Round 1 of the battle to fill 3 Decatur City Council seats will be held on Tuesday (Feb. 23) when the results of the Consolidated Primary Election will reduce the field of 12 candidates to 6 —the 6 receiving the most votes. Those six will then move on to the second and final round when the Consolidated Election is held on April 6th, where the top three vote getters will win the 3 seats up for election on council.
As I’ve mentioned before in my column, due to the restrictions of COVID-19 it has been nearly impossible for the candidates to campaign in the same way as candidates in previous elections. Without parades, public forums and in-person candidate gatherings, those without much public name recognition going into the campaign have a difficult road to victory.
Quite frankly, unless something changes in this last week of the campaign, in all of my years of covering elections and city council races, I don’t believe any have been as ignored by the general public as this one — despite having so many candidates! The lack of interest in this election is not only because of the COVID-19 restrictions, but I believe a lot of citizens are totally “burned out” with campaigns and elections because of everything that has happened in national “politics” during the past year. Many also have other concerns on their minds like what’s going to happen to their jobs, or how they going to pay their bills? There are a lot of distractions that are crowding out the city council race.
• ACTUALLY, this is one of the more important city council races that we’ve had in awhile, although all of the races for council have impacted the council in both good and bad ways in the past. Heading into Tuesday’s election, these are the 12 candidates trying to be among the six to win and move on to the April 6th Consolidated Election: incumbent David Horn, incumbent Chuck Kuhle, Marty Watkins, Ed Culp, William Wetzel, Elijah England, Aldophia D. Cooper, Hardik J. Shah, Jacob Jenkins, John Phillips, Marc Girdler and write-in candidate Eric Summerlott. The outcome of Tuesday’s election will tell us a lot about what we can expect when the remaining six square off on April 6th for the three seats up for election.
• HERE ARE a few personal observations on what I expect to happen: Incumbents David Horn and Chuck Kuhle will be two of the six who will move on and that’s to be expected. Incumbents on the Decatur City Council are usually re-elected. The last time, as I recall, two incumbents weren’t re-elected was 12 years ago when the late Betsy Stockard and Dan Caulkins lost in their re-election bids. Dan was seeking his second term, Betsy had been on council for several years. Dan is now a state representative who represents the 101st District who was re-elected to a second term in the last election.
Chuck Kuhle finished first in the balloting four years ago and both Kuhle and Horn have good name recognition. If Kuhle and Horn finish next Tuesday’s election in impressive fashion, they are likely to be re-elected to their second four-year terms on April 6 —and the third seat up for election, which has been held by Councilman Pat McDaniel for a decade who isn’t running for re-election, will end up being the only chance challengers have to win a seat this time around.
Of course, if the unthinkable happens and Kuhle and Horn fail to make the cut in Tuesday’s election, everything changes — but I don’t expect that to happen. If they finish in the bottom half of the six candidates who win, that could also send a signal there is opportunity for the challengers.
• I ALSO expect candidates Ed Culp and Marty Watkins to finish in the top six on Tuesday and move on to the final round on April 6. Culp brings an excellent background of community involvement and has been publicly endorsed by former Macon County Sheriff and former city council member Jerry Dawson and former Decatur Police Chief Mark Barthelemy — and both know a lot about how local government operates and what candidate is well-qualified to serve on council.
This is Marty Watkins’ third try to win a council seat and he has learned a lot about running for the office from his past experiences. He has signs everywhere and has advertised extensively in newspapers and other media. He has a solid platform and has worked hard to explain his positions and inform the public of his overall view of what it takes to be a city councilman I would be surprised if Culp and Watkins didn’t make the cut to six.
• IT SEEMS to me that Jacob Jenkins and William Wetzel will be the other two candidates that will move on and be among the six running for the three council seats in the April 6th final round. Jenkins works for the Illinois Department of Human Services and has been active in the community in a variety of ways. He was unsuccessful in his bid for mayor in the last election which was won by Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. Jenkins was one of the few council candidates who reached out to this newspaper to explain his position and background. He was also endorsed by the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly — a significant endorsement.
Will Wetzel is a native of Decatur and currently works as an IT Professional in Decatur. Wetzel was also endorsed by the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly (as was incumbent David Horn). It is good to see a young guy running for council and Wetzel has been very open about his platform, in addition to sharing it with this newspaper when he declared himself a candidate months ago. He also has it posted on his Facebook page. at www.facebook.com/willfordecatur .
I believe he is running for the right reason but, if he is one of the six finalists will face some tougher questions about a few planks in his platform. I’m sure he is willing to explain further why he believes some ways the city operates can be improved.
So, I think the six candidates that will emerge winners from next Tuesday’s election will be David Horn, Chuck Kuhle, Ed Culp, Marty Watkins, Jacob Jenkins and William Wetzel. •
• OF COURSE, the odds of going six-for-six in selecting the winners on Tuesday are not good but, since I didn’t have the opportunity (because of COVID restrictions) to sit down with each candidate in one-on-one interviews in my office, I’m just going by what I’ve seen, heard and experienced in this race. An unknown factor that could shake up Tuesday’s race is the number of voters who actually cast ballots in the primary. The turn out for early voting was pathetic with a small number out of over 48,000 registered voters casting ballots for the candidates of their choice! Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner told me a few weeks ago that he expected somewhere around 3,000 voters in this primary. That’s still a very small percentage of the registered voters in our city.
• LACK of voter interest in Tuesday’s Primary Election is certainly apparent in the number of letters we “didn’t get” this year in support of candidates. Usually, our last newspaper edition before an election (which is this week’s) is full of “letters to the editor” in support of candidates. As I’m writing this column, we have zero letters in this week’s edition in support of city council candidates — and have only received a few in earlier weeks, mostly in support of Ed Culp and Marty Watkins. The weather may also play a small role in the turnout on election day. If we have a sub-zero day on Tuesday, it could have a negative impact on the number of those voting.
• THIS PARAGRAPH from Memorial Health System which is printed on page 15 of this week’s print edition of the Tribune is good news: “From October to now, only six people have been hospitalized for influenza at Memorial Health System’s five hospitals: Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Decatur Memorial Hospital, Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospi-tal in Lincoln and Taylorville Memorial Hospital. Last year, that number was 99.”
I guess wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands frequently is not only a good defense in fighting COVID-19, but is also effective in reducing the number of flu cases.
• A GREAT EXPERIENCE: One of our readers who prefers not to have his name used, sent me the following note: “I received my first Covid-19 vaccine through the Veterans Administration here in Decatur. “The staff was knowledgeable, courteous and timely. We are so fortunate to have an establishment, such as the Decatur VA Clinic, in Decatur. Thank you ALL.”
• BRRRR. This past week has been a very frigid one. In fact some of the temperatures here in Decatur and Central Illinois have been lower than we’ve seen in a lot of years — a few back to 1902! I guess we now have to add “stay warm” to “stay safe’ in our admonitions to protect each other! Record cold and the pandemic — what else should we expect from the early 1900s? (Don’t answer that.)
•I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s “Byers & Co,” every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider to discuss the issues impacting Decatur and Central Illinois.