Most of the smoke has cleared from last week’s Decatur City Council Primary Election and, except for some mail-in ballots that remain to be counted, the results are now known and six of the 12 candidates are moving on to the Consolidated Election on April 6, where three will be elected to council seats.
However, as we are only a little over a month away from the second and final round of the city council sweepstakes, I want to share a few thoughts about the results of the Primary Election and what it means to our community — at least in my view — as we enter the last month of the campaign.
First, as I’m writing this column, the 6 candidates with the most votes out of the 12, were, in the order they finished, incumbent David J. Horn, Ed Culp, incumbent Chuck Kuhle, Marty Watkins, William Wetzel and Jacob Jenkins.
What really baffles me is that, in an election this important to the residents of Decatur, out of 48,025 registered voters only 3315 ballots were cast from a voter turnout of 6.9%!
Although there were 12 candidates the overwhelming number (93.1%) of registered voters basically indicated they didn’t care who was running, or who would win and move on to the April 6th Consolidated Election.
That’s disappointing…considering the impact that city council decisions have on the residents of Decatur.
• THOSE six who garnered the most votes did so through established name recognition, running advertising to keep their name before the public and taking advantage of every opportunity for people to hear or read their name — and know a little more about them.
Evidence of that reality is that the candidates who finished in the top four places were the only ones to do much advertising, and in the case of this newspaper, were the only four who advertised their campaigns.
I’m sure it was generally a lack of funds for the other candidates to run much advertising and that’s why, anyone running for public office, like a council seat, should have some finances and donations in place to use to advertise their name.
They also need to take advantage of a great deal of “free” advertising through media interviews, etc.
It doesn’t make any difference how noble a candidate’s cause is, unless he or she gets known through years of working and volunteering in the community, people still have to remember a candidate’s name and attach a positive reason to vote for that candidate when they see that name on the ballot. That comes from repeated exposure of the candidate’s name in the media.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but they are exceptions, not the standard.
• INCUMBENTS, unless they have committed some horrible act during the time they served, have a distinct advantage in any election, especially a city council election.
That’s the reason that present council members David Horn and Chuck Kuhle were two of the top three vote getters out of 12 candidates.
Both also have a background of community involvement at a fairly high profile level.
Also, candidates Ed Culp and Marty Watkins have long histories of experience and being active in the community. and they finished in second and fourth place respectively in the voting.
• WILLIAM Wetzell finished fifth in the number of votes but, as a young guy and not a lot of overall name recognition, he has to work hard to get better known. There’s no doubt he is serious about discussing the issues and getting his name before the public via signs, Facebook, etc.
• JACOB Jenkins, who finished sixth is also active in the community and certainly provided this newspaper with information about his platform, a bio and goals. He is a serious candidate and has name recognition in part from running for mayor two years ago.
• ‘WEED’ OUT? A few years ago, members of the city council voted against allowing a recreational marijuana dispensary to be located in the city limits. Some communities have opted in and the big draw is about all the money a community can make by having its own dispensary.
It appeared the dispensary question was going to be a major issue in the city council primary but it fizzled out and didn’t make much of an impact in the vote totals.
In fact, the candidate who seemed to push the marijuana platform the hardest finished near the bottom of the 12 running in the primary with only a few hundred votes.
The question was then asked: “If the dispensary issue was something with a lot of support, why didn’t the supporters turn out and support a candidate who advocated strongly for it?”
• INCUMBENT David Horn voted for the dispensary when it came before council and incumbent Chuck Kuhle voted against it at the same time. Horn garnered the most votes in last Tuesday’s primary and Kuhle was third. About all I heard regarding the dispensary question came from a few senior voters who were intent on voting against Horn last Tuesday because of his stance on that one issue, but he still finished at the top.
Challenger Ed Culp has indicated to me and others that he is against the dispensary and I expect that position will not change. Culp finished second out of the 12 in last week’s primary.
Where Marty Watkins, who finished fourth in the primary last week, stands on the issue is not known, at least at the time I’m writing this column. I did contact Watkins a few days ago about his stance and he replied: “At this time, with all due respect, I would need to do more research on the issue of the dispensary. I will contact you when I have done so.”
• OUT OF the six candidates who are running for the three seats on city council, at the time I’m writing this column, we apparently have two candidates, Kuhle and Culp, against the dispensary, three candidates — Horn, Jenkins and Wetzel in favor — and one, Watkins, presently undecided on the issue.
With a month left before the April 6th election, there could be some shifting of opinion on the issue — but I believe most voters will not be filling the three council seats heavily influenced by the marijuana issue, but by the name recognition and background of the candidates.
Also, unlike the Primary Election, there will be other races besides the city council race on the ballot, involving other issues and candidates which will make it harder to gain more name recognition between now and April 6th.
• ALERT: Due to the Consolidated Primary Election early voting for residents of the City of Decatur will begin March 12, 2021. Candidates for Decatur City Council in the April Consolidated Election are ranked by the number of votes they received in the February Consolidated Primary. Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner stated: “Vote by mail ballots cast in the Consolidated Primary have until March 9, 2021 to arrive and be counted. Therefore, the ballot order cannot be determined until the final count is certified at the end of the day on March 9th.
“Voters who do not live in the City of Decatur will be able to early vote beginning February 25, 2021. Vote by mail ballots for City of Decatur voters will be mailed beginning March 12, 2021 and February 25, 2021 for voters outside the City.”
If voters have questions they can call the County Clerk’s Office at 217-424-1333.
• MILLIKIN HEIGHTS is sponsoring a City Council candidate forum on Tuesday, March 9th at 7:00pm via zoom. The forum will allow citizens to hear responses directly from each candidate. Questions will cover a range of topics including neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and leadership style. The zoom call link will be available on the Millikin Heights website – www.millikinheights.org – at 6:45pm on Tuesday, March 9th. All six candidates have confirmed their attendance.
The candidates will be given 2 minutes each to respond to each question. All voters in Decatur are encouraged to join the zoom call to learn more about each candidate. Near Westside Restoration and Preservation Society (NWRAPS) d/b/a Millikin Heights is Decatur’s original historic neighborhood centered around the James Millikin Homestead and anchored by Millikin University, Oakwood Business District, the Decatur Historic District, and Lincoln Park. It also serves as a 501(c)(3) CHDO for the City of Decatur.
More information is available at www.millikinheights.org.
•DECATUR TRADES & Labor Assembly, representing more than 13,000 union members and retirees in Macon County, will host a Decatur School Board Candidate Forum on Thursday, March 11 at 5:00 PM via Zoom. All seven (7) candidates have been invited to participate. The event is open to the public and anyone can register on the Decatur Trades & Labor Assembly’s facebook page: https://fb.me/e/2bTGNGk2t The mission of Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly, AFL-CIO, of Macon County is to improve the lives of working families—to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our state and the nation. The organization is a key part of the nation’s largest and strongest labor federation—the AFL-CIO, which unites 10 million working women and men of every race and ethnicity and from every walk of life. Anyone interested in participating in the Zoom event can contact Committee On Political Education (COPE) Chair Amy Rueff at 217-433-5126.
• WITH SO MUCH attention focused on the city council race, it has taken away some of the interest in other races underway, such as the one for Decatur School Board, where four new members will be elected on April 6th, plus other races thar impact the community where almost zero information about the candidates has been offered,,,but that is changing as we move towards the election finish line on April 6th.
I JOIN WSOY’s Brian Byers on Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider.