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Cedar Rapids Salvation Army volunteers deployed to flood region

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Salvation Army has deployed a team of Cedar Rapids-based volunteers to assist in flood recovery efforts in Nebraska.

Other state agencies including the Red Cross also are responding to major flooding in Western Iowa and in nearby states as warnings from the National Weather Service indicate the water could continue to rise into Tuesday.

Historic flooding already has displaced hundreds of individuals from their homes as rivers and creeks overflow their banks and into communities in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska over the weekend.

The rising water levels follow an intense winter storm weather experts are calling a “bomb cyclone.”

Service agencies are focusing new efforts to the south, where levees along the Missouri River have failed and have resulted in flooding Fremont County and other areas.

Four members of the emergency disaster services team from the Cedar Rapids Salvation Army departed for Omaha, Neb., Monday afternoon with food, water and cleanup kits to distribute. They will be in the area helping with recovery efforts for 10 days.

Shalla Ashworth, director of development and communications for Cedar Rapids Salvation Army, said the team was deployed by the organization’s divisional headquarters in Peoria, Ill.

A semi-truck also was on its way to Omaha, which volunteers loaded up Monday with similar supplies to be handed out to affected individuals.

In some cases, the homes of those they may be assisting have not been touched by the floodwater, but are unreachable due to flooded roads, Ashworth said.

American Red Cross volunteers also are expecting a similar scenario in Iowa. The organization has deployed volunteers to manage shelters across the state, but the largest influx has been in the shelter in Sidney in Fremont County, said Caslon Hatch, regional communications officer for the Iowa region of the Red Cross.

“We’re expecting more people because the roads are flooding in a lot of these areas,” Hatch said, “so we’re expecting people will have nowhere to stay.”

Eighteen people used shelter services in Sidney Sunday night, she said. Volunteers at the shelter were anticipating more for Monday night.

Many clients of the Red Cross shelter are “upset and depressed,” said Vic Parker, a Red Cross volunteer from Delaware sent to Iowa to manage the Sidney shelter. She said some individuals staying there have as much as 10 feet of water in their homes.

Parker said she tries to tell clients visiting shelters that, eventually, everything will be OK.

“I try to reassure them that it will get back to normal — it may not be tomorrow, but everything will get back to normal,” she said.

Hatch said they recently closed a shelter in Woodbury County, where residents of communities that include Hornick were allowed back into their homes Sunday to assess damage, according to the Sioux City Journal.

In Cedar Rapids, estimates suggested the Cedar River was expected to crest at about 18 feet Monday night. Updated road closures can be found at https://bit.ly/2HC5nD4.

For more information on efforts by the Cedar Rapids Salvation Army, visit centralusa.salvationarmy.org/cedarrapids. Information on the Red Cross can be found at redcross.org/local/iowa.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Cedar Rapids police seek women shown stealing hundreds of dollars in baby food

The Cedar Rapids Police Department is asking for assistance from the public in identifying two female suspects from a theft from the Oakland Road Hy-Vee in early March.

In a post on the department’s Facebook page, police say the two suspects were captured on surveillance footage from the Hy-Vee at 235 Oakland Rd NE, taking over $800 worth of baby food from the store before leaving in “possibly a dark colored smaller SUV.”

The Cedar Rapids Police Department is asking for citizens who can identify the individuals in the surveillance photographs to call the Cedar Rapids Police Department at (319) 286-5409 or Linn County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-CS-CRIME (272-7463) or text CRIMES (274637) and in the message/subject, type 5227 and your tip.

If you text in information you can continue to trade information with an investigator and text STOP to opt out at any time. The police ask that responders reference the March 3 Hy-Vee theft.

Marion man convicted of sexually assaulting 15-year-old girl

CEDAR RAPIDS — A 20-year-old Marion man was convicted last week of sexually assaulting an intoxicated 15-year-old girl and then videotaping the sex acts and sharing them on social media.

Christian Sousley was found guilty of second-degree sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of a minor late Friday by a Linn County jury following a four-day trial. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

Trial testimony shows Sousley, along with two teen boys, sexually abused the girl on April 30, 2017, at a home in Marion. Sousley also videotaped the sex acts and shared the graphic video on Snapchat, a multimedia messaging app. The prosecution played the video for the jurors during the trial.

The girl, now 16, testified at trial that she drank a half bottle of vodka and didn’t remember having sex with Sousley or the others. After drinking the liquor while driving around with Sousley and other friends, she remembered “going in and out of it” — blacking out at times at the Marion home. She didn’t feel coherent, she said.

The girl said she didn’t want to have sex and didn’t consent. She remembered waking up to Sousley on top of her.

She didn’t realize she had been sexually assaulted until she started receiving texts through Snapchat from Sousley, she testified.

Photos of screenshots of the text messages were shown to the jury.

Sousley, in the messages, said they were all drunk and admitted to having sex with her.

A video recording made by Sousley on his cellphone also was played for the jurors, along with recorded phone calls Sousley made from jail in which he admitted to sex acts with the girl and knowing she was 15 years old and intoxicated at the time.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Rena Schulte said a nurse testified at trial that the girl was treated for acute alcohol intoxication.

During the trial, Sousley testified that the sex was consensual and claimed he wasn’t in the video. He denied being in the room, and said one of two teen boys hacked into his Snapchat account, recorded it and shared it on the app.

Both teen boys testified at trial and admitted they all three sexually abused the girl.

Jaymz Plummer, now 19, of Marion was convicted of third-degree sexual abuse. He received a deferred sentenced and three years probation.

The other teen boy was adjudicated in Juvenile Court for his part in the sexual assault and sentenced to probation.

An investigation started after the video was seen by a high school student in Des Moines who reported it to a school resource officer, according to testimony.

Schulte said it’s been difficult to get a guilty verdict in recent sex abuse cases, so she was happy the jurors considered all the evidence and “won’t tolerate this behavior in their community.”

Assistant Linn County Attorney Jennifer Erger agreed, saying she hopes it will encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward. She pointed out that when underage drinking or drugs are involved, a victim or witness might be reluctant because they fear nobody will believe them or that they will get in trouble.

This case also highlights how social media can be part of the crime if used in an irresponsible and destructive way, and if someone sees a crime or someone being harmed, they should speak up, Erger added.

Sousley’s sentencing date hasn’t been set.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

U.S. Supreme Court to examine whether unanimous juries are required for criminal convictions

The Supreme Court on Monday accepted two important criminal justice cases for next term but turned down a Georgia death-row inmate who said a juror in his case used racist language and a bed-and-breakfast owner who declined to offer a room to a lesbian couple.

As they began shaping their docket for the term that starts in October, the justices accepted a case from Louisiana that asks whether the Constitution requires unanimous jury verdicts for serious criminal convictions.

Louisiana and Oregon do not require unanimity for major crimes, and attorneys representing defendants convicted in those states for years have urged the Supreme Court to revisit the question.

In rulings in 1972, the court said the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which recognizes the right to a “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury,” does not mean states must require a unanimous jury. At the same time, the court has required unanimity in federal trials.

