Marlin Wins Primary, Tops Prussing By 900 Votes

March 01, 2017
Mayor Laurel Prussing with Alderwoman Diane Marlin at the Brookens Administrative Center Tuesday night.

Mayor Laurel Prussing with Alderwoman Diane Marlin at the Brookens Administrative Center Tuesday night.

Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

For the first time since 2005, Urbana will have a new mayor. Alderwoman Diane Marlin bested incumbent Mayor Laurel Prussing by more than 900 votes in Tuesday’s Democratic primary – and she’ll take on Republican Rex Bradfield in the April 4 election. Unofficial totals from Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten have Marlin finishing with 2,427 votes. Prussing had 1,510, while Evelyn Burnett Underwood finished third with 316.

Marlin says voters she met with universally agreed that economic development is a top priority.

“They recognize that Urbana’s been lagging behind in growth when they compare us to other communities, they are pretty much maxed out as far as property taxes, and we really need to grow our tax base and develop a resilient economy in Urbana,” she said.

A two-term city council member first elected in 2009, Marlin says it’s “quite likely” the city will win its Illinois Supreme Court case against Carle Hospital seeking property tax payment.

But she says the long-term answer will come after Illinois’ Health and Hospital Association asks lawmakers to draft new legislation for non-profit hospitals, and how they qualify for tax exemptions.

“The city of Urbana, and our elected officials in Springfield, need to be at the table, making sure the language in that bill is much more fair to Urbana taxpayers.”Diane Marlin, Democratic nominee for Urbana mayor

“The city of Urbana, and our elected officials in Springfield, need to be at the table, making sure the language in that bill is much more fair to Urbana taxpayers,” she said. “It was a badly written bill to begin with – it had devastating financial impact on the city.”

Mayor Prussing says she wants to address this issue nationally once she's out of office, saying Carle shouldn’t be called non-profit when it makes $165-million in one fiscal year.

“They didn’t want to pay $6-million in property taxes. And they could easily afford to pay that, so I don’t think they treated the city of Urbana very kindly. And I think (the city) went out of our way to do everything that they asked us to do.” Prussing says that includes closing off Coler Avenue to allow for Carle’s expansion.  

Once her term as mayor is over, Prussing has no future plans for seeking office.

But three term incumbent says she does have issues to address stemming from her time in office, including her hopes that law enforcement continues to have a teaching site at the University of Illinois.

“Keeping the police training academy (at the Police Training Institute) here – and finding sustainable funding for 911 systems,” she said. “These are statewide coalitions that I’m working on, so I can do that.  It’d be better to do it when you’re mayor, but I can do that when I’m not mayor, cause I started it.”

Prussing was among those who worked save the U of I’s police training facility from closure in 2012. The mayor also wants state legislation altered to allow cities outside of Chicago to charge more than 87-cents per phone to support 911 systems.

Prussing says the greatest achievements in her 12 years in office include getting through a recession without raising property taxes or laying off staff. 

She also served as state representative and Champaign County Auditor.

Campaign signs for all three Democratic mayoral candidate outside the Urbana City Building, which served as a polling place.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

April’s election will mean the first time Bradfield has run for mayor against someone other than Prussing.

The engineer and land surveyor says he’s run prior campaigns on some of the same issues that Marlin has touted the last few months. But Bradfield says he and Marlin have different ways of reaching their goals, like luring in developers:

“When you go throwing money around, I hope that the successful mayor will understand that – that’s not their money,” he said. “It’s the people’s money. And if you’re throwing it around, are you getting anything for your buck?”

Bradfield says city government should work to entice private developers, but should never be in the development business itself. 

Underwood admits disappointment with her distant third place finish in Tuesday’s primary.

But the minister at Champaign’s New Free Will Baptist Church says her faith motivated her to seek the office.

“The spirit told me that I need to run," she said. "Because a change needed to be made, and I feel that I was the change agent. But apparently, no one else did," (laughing.)

Urbana’s first African-American school board member, she says her day by day fight to ensure equal treatment for taxpayers is long from over. 

Underwood is a regular attendee at Urbana City Council meetings.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten says Tuesday's vote turnout more that doubled what the city saw for the mayoral Demcratic primary four years ago, when Prussing defeated Les Stratton. On Tuesday, his office cast 4,254 ballots.

"Nothing turns out the vote like engaged, active candidates dragging their candidates to their polls."Gordy Hulten, Champaign County Clerk

"Nothing turns out the vote like engaged, active candidates dragging their candidates to their polls," he said.

More than 400 people came in to vote at the County Clerk's office. Meanwhile, 866 voters took advantage of early voting. Hulten says everything went smoothly with voting equipment Tuesday.

Story source: WILL