It should be clear to you by now, dear reader, that all of us at Smile Politely love it here in Champaign-Urbana. It is a community with a unique sensibility. It is a place where progress thrives. It is filled with intelligent, thoughtful, daring, and socially aware people, who have changed the world, and will continue to do so.
But as a magazine that is deeply engaged with that community, we aren't worth much to you if we're only ever talking up the good stuff, and never bringing up the bad stuff.
So, as is our annual tradition, we finish off our BEST week with a smattering of some of the WORST these cities have displayed over the past year, or in perpetuity, and deserves the ol' side eye.
Our intention is not to belittle anyone, although it is at times inherent when you are calling someone on bad behavior, or just bad intent. The goal is to keep us all aware of the difference between those who are succeeding and those who are failing.
We aren't perfect at Smile Politely. We take criticism on the regular — rightfully so! —
and expect that from all of you as participants in our community journalism project, now entering its 12th year as a fiercely independent and deeply robust magazine that demands nothing less.
Thank you for your readership — and try to just consider what we've written. — Seth Fein, Publisher
WORST restaurant rebrand: Dublin O'Neil's to Dublin’s Pub
Yes it’s true, I laid into Dub’s Pub earlier this year when they announced they’d be closing their doors. It definitely got a little heated in the comments section of the Facebook post. I titled the post "Surprising to no one, Dublin’s Pub is closing July 28th," and a lot of that rationale comes from frustration with their inability to identify themselves as what they are, and trying to pretend to be something else that they clearly do not know how to be. I suppose I don’t know much about what it means to transition a restaurant into something else while still trying to maintain a particular identity that had some varying degrees of success. Dublin O’Neil’s was actually a good restaurant. I think that’s why it was so strange to us as a whole here at Smile Politely to see the joint get diluted into what was an unidentifiable version of what they believed to be an ”Irish Pub” that served pizzas. Ultimately they gave it a shot and just couldn’t manage it.
None of the issues with the restaurant and Dub’s Pub’s identity crisis had anything to do with the terrific employees top to bottom that worked for their hard earned dollars to make that place run the best they could.
Why did they keep the sign up in front of the restaurant that said Dublin O’Neil’s when the name wasn’t that? Perhaps financial reasons were at play here, albeit confusing decisions were made. Why try to pretend that you’re still an Irish Pub when you’re not? I suppose ultimately that’s what makes this an entry in WORST, because it was just so confusing right up until the place closed.
When we say “rebrand”, that’s really not doing it justice because it was so half baked that it is difficult to even say the brand was “new”. (PS) Photo by Patrick Singer
WORST change in Downtown Champaign: Pocket Prairie’s demolition
Let me first start by saying I’m not placing really any of the blame for the beloved Pocket Prairie’s demise on Pour Bros. Craft Tap Room, which moved into this beautiful building in Downtown Champaign that was uninhabited for years and years. The proprietors of that establishment came in, and from what I can tell, helped get the Pocket Prairie’s living components moved to another place safely and securely.
That said, the idea that there’s a prairie that exists in the middle of our most concentrated portion of Champaign should’ve been something far more celebrated and protected. Sure, the elements of the prairie are still in existence (to my knowledge) in another location, but that doesn’t mean it is still the Pocket Prairie. That’s long gone. The demolition of such a unique component of our community is a crime as far as I’m concerned. The craft-beer-and-restaurant-boom in Downtown Champaign isn’t to blame for this, though I’m not really sure who is the appropriate party to blame. Perhaps there weren’t enough protections or rights to the Prairie Monk? Who is to say. That’s a valuable piece of real estate, without question. I suppose that’s why it is such a bummer that the piece of land that was beloved by so many was ultimately gone within the blink of an eye. (PS) Photo by Patrick Singer
WORST complaining about election losses: old Republican voters
The overwhelming student turnout during the midterm election (see BEST voter turnout from earlier this week) inevitably brought out the curmudgeons in the Letter to the Editor section of the N-G with comments such as “Students should be forced to vote online and for the races in the part of the state they actually live in.”— you mean such as Champaign County? Because for a large portion of the year they actually don't live in a different part of the state, and there's no guarantee they will be going back to that part of the state after graduation. Also I’m pretty sure online voting isn’t a thing.
