with Kenosha Mayor John Antarmian, originally to be held in a park, was moved inside the city’s public safety building. Hundreds of protesters rushed to the building and a door was snapped off its hinges before police in riot gear pepper-sprayed the crowd, which included a photographer from The Associated Press.

Police in the former auto manufacturing center of 100,000 people midway between Milwaukee and Chicago said they were responding to a call about a domestic dispute. They did not say whether Blake was armed or why police opened fire, they released no details on the domestic dispute, and they did not immediately disclose the race of the three officers at the scene.

The man who claimed to have made the video, 22-year-old Raysean White, said that he saw Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before the gunfire erupted. He said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.

Evers said that he has seen no information to suggest Blake had a knife or other weapon, but that the case is still being investigated by the state Justice Department.

The officers were placed on administrative leave, standard practice in a shooting by police. Authorities released no details about the officers or their service records.

Condemnation

Evers was quick to condemn the bloodshed, saying that while not all details were known, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called for “an immediate, full and transparent investigation” and said the officers “must be held accountable.”

“This morning, the nation wakes up yet again with grief and outrage that yet another Black American is a victim of excessive force,” he said, just over two months before Election Day in a country already roiled by the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. “Those shots pierce the soul of our nation.”

Republicans and the police union accused the politicians of rushing to judgment, reflecting the deep partisan divide in Wisconsin, a key presidential battleground state. Wisconsin GOP members also decried the violent protests, echoing the law-and-order theme that President Donald Trump has been using in his reelection campaign.

“As always, the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident,” Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha police union, said in a statement. He called the governor’s statement “wholly irresponsible.”

Incident on video

The shooting happened around 5 p.m. Sunday and was captured from across the street on video that was posted online. Kenosha police do not have body cameras but do have body microphones.

In the footage, Blake walks from the sidewalk around the front of his SUV to his driver-side door as officers follow him with their guns pointed and shout at him. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, an officer grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire while Blake has his back turned.

Seven shots can be heard, though it isn’t clear how many struck Blake or how many officers fired. During the shooting, a Black woman can be seen screaming in the street and jumping up and down.

White, who claimed to have made the video, said that before the gunfire, he looked out his window and saw six or seven women shouting at each other on the sidewalk. A few moments later, Blake drove up in his SUV and told his son, who was standing nearby, to get in the vehicle, according to White. White said Blake did not say anything to the women.

White said he left the window for a few minutes, and when he came back, saw three officers wrestling with Blake. One punched Blake in the ribs, and another used a stun gun on him, White said. He said Blake got free and started walking away as officers yelled about a knife.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Blake’s family, said Blake was “simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident.”

Police did not immediately confirm either man’s account.

Kids in car

Blake’s partner, Laquisha Booker, told NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WTMJ-TV, that the couple’s three children were in the back seat of the SUV when police shot him.

“That man just literally grabbed him by his shirt and looked the other way and was just shooting him. With the kids in the back screaming. Screaming,” Booker said.

Blake’s grandfather, Jacob Blake Sr., was a prominent minister and civil rights leader in the Chicago area who helped organize a march and spoke in support of a comprehensive housing law in Evanston, Illinois, days after the 1968 slaying of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rachel Noerdlinger, publicist for the National Action Network, told The Associated Press that the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke Monday to Blake’s father, who called the civil rights leader for his support. Blake’s father will speak at Sharpton’s March on Washington commemoration on Friday, Noerdlinger said.

Karissa Lewis, national field director of Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 Black-led organizations that make up the broader Black Lives Matter movement, said the shooting was yet another example of why activists have called for defunding police departments.

“There’s no amount of training or reform that can teach a police officer that it’s wrong to shoot a Black man in the back seven times while his children watch,” Lewis said in a statement first shared with the AP.

Online court records indicate Kenosha County prosecutors charged Blake on July 6 with sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct in connection with domestic abuse. An arrest warrant was issued the following day. The records contain no further details and do not list an attorney for Blake.

It was unclear whether that case had anything to do with the shooting.

In the unrest that followed Blake’s shooting, social media posts showed neighbors gathering in the streets and shouting at police. Others appeared to throw objects at officers and damage police vehicles. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

In a scene that mirrored the widespread protests in recent months over police brutality and racial inequality, marchers headed to the Kenosha County Public Safety Building, which houses the police and sheriff’s departments. Authorities mostly blocked off the building, which officials said was closed on Monday because of damage.

Crump, who has also represented the Floyd and Taylor families, said that Blake’s family asked that the demonstrations remain peaceful.

“They don’t believe violence to be the solution,” he said.

For more than 100 years, Kenosha was an auto manufacturing center, but it has now largely been transformed into a bedroom community for Milwaukee and Chicago. The city is about 67% white, 11.5% Black and 17.6% Hispanic, according to 2019 Census data. Both the mayor and police chief are white. About 17% of the population lives in poverty.