The question is similar to one the court faced earlier this term, when it ruled the Eighth Amendment ban on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, not just the federal government.

The Louisiana case was brought by Evangelisto Ramos, convicted of second-degree murder in 2016 on a 10-to-2 jury vote and sentenced to life in prison. His attorneys said Louisiana’s law was a Jim Crow attempt to diminish the impact of African Americans serving on juries.

The state’s voters in 2018 passed a referendum requiring unanimous verdicts in felony trials. But it was prospective to 2019 and would not affect Ramos.

Louisiana opposed Ramos’s request. “Thousands of final convictions in these two states could be upset if such a new rule were later declared retroactive,” wrote the state’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, a Republican.

The case is Ramos v. Louisiana.

In Kahler v. Kansas, attorneys for James Kraig Kahler ask the court to decide whether a state may abolish the insanity defense. Kahler was convicted and sentenced to death for killing his wife, Karen, his daughters Lauren and Emily, and Karen’s grandmother in 2009.

Kahler’s attorneys argued he was so mentally ill he did not understand his actions.

But, “in Kansas, along with four other states, it is not a defense to criminal liability that mental illness prevented the defendant from knowing his actions were wrong,” Washington lawyer Jeffrey Green told the Supreme Court.

“So long as he knowingly killed a human being - even if he did it because he believed the devil told him to, or because a delusion convinced him that his victim was trying to kill him, or because he lacked the ability to control his actions - he is guilty,” Green said.

Green said the other states are Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

The court also turned down a petition from Keith Tharpe, who is on Georgia’s death row. Tharpe was convicted in 1991 of killing his sister-in-law and raping his estranged wife.

Seven years later, he discovered that a juror in the case harbored racist sentiments. The juror, Barney Gattie, believed there are “two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. N------,” according to an affidavit.

The court did not provide an explanation for turning down Tharpe’s petition. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote separately to say his plea turned not on the juror’s remarks but rather on procedural grounds that it appeared a lower court got right.

“As this may be the end of the road for Tharpe’s juror-bias claim, however, we should not look away from the magnitude of the potential injustice that procedural barriers are shielding from judicial review,” Sotomayor wrote.

The court also turned away without comment a petition from the owner of a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast who turned away a lesbian couple. Phyllis Young said her Christian beliefs required her to refuse to rent a room in 2007 to a same-sex couple.

A state court said Hawaii’s public-accommodation law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court is still considering a petition from an Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Last term, the court ruled for a Colorado baker who made a similar rejection. But the court found alternative grounds for that ruling and did not address the question of whether business owners can claim religious exemptions from public-accommodations laws.

As Venezuela crisis deepens, United States sharpens focus on rebel threat nearby in Colombia

WASHINGTON — As the United States makes its biggest diplomatic push in Latin America in years to try to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the U.S. military is zeroing in on a byproduct of the crisis: a strengthening of Colombian rebels on both sides of Venezuela’s border.

U.S. Admiral Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command that oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, told Reuters the United States had sharpened its focus on the rebels and increased its sharing of intelligence with Colombian officials.

U.S. officials see a growing threat from both Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that refuse to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement to end five decades of civil war.

The United States believes the rebels are taking advantage of Venezuela’s crisis to expand their reach in that country and the scope of long-standing illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

“Our principal role working with our Colombian partners is to assist in intelligence sharing. What we know, we share,” Faller said. Asked whether the intelligence sharing on the rebels had ramped up as Venezuela’s crisis deepened, Faller responded: “Absolutely.”

The risks from the insurgents on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border add another layer of complexity to the crisis in Venezuela, where U.S. President Donald Trump says all options are on the table to remove Maduro from office.

U.S. officials have uniformly emphasized diplomatic and economic tools to accelerate Maduro’s departure, like sanctions, but Faller acknowledged the U.S. military stood ready to provide options if needed.

At the same time, he noted that no U.S. allies in the region were seeking a military solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

“My job is to be ready, be on the balls of my feet, at all times. But we’ve been talking to our partners and no one, no one, thinks that a military option is a good idea,” Faller said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido says the May 2018 vote in which Maduro won a second term was a sham and he invoked a constitutional provision on Jan. 23 to assume the interim presidency. Most Western nations including the United States have backed Guaido as head of state.

Maduro, a socialist who has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup, retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

Jeremy McDermott, a Colombia-based expert on the insurgencies and co-founder of the Insight Crime think tank, said he believed the Colombian insurgents were operating in Venezuela with at least the blessing of Maduro.

The rebels’ aim is to exploit Venezuela’s lawlessness for safe haven and for economic gain, he said. But he noted there could be an added benefit for Maduro.

“If the Americans invade, or if Colombia promotes a military intervention, then they (Maduro’s supporters) would be able to call upon an insurgent force with more than 50 years of combat experience,” McDermott said.

Asked whether the United States had any evidence of communications between Maduro and the guerrilla groups, Faller said: “I’d rather not discuss the details of the exact connections but we’re watching it very closely.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry and ELN contacts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, former Vice President Francisco Santos, said ELN and FARC factions had long been present in Venezuela but had grown stronger and more integrated into the country as a result of Venezuela’s crisis.

“They have become the paramilitary groups of the Maduro administration,” Santos told Reuters.

ELN EXPANSION

A Cuba-inspired Marxist insurgency formed in 1964, the ELN claimed responsibility for a January car bomb attack against a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 cadets. It was an escalation by insurgents who have kidnapped Colombian security forces, attacked police stations and bombed oil pipelines.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the ELN is increasingly using Venezuelan territory to carry out narco-trafficking and illegal mining of minerals like gold and coltan.

The Venezuelan security forces were believed to be getting kickbacks from the guerrillas, they said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. collection of intelligence on the guerrilla groups had increased in recent weeks, including looking at the militants’ activities on the Venezuelan side of the border with Colombia.

Several U.S. officials said they believed senior leaders of both the ELN and the so-called FARC dissidents who do not adhere to the peace agreement were now located inside of Venezuela.

“Their leadership is there,” a second U.S. official said, who also declined to be named, without providing evidence.

An International Crisis Group report cited estimates that the ELN had been active in a minimum of 13 of Venezuela’s 24 states, “absorbing new recruits and shifting from a guerrilla force that embraced armed resistance against Colombia’s ruling elites to one with many core operations in Venezuela.”

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela also regularly denounce growing ELN activities in Venezuela, but Reuters has been unable to independently verify the extent of its presence or its operations.

Faller declined to discuss any specifics about the collection of U.S. intelligence or identify which insurgent leaders were in Venezuela.

But he acknowledged the trend and added that the flow of illegal narcotics “from Colombia into Venezuela, and then from Venezuela out in the region, has risen as the misery of the Venezuelan people has risen.”

“It’s essentially a lawless region now inside Venezuela along the border and the FARC dissidents and the ELN have taken advantage of that,” Faller said, adding: “They operate with impunity inside Venezuela.”

Santos said the big concern for Colombia was that the strengthening rebel forces would upend efforts to crack down on narcotics trafficking.