Another good one: “I applaud the zeal of young voters, but they have much to learn. And us old-timers want to have our votes count too.” — Did I miss the rule on the books that says "old-timers" votes count less than student votes? Also, let's not go with the bullshit argument that all student voters are ill-informed and just vote straight Democratic ticket without acknowledging the obvious fact that there are plenty of non-student and Republican voters who do exactly the same.
Are there some students that fill in the D’s all the way down because Republicans have a trash figurehead at the top of their party? Sure. Who can blame them, honestly? As a politically involved person who interviewed candidates, heard them speak, followed campaigns, AND as someone who has been a resident here for 20+ years (oh hey, I was one of those students who ended up becoming a longtime resident so it’s a good thing I had the opportunity to vote for local offices, eh?) those D’s were real appealing to me too. (JM) Photo by Nicole Anderson-Cobb
WORST activist: Ivan “Tuna” Dozier
It pains me to write this, because it seems to me like Ivan Dozier is just a very confused and sad young person. That makes the sympathetic part of my heart start beating faster, and I don't like the way it feels.
He craves attention, and my listing him here and calling him out in this way is exactly what he and his dwindling fanbase of supporters want more than anything. In fact, as my dear friend pointed out when I told them I was going to write this, this sort of attention is probably the only thing keeping his cause alive.
But he makes the cut, because he's crossed the fucking line, and with someone who deserves accolades for his brave work, and not the sort of bullying that Ivan Dozier has created and perpetuated.
And for that reason, he is the worst activist in this community, so far as I am concerned. Before, he was just another loud pathetic voice in the everlasting debate over the Chief; a former portrayer but one who claims Native heritage, and one who extolls the virtues of the minstrel show as "educational" and "important."
After the ridiculous arrest of award winning filmmaker and renown professor Jay Rosenstein, and The News-Gazette’s Mary Schenk and her wretched reporting on the incident, something changed.
Rosenstein’s mugshot was (unjustly) plastered everywhere, and because he was arrested for filming (a documentary about known racists and bigots) in a public bathroom (which was not being used as a bathroom at all, but as a dressing room to stage a minstrel show), Ivan Dozier has spent the rest of the year perpetuating the idea that Professor Rosenstein is a pederast, a pervert, a social deviant.
All lies. And Dozier knows it. He's smart. He works at IntelinAir, which is a company in Research Park that doesn't hire dummies. Believe me, he's smart.
From the moment it happened, he started lying. He outright lied on social media about it, which got picked up by the paper. He claimed that Rosenstein filmed him while urinating, which was a lie. Now, he and a small group of deeply disturbed people continue to plaster that mugshot all over social media, week in and week out, perpetuating that lie.
Something you should know: Ivan Dozier was arrested in 2013 for aggravated battery. The mugshot is on the internet. You can read about it, if that's the sort of horrible thing you want to read about. It's not very interesting to me.
But for a person who likes to throw stones, it certainly seems he is living in a very large glass house, yes yes?
I went to Chancellor Jones' Chief Conferette or whatever they were calling it earlier this year, said nothing, just observed interactions between Pro- and Anti-Chief opponents and proponents. It was pretty engaging and at times, even, rewarding. Professor Emeritus Stephen Kaufman, an outspoken and long time activist to eradicate the Chief, was there and I watched him extend his hand to Ivan, like a mensch, and said: "It's nice to finally meet you in person, Ivan."
Ivan looked at it, and then looked at him, and stated, point blank:
"I'd rather not shake hands with you, after all you've done to me."
As it turns out, he's not only a liar, he's also something of an asshole. (SF)
Photo provided by The Daily Illini by Zach Dalzell
WORST continued publishing tactic: mugshots on The News-Gazette
Something that most people assume about Smile Politely, is that we absolutely despise The News Gazette. That is just not true. We despise some of their output. We recoil in horror about most of their editorials. We hated that they ran that misogynistic and deeply disturbing comic about consent. We were disgusted by their endorsement of Rodney fucking Davis. We find Jim Dey’s columns to be mostly garbage. They are mostly garbage.
But there is a lot to celebrate about our local paper of record as well. They are super comprehensive about reporting the news. They do great profiles of people doing great work in town. The sports coverage is awesome. By every account that I have, editors Jim Rossow and Jeff D'alessio are deeply moral and caring individuals. I have known Tom Kacich since I was a child, and I stand by his work, even when I disagree with him. He has brought so much to this community for years. I won't hear anything but that.
