Champaign County Board Democrat Tom Betz, who is Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite's next-door neighbor, and who signed a fund-raising letter for the mayor a couple of months ago, now says he's supporting challenger Laurel Prussing in the Feb. 22 Democratic primary election.
"I am going to vote for Laurel." said Betz. "I supported Tod until he sent out that mailing taking credit for the library. That was just ludicrous."
Betz' wife, Jane Williams, served on the Urbana Free Library Board but was not reappointed by Satterthwaite. She said today that while she was never told why she wasn't reappointed, Satterthwaite questioned her about comments she had made months earlier to The News-Gazette about an ongoing dispute over the cost of the library expansion. Satterthwaite had once attempted to reduce the size of the expanded library as a cost-cutting effort. Williams and others called him on it.
Betz said that the library expansion proposal that Satterthwaite was pushing was minimal. "he was not building enough for the future," Betz said.
His wife, Williams, who is the foreign and international librarian at the University of Illinois law school, said the expansion proposal eventually settled on "should be good for another 15 to 20 years."
Both Williams and Betz said they like some of the things Satterthwaite has done as mayor, but that his statements about the library expansion made them angry.
"He's been very good on certain issues, such as economic development," Williams said, "but it's just so wrong for him to take credit for this."
"He's still a good person and a good neighbor," said Betz. "But when he sent that piece out, it infuriated me and it infuriated my wife. He didn't have to take credit for the library expansion. He could have just said that the library was expanded while he was mayor."
Betz said he has not told Satterthwaite that he is now backing Prussing but that "I think he knows that I'm angry."
Betz acknowledged that he's had problems with Prussing in the past too. He sparred with her over the need to build the $27 million county courthouse (Prussing opposed the quarter-cent sales tax vote that paid for the courthouse, while Betz was a proponent) and he was angry when she supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for president in 2000 ("All of us had given her money in her various campaigns as a Democrat and then she comes out and supports a Green for president.").
"To say that she's problem-free is ludicrous," Betz admitted.
Betz' switch is an indication of how conflicted many Urbana Democrats are about this mayoral race -- two well-known but imperfect Democrats facing each other. And it's another reason why I believe the crossover Republican vote -- Republicans voting in the Democratic primary -- could be a major factor in the election. We'll see in about two weeks.