“That’s a big worry because in this situation of chaos, obviously they are going to grow. They are growing,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

Death toll in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai, floods could surpass 1,000 casualties

MAPUTO — The number of people killed in a powerful storm and preceding floods in Mozambique could exceed 1,000, the president said on Monday, putting the potential death toll greatly more than current figures.

Eighty-four deaths have been confirmed so far in Mozambique as a result of Cyclone Idai, which has also left a trail of death and destruction across Zimbabwe and Malawi, with vast areas of land flooded, roads destroyed and communication wiped out.

Speaking on Radio Mocambique, President Filipe Nyusi said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water.

“Everything indicates that we can register more than 1,000 deaths,” he said.

The cyclone has also killed 98 people and more than 200 are missing in Zimbabwe, the government said on Monday, while the death toll in Malawi from heavy rains and flooding stood at 56 as of last week. No new numbers had been released following the cyclone’s arrival in the country.

Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official who is in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas, which remained completely cut off by road and where houses were not as sturdy.

Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.

RESCUE EFFORT

In Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city and home to 500,000 people, a large dam had burst, further complicating rescue efforts.

Large swathes of land were completely submerged, and in some streets people waded through knee-high water around piles of mangled metal and other debris.

In the early hours of Monday morning, rescuers launched dinghies onto chest-high waters, navigating through reeds and trees - where some people perched on branches to escape the water - to rescue those trapped by the flooding.

Meanwhile, rescuers were struggling to reach people in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district, cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 kph that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

Zimbabwe’s treasury has released $18 million to rebuild roads and bridges, provide water and sanitation and electricity. Families began burying the dead but the death toll is expected to rise.

Many people had been sleeping in the mountains since Friday, after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains.

The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops.

SOUTHEASTERN AFRICA GATEWAY

Beira, which sits at the mouth of the Pungwe River, is also home to Mozambique’s second-largest port, serving as gateway for imports to landlocked countries in southeast Africa.

The director of a company that jointly manages the port, Cornelder, based in the Netherlands, said the port had been closed since last Wednesday but would hopefully resume operations on Tuesday.

Two cranes would be working and the company had two large generators and enough fuel for now, though damage to access routes and roads further inland was more likely to cause a problem, said the director, who asked not to be named.

The fuel pipeline running from Beira to Zimbabwe was believed to be intact, the person said, though communication was still very patchy and therefore the situation at the port remained uncertain.

In February 2000, Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades. It killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa, also hitting Zimbabwe.

(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Zimbabwe and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Kansas City company to buy Iowa Premium

A sale expected to close in the second quarter of this year will transfer ownership of Iowa Premium, a Black Angus beef processing plant, to National Beef Packing of Kansas City, Mo.

Iowa Premium employs 800 people processing about 1,100 head of Black Angus cattle per day. The company markets beef products worldwide under several proprietary brands, including Iowa Premium Angus and Est. 8 Angus.

National Beef said in a news release it will own 100 percent of Iowa Premium when the transaction is finalized.

The sale is subject to customary conditions.

“I am excited to expand our beef operations with a processing facility in Iowa,” Tim Klein, president and CEO of National Beef, said in the release.

“We look forward to strengthening Iowa Premium’s relationships with the family farmers who produce the highest quality Black Angus cattle in the United States.”

Built in 1971, the 260,000-square-foot plant at 3337 L Ave. in Tama operates at less than half of its 3,000-head-per-day capacity. It was renovated in 2014 for $48.6 million, with the state providing $4 million in tax credits.

The renovation included a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system and an animal handling facility designed by animal science professor and livestock industry consultant Temple Grandin.

Start up began in fall 2014 with a handful of employees. Over the past five years, the workforce was expanded and cattle has been purchased from more than 1,400 Iowa farm families.

Iowa Premium’s domestic customer base has grown to include nearly every region of the country. The company also is a certified and approved exporter of Black Angus beef to more than 50 countries.

National Beef, with more than 8,400 employees, has operations in Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The privately owned company generated sales of $7.5 billion in fiscal year 2018.

Chicago’s new mayor will be a black woman. Can she bridge the city’s divides?

CHICAGO — Sipping craft beer at an indie bar on this city’s affluent North Side, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addressed a mostly white crowd in designer fleece and heavy-soled boots, the liberal voters who had propelled her to the top of a crowded mayoral primary last month with 17 percent of the vote.

Lightfoot emphasized her “progressive” credentials: Her commitment to combating climate change. Her vow to end police violence. Her potential to be not only the first African-American woman to lead the nation’s third-largest city, but also its first openly gay mayor.

No matter who wins the April 2 runoff, Chicago will make history: Lightfoot’s opponent, Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, is also a black woman. But neither candidate won a majority of the city’s black vote. While Chicago has a long history of pioneering black political leaders, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to President Barack Obama, their successes have not translated into improved conditions in the city’s worst neighborhoods, leaving black voters here skeptical.

White liberals have flocked to Lightfoot, 56, who casts herself as an outsider and candidate of change, but her background as a federal prosecutor worries many black voters. Preckwinkle, 71, also touts herself as a reformer who has pushed for stricter rent control laws and a reduction in the county jail population. But some black residents blame her for facilitating a wave of gentrification that has pushed working-class residents out of Chicago’s South Side.

“People still aren’t any closer to figuring out who the next mayor should be,” said Jawanza Malone, director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization on Chicago’s South Side. “It’s great that they’re trying to ‘out-progressive’ each other now, but Toni Preckwinkle has a checkered past with this community, and so does Lori Lightfoot.”

That tension became clear during the Feb. 26 mayoral primary, when Democratic voters rejected decades of control by the city’s political machine and by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat who abruptly decided not to seek reelection in September amid fallout from a policing scandal.

“This is the first time in generations there wasn’t a dominant candidate, which demonstrates that the Chicago Machine has broken down over time. Now it’s just a bunch of rusty spare parts,” said David Axelrod, a former Obama adviser and a veteran of Chicago political campaigns. “That alone is a harbinger of change in Chicago.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle emerged from a crowded field, riding a national wave of support for racially diverse female candidates that swept the country during the 2018 midterms.

But as a former prosecutor, Lightfoot has faced questions about whether she may be too cozy with police. At the bar earlier this month, she also was asked whether Preckwinkle is fair to suggest that her background as a corporate attorney leaves Lightfoot out of touch with regular Chicagoans.

“I’m a kid who grew up in a low-income family, who struggled hard every day and, frankly, saw firsthand how racial discrimination can tear apart individuals’ families and communities,” Lightfoot told the crowd. She noted that a relative was killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and that her brother spent years in and out of jail and prison.

In a contest where violent crime and police reform loom large — and the incoming mayor will have to deal with mandated reform of the Chicago Police Department — Lightfoot has also had to account for her time serving as president of the Chicago Police Board, an independent body that oversees disciplinary cases. Activists have been critical of her tenure, saying too many officers avoided punishment.

“When I saw Lori Lightfoot running this campaign on a progressive platform and talking about police reform, I was honestly shocked,” said activist Trina Reynolds-Tyler, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago. “She was a huge part of enabling police officers to be immune to accountability ... We need a mayor who will be more vigilant and does not necessarily have such a checkered past with the Chicago Police Department and with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

Lightfoot says that the number of officers fired for misconduct under her leadership rose from 37 to 72 percent. She notes that she led a task force after a white police officer shot and killed black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 that issued a scathing report about systemic racism in the police department. She says that police reform, including the city’s dismal rate of solving murders, is a top priority.

“Look at the actual evidence,” she said. “My record of accomplishment on police reform and accountability sets me apart and is a far cry from my current opponent.”

On the North Side, many voters are enthusiastic about Lightfoot. Mohammed Arzek, who recently moved here from New York, said he was eager to vote for a liberal candidate and was pleasantly surprised to see black women in the race.

“I’m looking for someone who represents the tide of [Reps.] Ilhan Omar or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is making more progressive decisions,” said Arzek, 48, referring to newly minted members of Congress from Minnesota and New York. “Issues like mass incarceration and segregation are being taken more seriously now. They’re more in the zeitgeist for the average schmuck.”

Last week, Lightfoot received a major boost when her former primary opponent Willie Wilson announced that he is backing her for mayor. In the primary, Wilson, a flamboyant businessman who handed out cash to locals who were behind on their property tax payments, won the predominantly black neighborhoods, while Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, performed well in some of the city’s Latino areas.

“They’ve been so long neglected,” Wilson said of the residents on the South and West sides who supported him. “They’re seeking a change — for the better, not for the worse.”

Wilson said he thinks Lightfoot will do more to help businesses there succeed, noting that she plans to boost vocational education programs and has proposed creating more tax increment financing districts, where a portion of property tax dollars are earmarked for investments to revitalize neighborhoods.

“I think she’s going to really make an impact in those areas,” Wilson said.

Preckwinkle, he said, “is the old guard.”

“She is the leader of the party,” he said. “So, I don’t see no change there at all.”

Preckwinkle, who is backed by several unions, racked up two other prominent endorsements last week — from Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. and Secretary of State Jesse White, both of whom have long been elected with strong support from black and white voters. She touted her own appeal to a racially diverse base, noting that she was elected alderman in Hyde Park, a diverse ward.

“Chicago is 77 communities. We’re going to go everywhere to ask for help and support — African-American communities, Latinx communities, majority [white] communities,” Preckwinkle said, using the non-gendered term to refer to Latino people. “I think it’s important you carry the campaign everywhere.”

The historic moment of electing a black, female mayor comes as the city is losing African-American residents by the thousands. About 200,000 have left since 2000, census data show, a reversal of the Great Migration from the Jim Crow South that turned Chicago into a hub of blues, African-American literature and political activism.

Solidly middle-class neighborhoods have emptied out, hit hard by the 2008 housing crisis and Emanuel’s decision in 2013 to close dozens of low-performing schools. In some black and Latino neighborhoods, 10 to 25 percent of the housing stock was abandoned, according to a 2017 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy.

Under Emanuel, the city created a Neighborhood Opportunity Fund in 2016 that is supposed to steer density fees charged to downtown developers toward construction grants for businesses in struggling neighborhoods. Of the $38 million collected so far, only $20 million has been paid out.

Preckwinkle says she wants to streamline the grants so they reach entrepreneurs faster and has a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

“We can’t have a world-class city in which we allow this kind of tremendous inequality,” she said in an interview. “All of our neighborhoods have to be thriving.”

Lightfoot has said she wants to create business incubators on the South and West sides and use more property tax dollars to revive those neighborhoods.

But Stephanie Hart, whose Brown Sugar Bakery is on 75th Street in Chatham on the city’s South Side, said local businesses are in need of more urgent help. The city has done little to spur a mini-revival in the area after several older businesses closed following the 2008 recession, she said. And several employees and customers have been affected by gun violence tearing across the area.

In one recent case, a bakery worker’s girlfriend was hit in the head by a stray bullet while she was home sleeping. The woman lived, but the trauma of it caused the employee to move away.

Across the street from the bakery is a weed-filled church parking lot that Hart and other business leaders have tried unsuccessfully to get city officials to convert into parking for local businesses.

“I probably wouldn’t have said this five or 10 years ago, but I’m ready to leave Chicago,” Hart said. “I’m dragging along, doing what everyone says needs to be done. And, while the words of support I hear feel good, it’s never executed. I love Chicago, but I’m tired of that.”

Jonathan Brooks, pastor of the Canaan Community Church in the nearby Englewood neighborhood, sees powerful symbolism in the fact that a black woman will be leading the country’s third-largest city — akin to the hope that surrounded the 1983 election of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor.

As church members have either died or moved away, shrinking his congregation by one-third to about 130 people over the past 13 years, Brooks and some of his neighbors have worked to persuade young black professionals to move back to the area and invest in it.

Their group — known by its acronym RAGE — was a driving force in the Emanuel administration’s move to lure a Whole Foods store to the area in 2016. The store now anchors a bustling plaza in an area of the city that is otherwise a desert of healthy food choices.

A black woman as mayor could encourage more African-Americans to return to the city and reinvest, said Brooks, a 39-year-old father of two young daughters.

“It doesn’t really matter which one of them wins; it is a hallmark time in our country and in our city,” he said.

But as the campaign heats up, the candidates’ attacks against each other have escalated. They sparred in a debate last week, with Preckwinkle tagging Lightfoot as a wealthy corporate lawyer and Lightfoot dismissing Preckwinkle as a product of the “broken, corrupt political machine.”

“I’d hate to see the magnitude of this moment for my two little girls get squashed,” Brooks said. “No matter who wins, it’s going to be a black woman running the city of Chicago. I want my two daughters to be able to revel in that.”

Why, yes, I am running for president

It was a moment so quintessentially Iowa that Raygun has a T-shirt that describes it.

Beto O’Rourke spent three days last week touring through Eastern Iowa in the first trip of his nascent presidential campaign.

The Democrat and former Texas Congressman has been a rising star in the party ever since he narrowly lost a 2018 U.S. Senate race in Texas to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke made his run for president official by releasing a video on social media bright and early Thursday morning, just ahead of his first campaign stops in southeast Iowa.

He stayed in an Iowa hotel Wednesday evening, and when he was checking out Thursday morning, O’Rourke said the hotel staff told him they had heard there was a presidential candidate in town.

Hold on, Iowa. It gets better.

O’Rourke said he told the staff that he was the presidential candidate they heard about. They thought he was joking and laughed, he said.

O’Rourke said he reassured them he was serious, that he was indeed running for president.

Only in Iowa could someone be detached enough from politics to not recognize Beto O’Rourke yet still tuned into the rumor mill enough to know there is a presidential candidate in town, only to cross paths with said candidate.

As O’Rourke relayed the anecdote to me during my interview with him on Thursday, I could not help but think of one of Raygun’s caucus-themed T-shirts.

