The holidays are over and the Consolidated Primary Election to be held on Feb. 23 is approaching fast, In fact, early voting starts next week on January 14 and 15 in the office of Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner at 141 South Main Street, Room 119 in Decatur. With 13 candidates running for 3 seats on the city council, it is a crowded field with not as many opportunities to get a candidate’s message out and build name recognition.
The Consolidated Primary Election will reduce the field of 13 to 6 who will advance to the Consolidated General Election which will take place on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. When only 3 of 13 candidates will emerge winners of the 3 city council seats, it is now an all-out scramble to build name recognition and present a platform so voters will know more about them. Inexperience in running for office has been apparent by the majority of candidates. I was surprised that only 5 of the 13 candidates bothered to issue a news release to this newspaper announcing their candidacies.
That is their choice, of course. There is no “official” rule that a candidate has to notify any member of the news media about his or her intentions.
However, In all of the years that I’ve covered city council races (and been a successful candidate in two mayoral races) I’ve never seen so many candidates for local office fail to get the word out through this newspaper that they are running — and explain their reasons for running. I do not know if other members of the new media received any news releases from the candidates, but I do know that most of them did not send anything here. Although the technology has changed over the years, and some apparently prefer to use Facebook or some other means to get the word out, many of our readers represent voters who never fail to show up at the polls regardless of what the election is about. Besides, in releasing candidacy information to the press, a candidate gets free space because it is a news story.
• THIS TIME around, besides incumbents David Horn and Chuck Kuhle, only Ed Culp, Marty Watkins and William (Will) Wetzel sent out news releases or advisories of their candidacies — at least to this newspaper. During an election year when it is very difficult to get a candidate’s message out because of the elimination of so many public meetings, parades, etc, due to COVID-19, every way possible should be utilized in announcing candidacies —especially when the announcement space is free! While members of the news media (including this newspaper) have access to who filed their nominating petitions for city council seats, I’ve always felt it was better for a candidate to announce his or her candidacy in every way possible.
Facebook does not provide the same impact on candidate announcements that the news media can provide. In the case of the Decatur Tribune, I can assure you that many of the thousands of our loyal readers are “paper newspaper” readers and are not even online so they are not checking out Facebook or other sites. Many of these people are dedicated voters who would not miss voting in an election for anything. Still, a candidate for any office is free to handle his or her campaign announcements any way they want but I’m just saying…
• THE THIRTEEN candidates for the 3 city council seats up for election are: incumbent David Horn, incumbent Chuck Kuhle, Marty Watkins, Ed Culp, William (Will) Wetzel, Elijah England, Aldophia D. Cooper, Hardik J. Shah, Jacob Jenkins, John Phillips, Marc Girdler and write-in candidate Eric Summerlott. The third council seat up for election is presently occupied by Councilman Patrick McDaniel, who is retiring from the council after ten years of serving the community in that capacity.
• CITY COUNCIL candidate Marty Watkins, who is involved in his third election to win a seat on the council is keeping his name before the public. He used some members of the media (including this newspaper) to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Watkins also scheduled a news conference in Central Park for today (Wednesday) to address gun violence in our community. That is certainly on the minds of many Decaturites these days.
• WETZEL ONLINE — Will Wetzel, one of the aforementioned city council challengers who are effectively getting the word out, will be hosting a Facebook Live candidate meet and greet on Thursday, January 7, 2021, from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM. The meet and greet will be accessible at the following URL – https://fb.me/e/ 10cbeHNpq or by the candidate’s Facebook Page, Will Wetzel for Decatur City Council, www.facebook.com/willfordecatur. According to information sent to the Tribune: “The forum’s format will consist of 45 minutes of Wetzel outlining his positions on fair and equal governmental representation, economic issues facing the city, and preparing Decatur for the future. The remaining 45 minutes will be a question-and-answer session. A recording of the event will be preserved on Facebook.”
People are encouraged to submit questions directly by emailing Wetzel at firstname.lastname@example.org, direct messaging the Will Wetzel for Decatur City Council Facebook page, or writing them in the event’s chat.
