If you missed Sunday’s News-Gazette, Tom Kacich reports on the “mayhem” developing in the City of Champaign mayoral race. Unit 4 school board member John Bambenek has formed an independent-expenditure-only committee to defeat Joe Petry. Yep, you read that correctly. He has created an anti-Petry committee and he made a big statement by funding it with $27,306.52, exactly $1000 more than Joe Petry reported in his campaign account. Bambenek explains in the article, “I will spend more than he will to make sure he loses.” Tom Kacich can expect a Mailbag question from me this week because I’d like him to confirm if he’s ever seen anything like this before in local politics. This just seems a little crazy for a Mayor’s race where the job is mostly ceremonial and mostly involves showing up at events and apparently requires taking and posting countless selfies.
What’s not so crazy is that that Park District champion Newt Dodds had already initiated his own anti-Petry effort with similar concerns. Of course, Dodds protested in a more traditional fashion by supporting another candidate and hosting a fundraiser for Deb Feinen. I didn’t think much of it before now, but many have heard the anti-Petry rumblings well before John Bambenek noticed and decided to go nuclear. When “independent” candidates like Petry run with no council experience, they can tell you whatever they want. Joe Petry is clearly taking a page out of Don Gerard’s playbook from the first campaign and is trying to use his lack of council experience as a political advantage the same way Don Gerard introduced himself as a political independent. You know, that guy you never saw at Democrat unity dinner is suddenly showing up the same way Gerard showed up to the Republican Lincoln Day Dinner during his first campaign ( =) ). Unlike Gerard, Petry has been involved in community to a much higher degree before running for Mayor and people have worked with him before running for this office. While Gerard was a complete wildcard, Petry is not and a some people clearly aren’t fans.
I have to admit, I expected Gerard to be the target of attacks, not Joe Petry. Gerard’s former campaign manager is working for Petry. Another key architect of Gerard’s first campaign (and the guy behind Petry’s petition challenge) is supporting Karen Foster. If this keeps up, Petry supporters (and he has plenty) will likely step up their support for Joe. This will cause Feinen/Foster supporters to step up their support for their respective candidates. If I’m correct, Gerard’s campaign struggles will be even less relevant and we’ll probably see an even larger smile when he posts those pictures of himself on social media. Yes, I’m poking fun at Gerard for his countless selfies, but to his credit he enjoys being out and about in the community and promoting himself and the city. He does a good job of that.
Looking forward, it is possible the school board referendum will become a bigger factor in the mayoral race. Only Foster has made a strong statement in favor of the current referendum while the other three seem more open to other ideas, especially Joe Petry. If the speculation is accurate that Joe Petry was trying to make his involvement with the school referendum a part of the political discussion, then John Bambenek may have done him a favor.