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Friday, May 25, 2012

A rare visit to my hometown, Moline

Posted By on 05.25.12 at 07:57 AM

A bridge that has needed renovation for years
  • A bridge that has needed renovation for years
Around here, the New York Times isn't exactly noted for acumen or accuracy when it comes to the midwest. Still, I was surprised by a recent Sunday Times piece about freshman Republican congressman Bobby Schilling, a Tea Party-backed candidate now running for reelection in the longtime Democratic 17th District. The setting: a news conference regarding a Quad Cities "bridge that has needed renovation for years." But which bridge was that? There are several in this stretch of the border between Illinois and Iowa.

Back home in Moline this past weekend, I went over the bridge in question, the I-74 crossing the Mississippi to Davenport and Bettendorf. As the Times piece noted, Schilling's conservative support notwithstanding, he's worked with his Iowa-side counterpart, Democratic rep Dave Loebsack, to secure funding for its repair. Another chunk of cash came through earlier this month, when Governor Pat Quinn instructed the Illinois Department of Transportation to earmark $72 million in spending for the bridge over the next several years.

More interesting to me than the bridge itself was the story told by a map of Schilling's district. The 17th is a jerry-rigged passel running along the Mississippi from I-80 down to the Missouri border just north of Saint Louis. Its top half looks an upright crocodile whose spindly tail extends along the river into a formation shaped like a half-solved jigsaw puzzle (zoom in):


No wonder Schilling's the first Republican rep to hold the seat in almost 30 years! Those pincerlike arms in the bottom half of the district were strategically extended after the 2000 census to cover Springfield and Decatur; the gaps in the puzzle represent more-conservative rural areas.

Lane Evans, the liberal Democrat who represented the 17th from 1982 till 2007, commanded loyalty in part because of his services to constituents. Schilling—a likable, down-to-earth sort (and father of ten)—may be taking a page from that playbook. For more than 15 years he's owned Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza, purveyors of Quad Cities-style hand-tossed pies, offering specialties like the Meshuga Nut (sausage and cashews), the Pork-Out (sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and "real bacon," a friendly employee told me), and fajita pizza (chicken or beef) in addition to the area's beloved taco pizza. (His secret, he told the Times on an earlier occasion, is adding a little whole-wheat flour to the crust.) I'll check it out next time I'm in town, though I'll likely settle for the veggie.

On this visit my mom and I did a 5K walk for MS (the $895 she raised represented an "off year," she said) and called on family friends and neighbors. (Happy 90th, Mrs. Malthouse!) My mom played her new drum set for me, and dragged me off to church to hear her sing in the choir and play with her handbell group, the Heavenly Ringers. There, in the back of the balcony, I was shown another side of Congressman Schiller. Libby Dreier, a tenor in the choir, had assembled a scrapbook commemorating her father, Theodore Bruch, who enlisted in World War II at age 18, saw his first combat in the Battle of the Bulge, and served as part of the occupying forces in Germany. He'd never said anything about this to his family, she told me, leafing through the pages and shaking her head, but Bobby Schiller had organized a service in his honor. The late Pfc. Bruch is to be buried this summer on Arsenal Island, the cross-point of another Quad Cities bridge over the Mississippi, and with its public course, a fitting resting place for a decorated soldier turned avid golfer.

Site of a Confederate prison camp, too
  • Site of a Confederate prison camp, too

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