It reads, “Hi, do you live here or are you running for president?”

If only the hotel staff had been wearing that shirt when O’Rourke checked out.

Special election

We’ll know soon enough whether the cavalcade of caucus candidates are helping Democrats in a statehouse special election.

A Cedar Valley seat in the Iowa Senate is up for grabs after the recent resignation of former Iowa Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo. Running for the open seat are Democrat Eric Giddens, Republican Walt Rogers and Libertarian Fred Perryman.

Democrats are hoping for a boost from get-out-the-vote events hosted by or including many of the party’s presidential hopefuls.

Last weekend alone, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney and Beto O’Rourke were participating in events in the district. Elizabeth Warren dropped by to help out earlier this month, as did potential 2020ers Steve Bullock and Eric Swalwell.

That’s a lot of events, a lot of pitches from presidential candidates for voting early or committing to support the Democrat on Election Day.

On Tuesday, the final count will tell whether it was enough to move the needle in this special election, the type that typically have low voter turnout.

Online amendments

On the heels of Sunshine week, here’s my pitch to the Iowa Legislature: Make bill amendments more readily available online.

All bills introduced in the Iowa Legislature are posted online. Amendments also are posted online, but not as efficiently. It can be especially problematic when an amendment is introduced near the same time the bill is being debated, either in a committee or on the Iowa House or Senate floor.

It can take some time for an amendment to be posted online, meaning anyone without a physical copy — and yes, I’m viewing this through the news media’s lens — is flying blind while it is being debated.

That can be troublesome because it is not at all uncommon for an amendment to completely change the bill and its potential affects.

It would provide better transparency for those amendments to be published online more rapidly. Surely there are logistical concerns that could make that difficult, but the increased transparency would be worth the effort.

Credit also is due here to Des Moines Register reporter Barbara Rodriguez, who raised some of these concerns after legislation regarding local property taxes was amended this week right around the same time it was being debated in a committee.

l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School students take lead on violence prevention

CEDAR RAPIDS — After playing a sobering video about suicide prevention, Tasha Gilkison turned to a class of freshmen.

“This is another thing you could prevent,” Gilkison, 16, told her younger peers at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. “If you talk to other people about it.”

She and Agam Gill, 17, were leading a conversation about noticing warning signs of suicide — which include talking about wanting to die, mood swings and sleeping too much or too little — last week as part of the school’s Mentors in Violence Program.

The program, in its second year at Kennedy, aims to empower students to address violence among their peers.

“If you see something, try to do something about it,” Gill told a homeroom class Wednesday. “Even if it’s something small, don’t just assume someone else is going to do it.”

Nearly 40 students at Kennedy are mentors in the program, said Jenny Wagner, who advises the group known as MVP. The mentors, who are juniors and seniors, spend two days a month in homeroom classes with the school’s 460 freshmen.

“As adults, we need to be acknowledging that we might not always see it how they see it, and we might give examples or describe things in ways that are really not how it is now,” Wagner said. “ ... They’re using their own language and using examples from their own lives.”

Students discuss various forms of violence — suicide, dating violence, fights — throughout the school year.

Following Kennedy High’s lead, Washington High administrators plan to boost their Mentors in Violence Program as they work to decrease arrests.

More than 50 students at each school have been arrested at Kennedy and Washington this school year, according to the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Most arrests have been for disorderly conduct.

Kennedy Principal Jason Kline said it typically takes years for the Mentors in Violence Program to have a meaningful effect as freshmen who have been through program become upperclassmen.

“But I think we see a lot of it already,” said Kline, who advises the program with Wagner. “Students seem to be a little more cognizant of: This is what I have to do when I see these things, and what to do and how to prevent these things from happening.”

Next school year, Kennedy plans to allow sophomores to serve as mentors, and mentors will be able to earn partial class credit for participating.

In Liz Driskell’s homeroom this week, students discussed how suicide might not seem personal until it happens to someone close.

Driskell, who teaches orchestra, shared a story with her class about a middle school student of hers who died by suicide eight years ago.

“I missed every single warning sign that was there,” she told students. “This was a kid who loved band, who was really great at playing the flute, who would practice after school. Then, all of a sudden, he never showed for up for lessons after school.”

Since then, Driskell said she looks for warning signs among her students every day.

What bystanders can do to help, said 17-year-old Gill, is a key piece of the Mentors in Violence Program.

“Everyone’s a bystander,” he said. “What you can do — and how you have the power to stop situations — is a pretty big lesson that I’ve found interesting.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or distress, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support, information or local resources.

• Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Most Iowa businesses expect sales growth

Almost three-quarters of Iowa businesses expect their sales to climb over the next 12 months, according to a first-quarter survey of business leaders released by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

Of the 1,500 member companies of the Des Moines-based ABI, some 73 percent of those who responded to the March survey said they anticipate sales to expand. About 23 percent believe sales will stay the same.

Among other findings:

l 47 percent of respondents anticipate growth for the number of employees in the second quarter, while the same percentage expect the number to remain flat.

l 87 percent of respondents intend to make capital expenditures in the April-through-June time period.

“Surprisingly, not one member mentioned tariffs this time,” ABI President Mike Ralston said in a news release. “Investing in acquisitions and new construction were highlights.”

Survey results can be seen at https://bit.ly/2O8b7Wr.

I.C. West’s Abbie Callahan a high school celebrity

IOWA CITY — It was just four years ago when singer-songwriter Abbie Callahan picked up her classic black Fender guitar and posted her first singing cover on Instagram, armed with nothing but a big dream and a huge passion for singing.

Since then, the 17-year-old Iowa City West junior has accomplished what few could. One of her many feats includes a blind audition on “The Voice” as the second-youngest contestant of the season in 2017.

“‘The Voice’ was probably one of my favorite experiences ever in my whole life,” Callahan said. “Doing these shows, you just immerse yourself in such a different world.”

Her journey culminated with performing on a big flashing stage in front of renowned celebrities such as Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Blake Shelton and Alicia Keys, as well as a full cheering audience.

“Looking back on it, it doesn’t even feel like I was there. I can’t even believe that I did that because it’s been such a big dream of mine to even audition for these shows, let alone be on the stage in front of the judges,” Callahan said.

A year later, Callahan received another opportunity to sing on the national stage — this time on the set of “American Idol.” After a Skype audition with the show’s executive producers, Callahan was sent to the golden ticket round in Denver, Colo. There, she sang in front of star judges like Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie for the chance to go to Hollywood.

“I kind of expected myself to freak out a little bit,” she said. “But really, you get there and you sing. That’s the most anxious part, performing and making sure that you do everything you’ve prepared and you do it well.

“Meeting (the judges), you just realize that they’re just people. I hugged them all and it’s just like hugging anybody you know.”

Back home, many of Callahan’s fans have celebrated her success.

“Since I posted about ‘American Idol’ people have started to treat me somewhat of like a celebrity, which I’ve never experienced,” Callahan said. “People were coming up to me, out of breath, scared to meet me. They were almost crying. I’m just in high school and that’s the craziest reaction.”

