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Illinois a house divided on Lincoln library and museum

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Drawing on the diatribes of his harshest critics and the unmatched elegance of his words, Abraham Lincoln's state-of-the-art presidential library and museum will be dedicated to providing an unvarnished account of the best, worst and boldest chapters of his life.

The $115 million project will not sugarcoat the 16th president's most difficult political and personal struggles, and it will give equal attention to the love and hate he inspired in people.

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Visitors will read racist hatred in the letters of assassin John Wilkes Booth alongside a Northern soldier's praise of Lincoln. Scenes will depict Lincoln's debates with Stephen A. Douglas, his delivery of the Gettysburg Address and his clashes with his Cabinet about the Emancipation Proclamation.

So it may be only fitting and proper that turmoil broke out over a monument to the humble, ambitious Springfield, Ill., lawyer who became one of America's most revered presidents.

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With little warning, U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican from Inverness, Ill., went to war last week with the Republican establishment about how to build and pay for the sprawling stone-and-glass project. He held the Senate hostage as he launched into a two-day filibuster and demanded all federal money used for the Lincoln complex fall under the federal government's guidelines for competitive bidding.

"I believe that for a monument to Honest Abe, we need to make sure that we have an honest and ethical bidding process," Fitzgerald said.

The senator's shots clearly were aimed at Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a fellow Republican whose popularity has plunged under the weight of a continuing licenses-for-bribes scandal linked to Ryan's reign as secretary of state. But Fitzgerald, a conservative who ran for the U.S. Senate without Ryan's initial blessing, used Springfield's decades-long, business-as-usual legacy of pinstripe patronage and insider deals to fuel his one-man crusade.

Fitzgerald said he supports the Lincoln project but wanted the federal safeguards to ensure the Ryan administration would not turn the project into a political boondoggle.

The governor called Fitzgerald's verbal barrage a "cheap shot." And U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, criticized the state's junior senator, calling his behavior "outrageous." With Fitzgerald's failure to rule out a run for governor in 2002 during a radio interview last week, his library stance on the Senate floor gave critics an opening to condemn the filibuster as a publicity stunt aimed at increasing the senator's name recognition.

The sniping continued Monday at the Columbus Day parade in Chicago. Asked about Fitzgerald's comments about possibly running for governor, Ryan said, "Instead of pussyfooting around, he ought to jump right in the race."

Although he lost his fight, Fitzgerald succeeded in shining a spotlight on Illinois' long history of passing cash among political friends.

He also raised questions about the makeup of a foundation that will help support the library and museum. Its first three directors are Lura Lynn Ryan, the governor's wife; Pam Daniels, wife of Illinois House Minority Leader Lee Daniels; and Julie Cellini, chairwoman of the board of trustees for the state historic preservation agency and wife of Springfield Republican powerbroker William Cellini, whose lucrative riverboat license and leases with the state drew criticism from Fitzgerald.

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Fitzgerald said he wanted federal oversight of the funds because state law allows the Capital Development Board to opt out of competitive bidding on construction purchases - a departure from federal law.

State officials said their guidelines allow exceptions to competitive bidding only in rare cases, including for purchases under $30,000 for a construction project; emergencies for health and safety reasons, such as weather damage to a roof at a prison; or when there is only one economically feasible contractor.

"None of the exemptions apply to the Abraham Lincoln library and museum," said Dan Egler, deputy director of the Capital Development Board. "This project will be competitively bid under state law."

But Fitzgerald said a congressional research analyst pointed out that state law permits the Capital Development Board to waive those rules and set up its own.

"On its face, it appears to be a rather broad exception to the requirement for competition in awarding state construction contracts," the researcher wrote.

Ground will be broken for the library on Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday. The library is scheduled to be completed in 2002 and the museum in 2003.

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Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Springfield each year to visit Lincoln's tomb, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln home and the reconstructed village of New Salem, where he lived as a young man. The library and museum could handle 500,000 visitors a year.

The library will give researchers and the general public greater access to the world's largest collection of Lincoln papers and artifacts. The 46,000 items mostly are housed in the cramped basement of the Old State Capitol, and only dedicated Lincoln historians know their way around the crowded stacks of documents, busts, photographs and climate-control vaults that house priceless documents.

"We've got the Emancipation Proclamation sitting in a basement of the Old State Capitol building," Ryan said. "That ought to be out for everybody to see."

The proclamation will be displayed in the museum on a rotating basis with the state's copy of the Gettysburg Address, one of only five written and signed by Lincoln.

The most potentially contentious exhibit will be the special effects room, which is intended to demonstrate that people had many different views of Lincoln.

The rantings of Booth are important to give audiences the broad range of perspectives in Lincoln's time, said Thomas Schwartz, the state historian.

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"People know he killed Lincoln, but they don't understand why," Schwartz said.

The state has received nearly $3 million in federal money for planning and design.

The funding bill passed in Washington last week would appropriate $10 million more for the project and authorize up to $50 million overall in federal spending. But the legislation also demands that two dollars must be raised elsewhere for every dollar the federal government chips in.

Thus the state will have to spend $100 million to tap the full $50 million from the federal government during the next few years. The state has committed $50 million to the project and Springfield $10 million.

State officials say the price tag remains $115 million. About $14.4 million in state and federal funds will be used to renovate the adjacent old train station that houses the state Historic Preservation Agency, including the addition of a clock tower and a 500-car underground parking garage.


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