A candidate running for Champaign mayor next spring says he has the skills to boost the city’s economic viability and bring neighborhoods together.
University of Illinois Economics Professor Joe Petry launched his campaign Thursday.
He’s the fourth person to seek the office, facing incumbent Don Gerard, and city council members Deb Feinen and Karen Foster next April.
Petry sees the campaign as a chance to unite the community – and get a consensus around economic development and job growth.
"You’ve seen perhaps recently the news with regards to the challenges of our property values – (they've) not kept up," he said. "But more importantly than that, we’ve got significant challenges of poverty, employment, and homelessness. And that takes a special skill set, I think.”
A Champaign native, Petry has been a local developer, and owns County Plaza in Urbana. But he said he hasn’t been part of any such projects for years, and is not running for office to make a profit.
Petry says his role as Champaign Park Board president has helped him understand ideas like collaboration and transparency.
The first city council meeting for Champaign's new mayor was an uneventful one. But Don Gerard will work to fulfill part of his campaign platform starting next week.
Gerard was sworn into office before the packed city council chambers Tuesday, a night where all votes were unanimous and the bills before the council prompted little conversation. But at next Tuesday's study session, the new mayor and council will revisit the cost-cutting proposals of ending overnight front desk hours at the police station, and reducing staff at one fire station. City leaders say $2-million in cuts are needed.
Gerard says he wants to look into spending some reserve funds and saving jobs. He says it's all in the interest of the taxpayer.
"I want to bring them all the services they deserve, and all the services they're paying for," said Gerard. "We have money in rainy day accounts, and I think it's raining. So I think it's time to decide if we can move some of that money around a little bit, and get us through as we meet the economic recovery here."
New District 5 Council member Paul Faraci, also sworn in Tuesday night, says he has no intention of cutting police or fire services. The state economic official says he was 'energized' by Tuesday night's crowd, and is anxious to get his feet wet.
"There's a lot of work to do, and we've got a lot of hard decisions to make in the future," Faraci said. "But I think the quality of the staff, the experience of the sitting city council and our new mayor, I look forward to getting a lot of things accomplished."
And Mayor Gerard wants to turn his attention to another group suffering from the poor economy - teenagers. He wants to start up a citywide teen summer job program.
"What are we doing with a generation of teenagers who have been displaced by adults who have taken part-time jobs and so forth just to make ends meet," said Gerard. "The job market in Champaign is really tough right now. The best way to keep our streets safe and our community healthy is have teenagers working."
In other business, Champaign's city council has gone on record opposing the state's decision to drop Health Alliance. The council Tuesday unanimously backed a resolution urging that the decision be re-examined. Company CEO Jeff Ingrum told the council that more than 30,000 state employees in Champaign County are covered by Health Alliance, and the state's decision could impact the local economy by more than $30-million. Ingrum says members would essentially be 'left to choose between their doctors and their wallets.'
A new recycling center is expected to open soon in Champaign. The council last night approved a special use permit for the drop-off facility operated by Green Purpose LLC located at 807 Pioneer Street, just to the south of where the city used to operate a facility of its own.
From WILL - News Headlines - April 05, 2011 10:47 PM
University of Illinois employee Don Gerard will become the next mayor of Champaign, defeating three-term incumbent and retired police officer Jerry Schweighart.
Gerard picked up 51% of the vote in a race that at times had turned testy over budget issues and campaign funding.
"It's all been a process of being prepared. To see it to fruition is just remarkable," Gerard said after his win. "I think it's a real testament to our team and to the community. People really got out and supported us and worked really hard. I think we had a lot of numbers pushed up in a lot of different places, and I think we really made a statement."
Speaking by phone after the vote count, Schweighart blamed lack of union support and very low turnout in Champaign, which he called "pathetic."
When asked if he had any words of advice for the new mayor, Schweighart responded, "He's smarter than I am. I'll let him figure it out."
There was also one Champaign City Council seat left open by resignation -- state economic development official Paul Faraci has won that seat, defeating two other write-in candidates. Faraci received 787 votes to Cathy Emanuel's 518 and James McGuire's 415.