It’s election time! Yes, it was just election time in November, but that was just for county, state, and federal offices. Now, it’s time to think more locally, and cast your votes for municipal candidates on April 2nd. The aforementioned races get a heckuva lot of our attention, and that makes sense. At the state and especially federal levels, you are seeing constant coverage throughout all of the media you consume. Even if you don’t seek it out, as my addicted-to-politics self does, it’s kind of hard to avoid. Then it naturally follows that those county races are going to see some action, being on the same ballot and all. In fact, the November midterms had a rather unprecedented turnout, but we don’t need to rehash that here.
Whether it’s from election fatigue, or just lack of constant exposure, municipal elections sadly do not generate the enthusiasm and turnout as their counterparts, and that’s a shame. Because while state and federal elections for sure have consequences for us locally, the offices that are up for grabs in a municipal election — city council, mayor, school board, park district, Parkland board — make decisions about our lives and the lives of others in our communities on a daily basis. The candidates you select will be making decisions that will (hopefully) better our communities and our schools, so as residents of said communities it’s on us to take the time to check out the candidates and head to the polls. It should be noted, that municipal races are non-partisan, unlike their county counterparts, which just means you’ve got to pay a bit more attention to really know where they stand, and if their values match yours. And yes I know that you should still focus on individual candidates and not parties in other elections, but let’s all admit that we have our leanings and our biases.
Last time around, in 2017, we published an op-ed by James Manrique that addressed this low turnout issue, especially in regards to students, renters, and low-income voters, who have the lowest turnout percentages. Soon after that election, which saw an overall turnout of about 20%, he started Champaign County Voters Alliance in an effort to increase local turnout, and make candidate information more easily accessible. Their website is a fantastic resource, especially if you’re thinking “oh shit, the election is in a week and I have no idea what’s happening.”
We here at SP have tried to do our part by sending out questions to local candidates and publishing their answers; their interviews will be linked as I give a rundown of the races (links will be added as more publish). If you feel that our Q&A’s don’t provide you with enough, and you didn’t get a chance to hit up any candidate forums, you can find those on the City of Champaign’s CGTV site. They even break it up into chapters, so that you can skip to the races you’d like to focus on. All this to say, there are plenty of resources out there to give you the info you need to make a decision.
County wide early voting began yesterday, giving you just about a week to go cast your ballot at one of these places, or if you’re an “I like to do it on election day” type person, you can look up your precinct for election day, April 2nd, here.
If you’re not registered, Grace Period Voting allows you to register and the immediately vote at any early voting location or your election day polling place. Here’s how to do that.
Now for the races. Just focusing on super local C-U here. Sorry, I can’t deal with all of the outlying school boards and village boards and things. You are important too, but trying to keep a narrow focus here.
Mayor of Champaign
This year’s mayoral race is a bit more chill than in 2015, where four candidates were vying for the job. Mayor Feinen defeated then Mayor Don Gerard to become the city’s second female mayor. Feinen is running to maintain her seat, and she’s being challenged by Azark David Cobb, who has previously run for Champaign Unit 4 School Board as well as twice for Champaign City Council.
Incumbent: Deborah Frank Feinen
Challenger: Azark David Cobb
Champaign City Council
There are a whopping eight candidates pursuing three at-large seats on the City Council. In 2017, voters selected candidates who represented certain districts in the city, this time you can vote for any of the nine candidates to fill these seats. There are three incumbents facing five challengers.
Unit 4 School District
The current Unit 4 School Board began their tenure with the enormous task of putting together a renewed referendum to build a new Central and Dr. Howard, as well as renovate other buildings, and they had to do so after the previous referendum (under different board leadership) failed rather miserably. This fall, they were involved in a, at times, contentious contract negotiation that nearly ended in a teacher strike, but that was thankfully avoided. There are currently four seats up for grabs, with three incumbents running against six challengers, three of which (Enoch, Follmer, and Sotiropolous) are running as a slate. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you must vote for all three together, but they are campaigning together with a shared platform. Two of the candidates on the ballot, Gonzalez and Robinson, have not really participated in any of the community forums or filled out questionnaires.
Urbana School District 116
Even if you are not a resident of Urbana, you’ve probably heard a bit about Urbana schools in recent months, as the current board terminated several top administrators. There’s also been a lot of conversation about restorative justice and discipline (be sure to read this UHS student’s commentary about it and about the News Gazette’s commentary). There have not been any challenged seats on the Urbana school board for a long while (current President John Dimit has been member since 1987), but this year there are. If you reside in Urbana sub districts 4 or 6, found here, you will have an opportunity to make a choice here.
Champaign Park District
The CPD is governed by five commissioners, who are elected for six year terms. This group makes decisions about how the park district’s finances will be spent, and chances are if you are a Champaign resident you take advantage of some of what the park district has to offer, so you have a stake in this.
Incumbent: Tim McMahon
Challenger: DeShawn Williams
Urbana Park District
What I just said for the Champaign Park District? Same for Urbana except there are two seats open and three candidates running.
Challenger: Cedric Stratton
Parkland College Board of Trustees
While you might not be a student or faculty or staff member at Parkland, or have a family member who is one of those things, Parkland is also a “community” college, meaning there are many ways in which the happenings there impact this community. Consider what importance this institution for higher learning has when considering future options for our young people and how Parkland grads turn around and invest in our community. There are three candidates running for two seats on the Board, which will be six year terms.
Challenger: Douglas Jones
Photos of Meadowbrook and Parkland by Sam Logan