Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.
Champaign residents will be electing three city council members for at-large seats. That means you do not have to vote for someone representing your particular district, rather you will have all names to choose from on your ballot. There are eight candidates vying for these three spots, including three incumbents.
Kenton Elmore is challenging for one of these at-large seats on the city council.
Smile Politely: Why are you seeking a seat on the city council? What are you hoping to improve and/or accomplish?
Kenton Elmore: My motivation to win a seat on City Council is driven by decades of living in this community, including years of being an observer and participant of local government. I am a product of Unit 4 Schools and the University of Illinois. My family owns Jane Addams Book Shop in the heart of downtown Champaign. My mother, Susan, has worked as a nurse at Carle Hospital for over thirty years. My father, Don, has served on the City of Champaign's Plan Commission since 2011 and volunteers as a coordinator of the City's Small Business Incentive Program. And, I grew up across the street from one of City Council's most celebrated former members of recent past — Marci Dodds. All this to say, community engagement is in my blood and has always played a large role in my life. My own journey in rising to the challenge of servant leadership began to take shape when I applied for the City Council seat left vacant by Vic McIntosh in mid-2016. Following that process, City Council urged us candidates not chosen to remain involved. They asked "Will we ever see you again?" My answer has been with action, as I have since then attended nearly every City Council meeting in-person (over 120 total). In addition, I graduated from Champaign City Government 101 and currently serve on the City's Human Relations Commission via appointment by the Mayor and City Council in August 2016. Ultimately, I decided to run for election to City Council this year for two simple reasons — because the City needs a fresh perspective among its leadership, and because I am the most prepared to provide it. As a City Council Member, I will help to reapply the success in development of our downtown and campustown areas towards new strategies that will yield development more focused on conservation and rehabilitation in other parts of town. I will give Council's agenda the push it needs to be more proactive in combating gun violence. And I will be a strong advocate for housing equality via updates to the City's Human Rights Ordinance.
SP: The Community Coalition has been a good first step in beginning to discuss community violence. Now, beyond conversations and collecting data, what specific actions can be taken to address the issue of gun violence in the community?
Elmore: Gun violence threatens to negate all the work we have done to make Champaign an amazing place to live, learn, work, and play. We must address gun violence proactively by considering how the issue will be impacted with every single decision we make as City Council — from funding of programs to prioritization of goals. Gun violence is the result of other issues like neighborhood inequality, the education system, and police-community relations. We must make long-term goals to address those issues, but also drive a strategy that will help to decrease gun violence sooner. One step that must be taken there is to find the means to provide impactful City funding for the CU Fresh Start program.
SP: What sort of developments should be prioritized for Downtown Champaign?
Elmore: A project I feel is crucial to downtown is the Neil Street Corridor Improvement Plan. The “front door” of our vibrant downtown for visitors traveling in from the most nearby interstate is in desperate need of development. By adding infrastructure, beautification, safety & accessibility to this stretch of arterial thoroughfare, we will extend the successes of downtown over a mile north of its core and stimulate further opportunities for nearby neighborhoods. We also need to attract a wider audience to downtown including visitors, businesses, and people wanting to live downtown. And we must consider the folks who want to both live and work downtown. We should have the housing options in place to accommodate that desire.
SP: An area of Champaign that is sorely lacking in a healthy economic and recreational infrastructure is North Champaign. What ideas do you have for stimulating that region?
Elmore: A large step being taken is stormwater maintenance improvement. Currently the City is in the process of acquiring and demolishing property in the core of Garden Hills. This will make way for an eventual retention pond and park space, but that next phase of the project is over 10 years away. Leaving the space empty for any extended period of time will only hurt the neighborhood more. We must be proactive in our efforts today so that when the space is ready, we will be ready to finish the project immediately not in 2030. We must also address the food oasis on the north side of Champaign, which significantly affects Garden Hills. Some incentives that are applicable already exist and need more promotion, like the City’s Enterprise Zone programs. We may also need to consider enhancement or addition of such incentives.
SP: The City of Champaign currently does not have any funding mechanisms for the arts in the community. What responsibility does the city have to the arts community? Do you see it as an essential service in the same way as new construction and infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
Elmore: I feel that the City makes a meaningful contribution to the arts in Champaign. We have allocated funds in our budget to support 40 North and we help facilitate Friday Night Live during the summer months in downtown Champaign. There have also been recent updates to our liquor code that are more accommodating to street festivals. My worry, given the other major priorities we are facing, is that the time and resources we currently devote to the arts are vulnerable and sacrifice of such may soon be considered. Art will always be a significant mechanism by which our community comes together, and therefore we must recognize it is as a necessity rather than a luxury.