One of Callahan’s longtime friends, West junior Maia Degrazia, agrees the reactions are justified.

“Abbie radiates positivity on the stage. She seems so sure of herself and just gets up there and owns it,” Degrazia said. “When I see her perform I am so proud. It makes me think of how far she’s come from when I first saw her perform in fifth grade. It’s so fun to see her doing what she loves and doing it well.”

From doing these shows, Callahan gained experiences that have strengthened her passion for music and solidified her decision to become a songwriter and a producer.

All of her success began with a simple hobby in sixth grade, when she first started posting singing clips on Instagram after being inspired by an “America’s Got Talent” performance.

“On that first cover, my sister and I were counting how many followers I got. In my first day, I had 100 followers and we were freaking out,” Callahan said. “I’ve never been nervous about sharing music because if anyone’s going to listen, they’re going to listen because they like my music.”

With that philosophy as her guide, she eventually took her singing live wherever she went, ranging from the Iowa State Fair to open mic nights at local breweries.

Callahan has started the next step in her career, writing her own songs. During the summer, she spent hours honing her craft to write more than 100 songs, 10 of which are going to be in her new original album. She also has her own website.

“The 10 songs are actually my babies,” she said. “I’ve worked on them maybe seven months now and my mom’s heard them on repeat.

“We’ve spent all of winter break working on them staying up till three in the morning.”

The songs depict her whirlwind of experience as a teenager in love, pulling her own personal feelings from relationships.

“In my very heightened state of emotions, I wouldn’t even talk to my mom or my friends about it,” Callahan said. “I would sit down with my guitar and play what I was feeling. Then I realized that other people feel the same too, so I refined it and made it an actual song.

“I can’t force a song. It has to come from a real feeling so that other people can really feel it with you.”

Throughout the entire process, Callahan has had her mom, Kate Callahan, by her side to support her through every event.

“I used to be a little nervous for Abbie when she performed,” Kate said. “I wasn’t sure she understood that she was working and people had certain expectations from her. Now I just enjoy it. Abbie never gets nervous before she performs and is always prepared.”

The family support also can bring a little pressure to do better, however.

“It’s the craziest thing for someone to have so much faith in you, which is probably the scariest thing on these shows,” Kate said. “As I get up there, I’m just thinking about my mom because I want to make her proud.”

When it seems as if Callahan’s career is destined for success, she still keeps the same dream she’s had since she was little, with a determined focus on the future.

“The ultimate dream is to have my music on the radio and (have people) listen to it in the shower and jam to it when they’re happy and cry to it when they’re really sad,” Callahan said.

Since the beginning of her career, she’s learned important advice for other aspiring musicians.

“You really have to be very emotional and let yourself in that state of mind,” Callahan said. “Being original is what makes a good musician. Don’t listen to your brain; listen to your heart because that’s how you get good music. That’s how you perform well.”

2019 SaPaDaPaSo Awards

The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Society has announced this year’s award winners.

Best Graphic Display Award:

1st Place: #72 — Iowa Brewing Co

2nd Place: #35 — Kiss Me I’m Iowa-ish — The Harrington Family

Honorable Mention: #85- SERVPRO of Cedar Rapids

Best Original Female Costume:

1st Place: #1 — St. Patrick’s Catholic Church — The Greenest Show on Earth — Little girl with green parasol

2nd Place: #14 — Ealain Go Gragh (Art Forever) — DKW Art Gallery — Lady with Balloon Wings and Shamrock Leggings

Honorable Mention: #1 — St. Patrick’s Catholic Church — The Greenest Show — Bearded Lady

Best Original Male Costume:

1st Place: #73 — Coe College — Authentic Kilt Man

2nd Place: #81 — Grand Living with Indian Creek — Man in Leprechaun outfit with social media sign

Honorable Mention: #26 — Bloomsbury Farm and Scream Acres — All Monsters

See photos from the parade

Browse a collection of photos from the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

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Best Vehicle Entry:

1st Place: #48 — Keep Your Clovers Happy — Green Acres Storage -Tractor

2nd Place: #13 — Especially for You Race — Pink Firetruck

Honorable Mention : #37 -Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival — Choo-Choo Train

Best Walking Entry:

1st Place: #51 — SaPaDaPa-Solo

2nd Place: Beg of the Parade — Champagne Academy of Irish Dance

Honorable Mention : #6 — Sun Tan City

Best Private Irish-Themed Entry (Non-Commercial/Advertising):

1st Place: #17 — Can’t Stop the Green — The Maneely & Dalziel families

2nd Place: #11 — Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 304

Honorable Mention: #50 — Shamrock-Star Cockers

Best Commercial Entry:

1st Place: #39 — Bickford Senior Living

2nd Place: #58 — Biolife Plasma Services

Honorable Mention: #29 — Looking for Leprechauns — Corridor Family EyeCare

Best Animal Entry:” The Waggy O’Tails Award”:

1st Place: #19 — Be the Change — End the Puppy Mills (Shih Tzu Wheaton Terrier with Lion Cut)

2nd Place: #89 — Pirates of the Emerald Isle — The Gypsy Warner Horse

Honorable Mention: #9 — KCRG TV9 — Walking wiener dog in green T-shirt with sparkle hat

General Honorable Mention:

#28 — Waltonian Archers of Linn County

FAMILY AWARDS:

Jimmy Blake “Golden Spoons” Award for “Best Musical Entry”:

#35 — 76 Trombones — Kiss Me I’m Iowa-ish — The Harrington Family

Denny Sheridan Award for “Best Bribe”:

#17- Can’t Stop the Green — The Maneely & Dalziel families

Don Raher Memorial Award for the “Best Overall Costume”:

#17 — Can’t Stop the Green (All Costumes) — The Maneely & Dalziel families

Jerry Harrington Memorial Award for the “Most Wholesome/Heartfelt Entry”:

#67 — CR Spirits Professional Dance Team — Crystal Barnett

Jimmy Duggan Memorial Award for the “Best Family Representation”:

#7 — Glynn Gang- Kiss Me I’m Irish — The Glynn Family

Pat Fitzpatrick “Irish Eyes” Memorial Award for the “Most Creative Entry”:

#35 — Kiss Me I’m Iowa-ish — The Harrington Family

Ed McGinty Memorial Award for the “Best Overall Entry”:

#35 — Kiss Me I’m Iowa-ish — The Harrington Family

Learn to identify frog and toad calls in Iowa workshops

Despite the name, the spring peeper is not the first frog Iowan’s can expect to hear this year — that honor traditionally goes to the chorus frog.

The difference is in the amphibian’s call. The spring peeper can easily be mistaken for chirping crickets, but a chorus frog’s call is more like the sound heard when running your thumb across the small teeth of a pocket comb.

While knowing the distinct calls of Iowa’s 16 species of frogs and toads may seem trivial, Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife diversity biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said being able to properly identify specific species is necessary to collect data on Iowa’s amphibians.

Much of that data is collected by volunteers, said Shepherd, the state’s Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program coordinator.