• ENDORSEMENTS —The Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly, representing 35 local unions and more than 13,000 union members and retirees in Macon County, announced their endorsements for Decatur City Council last week. They endorsed David Horn, Jacob Jenkins and Will Wetzel for the three council seats. The endorsements were based on the priorities of candidates in relation to the issues of working families. I was a little surprised the endorsements came so early, but, as I indicated elsewhere in this column, there is less time left before the primary than most of us are realizing. It is my understanding that the candidates were interviewed via Zoom so they had the opportunity to make their case and answer questions.
• I ENJOYED participating in the Assembly’s interview process back when I ran for mayor. Three other candidates for mayor were also interviewed separately. I was fortunate to receive the Assembly’s endorsement when I ran for election, and then, for re-election. There are a lot of groups that endorse candidates, but the endorsement of the Assembly didn’t end with the announcement. Several union volunteers went door to door with my campaign material and certainly were an encouragement to me. What did I promise them in order to get their endorsement? I told them I would always be willing to listen to their issues and concerns and made no promises beyond that pledge.
Several times, before I left office, we met in the council’s conference room and I listened to their views, but I also told them what I was going to do when it came time to vote on an agenda item. I think one of the biggest mistakes an elected official can make is refusing to listen to those who can add insight on an issue he or she is getting ready to vote on. When people feel that elected leaders don’t care what they think, it doesn’t create a good situation. Often, in our conference room conversations, I would tell those meeting with me, “Here’s how I am planning to vote” on the agenda item. “Explain to me why my vote is wrong.” It was never enough, at least for me, to change my vote, unless additional relevant insight was offered that I had either not known, or thought didn’t measure up to a “vote changer”.
• POLICE Chief Jim Getz and the Decatur Police Department do an amazing job for our community and I’ve always been very supportive of the DPD. Still, the recent rash of shootings we’ve experienced has many people on edge. One of our readers that I won’t identify sent me the following email: “The Decatur Police Department is calling for the reinforcement of State Police and Federal Officers to help patrol Decatur streets and to combat the unprecedented violence of gang related shootings that have occurred in the last week in the city. We may be under curfew or martial law before this is over.
“Decatur is becoming a very dangerous place with young children even being shot as gang violence is exploding in the neighborhoods. It is bad enough where I live but the inner city is much, much worse. Decatur. or ‘Little Chicago’ as it is being called is gaining a reputation as a place to be avoided to stay out of harm’s way.
“I didn’t ever think I’d see this city descend into this kind of madness. However I fear it is going to become a lot worse with the decline in all areas that the city of Decatur, Illinois, is experiencing. God help us!”
This reader’s concerns are not unlike the fears of other citizens that I’ve heard from recently. Arrests have been made in some of the recent outbreaks of shootings, but more could be made if citizens would help with important information that would help them solve cases. I can understand the reluctance some citizens have in coming forward with vital information because of a fear of reprisals against them, or their family. However, CrimeStoppers is an important tool in helping the police fight crime in our community. Those providing vital information can remain anonymous in a call to 423-TIPS and there is a cash reward of up to $1,000 offered for valuable information in solving cases. I’ve been printing the Crime-Stoppers number as often as I can in the Decatur Tribune. The police need your help, and so does the community, if you have information regarding a crime in our city. It takes a cooperative effort with the police and citizens working together to solve these crimes and be a deterrent to criminal activity in our community.
• I WAS shocked on Monday when I received a news release announcing that Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who represents part of our community, was resigning his position on Jan. 17. (See complete story elsewhere on this site.) Since most people have assumed that Manar would probably be governor, congressman or a U. S. Senator some day, it was a shocking announcement.
A few moments after receiving the news I was wondering if he had a serious illness that was causing him to step down. Then, as I was trying to wrap my mind around his departure from the state senate, I received another news release that Governor JB Pritzker was announcing that Senator Manar will join his administration to serve as senior advisor! (See page 22 of this week’s print edition of the Tribune, or a story posted elsewhere on this site)
Manar has always been great to work with and is well-liked by members of both parties. He has always been accessible to me whenever I needed to talk with him, starting with his first campaign for senator. He will be a tough act to follow for the person who is appointed to take his place. Best wishes to Andy Manar in his new position.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on the City Hall Insider part of WSOY’s Byers & Co. program every Thursday morning at 7:00. If you can’t listen then, the interview, as well as other interviews are available via podcast.