So when local activists initially called for a boycott after that sickening cartoon ran, I told plenty of them to stand down. This isn’t a resource we want to lose. This is a resource we want to improve. They can be better. They need women and people of color to be on the editorial board to better reflect the community they report upon. They have to work in concert with their current staff, most of whom do not align with the board, and its leadership, in order to provide a more robust vision of this community.
If it never improves, fine — but as my Grammy said, "You don't throw out the baby with the bath water." We should always be pushing them to excel, and not fail.
Even more than the editorials that come out of that place, even more than Jim Dey’s bloodlust for liberal thinkers and activists, it is the scraping of the Champaign County Sheriff’s site for mugshots, and the republishing of them, for anyone to see, that makes our blood boil.
What a sad way to turn a buck. And they do make money on it, because they sell advertising at a CPM — that's cost per mille, 1000 impressions — and the more you click, the faster those impressions deplete. This is the definition of clickbait, and it's the ugliest kind around.
It's not how Smile Politely sells ads, to be sure.
Ultimately, this is a publisher’s decision, and the person who you can direct your ire towards is John Reed. Every day, The News Gazette writes about crimes — both significant and petty — allegedly committed by people who are desperate or disturbed enough to carry them out. Most of the time, they publish a mugshot, and most of the time, it’s a person of color they choose to publish.
One only needs look at the photos on Mary Schenk’s Twitter feed for a few minutes to see what I mean.
This is ruining people’s lives, and bringing no justice to anyone seeking it.
John Reed could simply choose to stop this practice. They'd make less money, but he'd be doing the right thing, and the moral thing. But he won’t, according to a half dozen former and current employeees there, none of whom are willing to go on the record for fear of reprisal. I can’t blame them. I don't want to lose my job either.
Do yourself a favor, and read this public account from Kevin Tajzea Hobbs, who helps run the D.O.S.E. Foundation, which is committed to making the theater community a safer, and more diverse place for everyone.
Just imagine if that were you, or your partner, or worse, your child. Just imagine?
It’s not too late for John Reed though. He still has time to turn it around. He could be visited by three spirits — on this very night! — and start doing right by his work, instead of whatever it is that he’s doing now.
That’s my deepest hope, honestly. As I stated, I actually and truly love a lot of the work that The News Gazette puts out there for us. It is always shadowed, however, by the very picture of what injustice looks like, and that is something we should all be fighting against. (SF)
Photo from Wikipedia
WORST stretch of road: Springfield between Gregory and McCullough
This entry could indeed be extended to include Springfield Avenue more comprehensively, though for slightly different reasons, especially during the school year. How those students survive crossing the road without looking both ways is beyond me.
But for those of you who have driven the aforementioned stretch of road — you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are so many potholes and filled in, cracked up pot holes, I’m worried for my car and my bowels. It’s bumpy enough to shake the shit right out of you. I’m also careful to keep my mouth closed lest I open it and accidentally bite off my tongue on a rather deep dip or bump. (JH) Photos by Jessica Hammie
WORST political appointment: Turning Point USA president as the Illinois Student Government Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair
Last April Andrew Minik was ousted as Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Why? A student reached out to him as Chair to express concern over a Build the Wall event happening on campus, organized by the UIUC chapter of Turning Point USA, a national organization known for these type of racist stunts. Minik was also president of that particular organization, so he turned around and shared the email with other members which ultimately resulted in the email being posted to social media. You can read the full story in the Daily Illini. It seems this incident didn't squash his political ambitions, as he went on to be appointed field director for Rodney Davis' campaign by the Champaign County Republicans because of course he was. My question is, how in the actual hell did this dude end up in charge of a committee with this description: "The Committee on Diversity and Inclusion deals with issues directly related to the inclusion of and discriminaton towards students of all minority statuses on campus, including but not limited to those related to race, ethinicity, nationality, sexual orientation, ability status, gender, socioeconomic class, and veteran status?" It’s like appointing someone who is anti-public education as Secretary of Education...or a former coal lobbyist to the head of the EPA or... (JM) Dramatic image from the U of I TPUSA Facebook page
WORST public saga: The tearing down of Burnham Mansion
Both the Unit 4 school board and its admin, along with the “activists” who tried to save this former home that literally once had slave quarters deserve some of the blame in this saga.
