Next Tuesday, April 4, is deadline day for voting in this year’s General Consolidated Election. Probably the race that is the most interesting, and competitive in Decatur, is for three seats that are up for election on the Decatur School Board.
Bill Clevenger, Will Wetzel, Jacob Jenkins, Mark Reynolds, Misty Fronk and Hannah Wolfe are the six candidates campaigning for the three seats but there are actually eight names on the ballot. Datrice Weathers and Jalynn Walker are listed on the ballot because they were also running for the school board but withdrew their candidacies too late in the process to have their names removed from the ballot.
The question that confronts the school board race is how many votes will Weathers and Walker receive from voters who don’t realize they are no longer in the race or are selected because of not being familiar with the candidates in the race? What candidates who are in the race will lose votes as a result of votes going to Weathers and Walker?
In a race that hasn’t attracted a great deal of attention, and high voter turnout isn’t expected, votes for non-candidates might play a larger than usual role in determining who wins — and why.
• TURN OUT — While I’m on the subject of voter impact, I checked with Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner late last week about how many early and mail-in votes had been cast in this election. Here’s the breakdown that Josh gave me in comparison to previous odd year elections: Josh told me that there were, as of late last week, 1,583 vote by mail ballots returned and 546 early voters in person so far for a total of 2,129. For comparison: • 2021 had a total of 8,963 voters and 1,291 of them were early and vote by mail. • 2019 had a total of 10,848 voters and 1,947 of them were early and vote by mail. • 2017 had a total of 17,543 voters and 2,895 of them were early and vote by mail. The above comparison shows that vote by mail and early voting is about double what it was two years ago and that was with several days left in this voting cycle.
The only question about the upward movement of early voting numbers this time around is how many more people are voting by mail and early voting — instead of voting on election day? We won’t know that until the votes are counted after the polls close next Tuesday.
• OBSERVATIONS — I haven’t done a series of interviews with all of the candidates during this election cycle so it is unfair to make any endorsements in the races. Some of the candidates I’ve known for decades and others I have not talked with during this campaign except in informal settings or emails, or not at all. However, based on being a very longtime publisher of this newspaper, and serving in public office myself, I do have a few general observations about this election.
• BILL Clevenger is the strongest candidate in the Decatur School Board race which has a strong field of candidates with a mixture of backgrounds, experience and age. I’ve known Bill for more than a few decades and worked with him on joint projects during the years I was mayor and he was the executive director of the Decatur Park District — a position he held during all of those years of the park district’s transformation. Bill has always been very much aware of what is going on in the community.
I believe what makes Bill a very strong candidate for election (he was appointed to fill a position on the school board not that long ago) is that he has worked both sides of the table — working with the park board when he was executive director and now, on the other side of the table, as a school board member working with a superintendent. That’s an understanding of both sides that very few candidates have experience in doing and it is invaluable in understanding the actions and duties of a public board. Bill is also retired, so he has the time to devote to the school district which is at an important juncture right now and needs some solid, knowledgeable and seasoned leadership moving into the future. In a field of stronger than usual candidates, Bill Clevenger, in my opinion, is the strongest.
• MARK Reynolds, Hannah Wolfe and Will Wetzel are also strong candidates in the race. Jacob Jenkins is no stranger to running for public office or appearing before public boards to make his views known. His campaign has not been as high-profile as those already mentioned. The sixth candidate, Misty Fronk, lacks widespread name recognition and faces a real uphill battle in claiming one of the school board seats. Six candidates for three seats and the results of the school board election will be interesting to evaluate.
• CITY COUNCIL — In the race between four candidates for the three seats opening up on city council, incumbents Lisa Gregory and Dennis Cooper should have no problem being re-elected. Former longtime councilman Pat McDaniel (who didn’t run for re-election two years ago, after serving ten years on council) should still have the name recognition as the two incumbents and should win the third seat. Karl Coleman, the challenger, trying to win a seat on council, faces a solid slate of known incumbents which is really difficult to beat.
• MAYOR Julie Moore Wolfe should have no trouble being elected to another term since she has no opponent. The mayor strongly encouraged Pat McDaniel to run for the council, when it was apparent that other potential candidates weren’t interested. Her position in dealing with the council on the issues will be a little stronger than it has been in the past if Gregory, Cooper and McDaniel win election next week.
• IT WASN’T that long ago that Regan Deering was running for Congress against Nikki Budzinski in a high profile race in the 13th District, which includes a lot of Decatur and Macon County. Budzinski won that race and is presently serving in Congress, but Deering is still devoted to serving others. She is running for a position on the Mount Zion School board and has a “letter to the editor” on page 2 of the print and online editions of this week’s Tribune explaining why she is doing so. It will be interesting to see how strong she finishes in the Mount Zion School Board race. A strong win could keep her name in the mix for future area races. Just saying…
• ROAD REPORT — Dan Keil sent me the following email: “The other day I went to the intersection (Sandcreek Drive and South Shores Dr.). My truck spun in the rocks. I was afraid I was going to hit somebody if I spun out of control! “So yesterday, I took a broom and swept the rocks away. Now that area is safe!” Thanks, Dan, for taking the time to make our roads safer!
• LOOK OUT! My office manager nearly got run over at the intersection of Wood and South Water Street last Wednesday afternoon on her way to the courthouse. A driver, facing a red traffic signal, was looking to see if another car was coming before he turned right. Unfortunately, he didn’t think that, because the traffic light was red, pedestrians had the right-of-way in were walking across the street. I’m finding more and more drivers who are turning right on a red light forgetting to see if pedestrians are crossing the street in their lane.
Thankfully, Kathryn came back to the newspaper office in one piece after a close call. Be careful — driving or walking! Drive and walk defensively. That means don’t take for granted that drivers will always be obeying traffic laws — either accidentally or on purpose.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider to discuss the issues confronting Decatur and Central Illinois — a conversation we’ve been having about every Thursday morning for the past 20 years.