“The survey really helps us keep an eye on the species and trends. ... It’s also helped us track the distribution of the species,” she said.

Tracking Iowa’s frogs and toads takes a statewide effort, carried out in large part by volunteers. The state has been collecting frog and toad data since 1991, and last year the survey covered 411 sites statewide.

With that in mind, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources next month will host workshops to make sure there are enough volunteers helping the state maintain its toad and frog log.

Workshops, which include a $5 fee for materials, are required to take part in the frog and toad call survey, and will be held on the following dates in Wapello, Scott, Boone and Sioux counties:

• April 2: 6:30-9:30 p.m., Pioneer Ridge Nature Center, 1339 Highway 63, Bloomfield.

• April 8: 6:30-9:30 p.m., Wapsi River Environmental Center, 31555 52nd Ave., Dixon.

• April 9: 6:30-9:30 p.m., Boone Wildlife Research Station, 1436 255th St, Boone.

• April 13: Hawarden. 1-4 p.m., Sioux County Conservation’s Oak Grove Lodge, 4051 Cherry Ave.

Shepherd said workshops are scheduled in locations most in need of volunteers.

Ultimately, participants will learn about the volunteer survey program and how to identify frogs and toads by sight and sound.

Volunteers will go out three nights spread across the summer to listen for frog and toad calls and report their findings.

But why is it so important to track frogs and toads?

Shepherd said the amphibian survey can be used in the study of habitats, water quality and even climate change.

“Amphibians have a lot of challenges stacked up against them,” she said. “They’re obviously water-dependent. They have this really close tie to water and are pretty vulnerable to loss of wetland habitat and also any water quality issues.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Rep. Steve King posts meme bragging red states have ‘8 trillion bullets’

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa posted a meme Saturday about a hypothetical civil war between “blue states” fighting over which bathroom to use and “red states” with trillions of bullets.

The post is an image of two figures composed of traditionally Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states in fighting postures with text superimposed over the top. The caption reads: “Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”

“Wonder who would win?” the Northwest Iowa Republican wrote on Facebook.

The image appears to have originated in a 2013 New York Times book review by Michael Kinsley titled “War of Umbrage.”

King’s post comes at a time when Muslim civil rights leaders and others have urged political leaders to be thoughtful in their rhetoric in light of the mass shooting targeting two New Zealand mosques last week that left at least 50 people dead.

King may have posted the meme without much deliberation, as it escaped his notice that Iowa is pictured as a “blue state.”

The post follows weeks of lobbying by King for U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to reinstate him to congressional committee posts.

King was stripped of his committee assignments by Republican leadership following years of white nationalist statements, most recently in an interview with The New York Times.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization how did that language become offensive?” King said in the January article.

King disputes the quote in a letter to McCarthy that he has asked supporters to endorse.

“In January 2019, The New York Times misquoted me and misrepresented my beliefs as a freedom-loving American,” King wrote.

The form letter also includes a button to donate to the King for Congress political committee.

King was defiant in a February interview with Iowa Public Television insisting “I have nothing to apologize for.”

While King disavowed white nationalism, he also argued that term has been “weaponized by the left” to mean racism, but did not provide his own definition of the term.

King has often voiced the far-right theory that immigration and diversity will lead to a collapse of Western civilization. Advocacy groups dedicated to rooting out hate speech say “Western civilization” used in that context is a euphemism for whites.

King voted “present” on a House resolution condemning religious intolerance earlier this month.

Updated Cedar Rapids road closures as Cedar River now predicted to crest at 18.3 feet

The flood warning for the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids continues, with the National Weather Service expecting a crest of 18.3 feet tonight. The flood stage was 18.1 feet at 9:45 a.m. today.

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Updated road closures for Cedar Rapids:

• Edgewood Rd NW fully closed to all traffic between Glass Rd and River Bluff Drive

• Intersection of C Street SW and Bowling Street SW

• Ely Road closure at Old River Road

• Otis Rd

• Ellis Blvd Between Ellis Ln and 18th St SW

• Ellis Rd west of Edgewood Rd

• A St SW

• Bowling St between A and C St SW

• Old River Rd

• 1st St NW between E Ave and Penn Ave NW

• J St SW

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Recently Opened:

• Bowling St SW from 33rd Ave to 41st Ave

• Hawkeye Downs Rd from 6th St to J St SW

Stratafolio entrepreneurs sell business; refocus, rebrand company

When Jeri Frank and Uriel Barillas formed Asset Rover in June 2014, they initially focused on small, residential real estate owners as customers of their asset management software business.

“As we went through the Iowa Startup Accelerator in Cedar Rapids in 2016, we learned through a lot more customer discovery that the product we were envisioning was a better fit for people with an asset value much larger than what we were originally planning,” Frank recalled.

“We kind of did a pivot and formed Stratafolio to focus on providing asset management financial analytics for people who own, manage and lease commercial, multi-family, industrial and retail real estate.

“We pull that information together to provide real-time performance indicators that help our customers become more efficient and improve their bottom line.”

The couple kept Asset Rover as a separate company, selling it in July 2018.

Frank said she and Barillas saw the need for a better asset management product after they started their own real estate investment business, U and J Properties LLC, in December 2013.

“When we got married, we began buying real estate, and we noticed all of the inefficiencies that we had in managing our properties,” Frank said.

“It was really important for us to manage our portfolio closely and like a business. We needed to understand which property was performing best and why so we could continue to recreate the good stuff.”

Most of the time, Frank said, “real estate investors are using spread sheets to do this kind of work. This puts all their information together in the same place and allows them to spot inefficiencies and save money.”

Barillas and Frank have been putting Stratafolio in front of lenders for their feedback because they have the same customers.

“Lenders love what they are seeing because it means that their customers are organized and have a really good understanding of what their cash flow and operation looks like,” Frank said. “They know how they’re setting for the next couple of years with their entire portfolio or any single property.”

Frank was a director at Pearson when she and Barillas launched U and J Properties, which owns properties in Cedar Rapids, Marion and North Liberty.

Frank left Pearson in 2016 after 14 years with the British-owned education publishing and assessment service company.

Being an entrepreneur is about testing things, continuing to learn and making sure you don’t go down the deep hole that’s in front of you, Frank said.

“If you have gone into a hole, stop, reassess and get yourself back out of it,” she said.

Frank said she and Barillas enjoyed their experience going through the Iowa Startup Accelerator in 2016.

“It connected us with mentors and advisers that we may not have had access to had we not gone through it,” she said. “Those advisers and mentors have been instrumental in our progress.”

Frank will be interviewed Wednesday by Eric Engelmann, executive director of NewBoCo, at 1 Million Cups as part of the entrepreneurial event’s Founder Fireside presentations.

Doors will open at 8 a.m. for the free event at the Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, and the presentations begin at 8:30.

For more details, go to https://www.1millioncups.com/icr

Angle-of-attack sensors on airliners get fresh scrutiny

WASHINGTON — In 2014, Lufthansa Flight 1829 took off from Bilbao, Spain, and was ascending normally when the plane’s nose unexpectedly dropped. The plane — an Airbus A321 with 109 passengers on board — began to fall. The co-pilot tried to raise the nose with his controls. The plane pointed down even further. He tried again. Nothing, according to a report by German investigators.