Fact is, it should have been worked into the design of new Central High School, because if there is one thing this community needs, it’s for someone, some board, some organization, at some point, to be deeply creative and daring when it comes to anything related to design and aesthetic. The more I live here, and travel elsewhere, the more I recognize just how dull this community is by those standards, and by comparison to what it could be and should be.
I think Chris Kloeppel and Amy Armstrong and the rest of the board have done a terrific job on the referendum they passed. The chose to put the money elsewhere, and I was disappointed, but not surprised. C’est la vie!
But after it was clear that it wasn’t in the cards, the number of adult humans I saw behave like toddlers, acting like they were tearing down Foellinger, or putting up condos in Carle Park, was astounding.
I am a preservationist too. Literally, my family is in the process of preserving a home as I write this, and it’s one that deserves preservation, indeed. So, it’s not as though this issue isn’t an important one for me. It is, very important, to be sure!
The tearing down of the Burnham Root Mansion was insignificant, by all standards of judgment, in the face of what it means for the future of the high school, and ultimately, for the entire community.
I am grateful for that. (SF)
Photo by Patrick Singer
WORST intersection to make a left hand turn: Oregon and Lincoln, turning north
Really? You are just going to keep driving, huh? Just keep on driving, yep. Keep on driving, you too, you too. Go ahead. You see me inching, and inching more! My turn signal is on, you see what I need to do yes, yes? But fine, yeah, oh yeaaaaaaaaah — that’s good! That's good baby! That’s good BABY! Just keep on driving.
Yeah, just do that. Just make sure — You can’t — oh yeah! — that’s right, you asshole, just keep on driving, you just do that. I’ll just sit here. I’ll sit here forever. Forever and ever. Actually, fuck it. FUCK IT.
(Turns around and drives to Goodwin)
(SF) Photos by Julie McClure
WORST PR stunt: Dennis Toeppen going to China
I can’t believe that we actually post about this guy, but Dennis Toeppen has found his way to make it impossible for us to turn away.
I’m not sure who is managing his PR campaign to make sure he doesn’t look like a total asshole, but whomever it was decided it was a good idea to send his ass to China to pretend that he’s actually not a racist. You know, because we were all born yesterday, and we have no idea of what it means for a man who has consistently been a total racist scumbag time and time again visit a place to take photos with people that he’s always called out in horrible ways.
Perhaps it was his idea to do this? Maybe so. Dude has to have some lawyer somewhere helping him out, especially given the nature of his business and the liabilities that come along with operating a bus company.
Deep down, I truly wish that Dennis Toeppen was going to China to learn more about the culture and people that he’s so strongly against as a white man with racist tendencies living in the United States, operating a business that caters so much towards students at the University of Illinois. A campus where many, many students from China enroll and ultimately boost the U of I to an extraordinary level by their talents that they showcase here.
You’d think he’d be grateful for their contributions to his business. Though we do see these types of power moves by white men in power — they stomp their feet and say “well this is my business so I won’t tolerate this behavior!” while not understanding there are consequences for throwing a temper tantrum, especially racist ones on the internet.
Toeppen doesn’t really care about that. Though apparently he did care enough to take a trip to China and take a bunch of photos of himself to try to prove to us that he’s not who people make him out to be.
I must say, if you have to try that hard to not appear to be a racist, you probably are a racist. (PS) Photo from Dennis Toeppen's Facebook page
WORST attempts at food porn:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
A picture is worth 1,000 words.
Marketing and promotion are essentials for a successful business, and those things don’t come cheap. With everyone having access to social media, and many people with sophisticated smart phone cameras, anyone can be a business’ PR person. We do the same here at Smile Politely.
But sometimes making your product look good is hard, and if your product is food, you’re often in for an uphill struggle. Brown foods might taste best, but they photograph poorly. Meat is hard to photograph well. And ground meat? Yeesh. White creamy sauces? That’s a tough one. Phallic sour cream (or is that butter?)? Now I've seen it all. We get it, and we are not interested in calling out local restaurants for trying to do their best with the resources they have. But sometimes we fail, even when we give it our all. And sometimes it’s best just to delete the photo and try again later, in better lighting, with a different product. After all, you want to entice someone to eat the food, not expel it. (JH) Screenshots from Facebook and Instagram
Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer contributed to this article.