As the Lufthansa plane fell from 31,000 feet, the captain pulled back on his stick as hard as he could. The nose finally responded. But he struggled to hold the plane level.

A call to a ground crew determined that the plane’s angle-of-attack sensors — which detect whether the wings have enough lift to keep flying — must have been malfunctioning, causing the Airbus’s anti-stall software to force the plane’s nose down. The pilots turned off the problematic unit and continued the flight. Aviation authorities in Europe and the United States eventually ordered the replacement of angle-of-attack sensors on many Airbus models.

Today, aviation experts say the angle-of-attack sensor on Boeing jets will get fresh scrutiny after two Boeing 737 Max airplanes crashed, in Ethiopia last week and in Indonesia in October.

Crash investigators have raised concerns about the role of the sensor — a device used on virtually every commercial flight — in the October crash of Lion Air Flight 610. There are concerns it may have sent the wrong signals to new software on the flight that automatically dips the plane’s nose to prevent a stall.

Airbus A320 planes with certain sensors made by two companies — United Technologies, parent company of Rosemount Aerospace, which makes Boeing sensors; and Sextant/Thomson — “appear to have a greater susceptibility to adverse environmental conditions” than sensors made by a third company, the FAA said.

It is not clear whether the angle-of-attack sensor played a role in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Sunday that his company is finalizing software updates and pilot training protocols to address problems that have emerged “in response to erroneous sensor inputs.” He did not specify which sensors.

Muilenberg’s comments followed a statement by Ethiopia’s transportation secretary earlier Sunday that the plane’s black boxes showed “clear similarities” between the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes. Aviation authorities worldwide grounded the Boeing 737 Max last week out of concern about the plane’s safety.

In interviews late last week, aviation experts said there was no reason for broad alarm about the sensors. But six experts said that the risks posed by a faulty angle-of-attack sensor are amplified by the increasing role of cockpit automation. It is an example of how the same technology that makes aircraft safer — automated software — can be undone by a seemingly small problem.

“The sensor going out is serious,” said Clint Balog, a test pilot and associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “But it can be made critical by software.”

Most commercial pilots today know how to respond to a malfunctioning sensor, said Shem Malmquist, a Boeing 777 captain and a visiting professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.

But potential complications arise with how software interprets what the sensor tells it.

“When you introduce computer controls, you start to get interactions that are hard to anticipate,” Malmquist said.

Angle-of-attack sensors have been flagged as having problems more than 50 times on U.S. commercial airplanes over the past five years, although no accidents have occurred over millions of miles flown, according to reports made to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Service Difficulty Reporting database. That makes it a relatively unusual problem, aviation experts said — but also one with magnified importance because of its prominent role in flight software.

“It is notable,” said David Soucie, a former FAA maintenance safety inspector.

The sensor is especially helpful for nighttime flying, Soucie said, but its loss alone should not create problems that pilots are unable to handle.

The FAA reports include 19 reported cases of sensor trouble on Boeing aircraft, such as an American Airlines flight last year that declared a midflight emergency when the plane’s stall-warning system went off, despite normal airspeed. The Boeing 737-800 landed safely. Maintenance crews replaced three parts, including the angle-of-attack sensor, according to the FAA database.

In 2017, an American Airlines-operated Boeing 767 headed to Zurich declared an emergency and returned to New York. Another angle-of-attack sensor was replaced. And an American Airlines 767 was forced to return to Miami in 2014 after a midflight emergency because of a faulty angle-of-attack sensor.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment for this report. The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.

The angle-of-attack sensors on the fatal Lion Air flight were made by Minnesota-based Rosemount Aerospace, according to a photograph of the part that was shown by Indonesian officials to reporters after the recovery of the wreckage. It is a model commonly used on commercial aircraft.

A spokeswoman for Rosemount’s parent company, United Technologies, declined to comment.

The angle-of-attack sensor measures the amount of lift generated by the wings. The name refers to the angle between the wing and oncoming air. Its main purpose is to warn pilots when the plane could stall from too little lift, leading to a loss of control.

Many of the sensors include a small vane attached to the outside of a commercial aircraft. Most planes have two or three vanes as part of a redundant system. But they are not complicated machines. The Wright brothers used a version on their first flight.

Placing too much trust in the sensors also can cause trouble. One of the most serious crashed tied to angle-of-attack sensors occurred in 2008, when XL Airways Germany Flight 888T hit the Mediterranean Sea, killing seven people. French authorities blamed water-soaked angle-of-attack sensors on the Airbus 320 plane, saying they generated inaccurate readings and set up a chain of events that resulted in a stall.

According to investigators, the downed airplane’s sensors were made by Rosemount, the same company that made the sensors on the Lion Air crash. At the time, Rosemount was also called Goodrich, the company that owned the aerospace manufacturer at the time.

In the Lion Air crash, pilots struggled for control with the 737 Max’s automated flight controls — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. Faulty readings from the angle-of-attack sensors may have led the MCAS to believe the aircraft was in danger of stalling just as it was taking off from Indonesia, according to the preliminary report by Indonesian investigators. Gaining speed by diving can prevent a stall.

After the crash, the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive in November for 737 Max 8 and 9 models that warned a mistakenly high reading from one angle-of-attack sensor “could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane.”

Less is known about the Ethiopian Airlines crash. But it involves the same type of aircraft and crashed at a similar point in its flight path as the Lion Air plane, according to investigators.

Both planes were equipped with the MCAS, which uses angle-of-attack sensors to determine whether a plane is nearing a stall.

Airbus equips many of its commercial jets with its own anti-stall software that relies on an automated process.

During the Lufthansa flight in 2014, faulty information from the angle-of-attack sensors triggered the software, pushing the plane’s nose down, according to German aviation investigators. The program thought the plane was nearing a stall. The captain was eventually able to override the automated system, and the pilots, after talking with a maintenance crew, identified the likely problem and continued the flight to Munich.

Investigators later found that two of the angle-of-attack sensors were blocked, probably by ice, and generated improper readings.

European authorities and the FAA issued airworthiness directives over several years aimed at addressing sensor problems on Airbuses.

One important difference between the Lufthansa incident and the two 737 Max crashes, aviation experts said, was where they occurred.

The Lufthansa plane was soaring at 31,000 feet when it launched into a steep dive. It dropped 4,000 feet in less than a minute before the pilots wrestled back control.

If the sensor problem had hit soon after departure, as investigators suspect it did with the Lion Air crash, that incident could have ended in disaster.

Operation Quickfind for Jacob Lwamba

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has issued an Operation Quickfind for Jacob Lwamba, a 17-year-old black male, height 5’ 11” and 157 pounds, last seen in the area of Forest Drive SE, Cedar Rapids, at 11 a.m. Saturday. It is unknown what he was wearing at the time.

Please contact the police department at (319) 286-5491 if you have any information.

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