Live blog from Champaign mayoral debate

If you can't make it to the mayoral debate tonight at the Champaign Public Library, no worries. I've got you covered.

Assuming no lapses in technological requirements, I'll be live blogging throughout the debate, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Both candidates, Don Gerard and incumbent Jerry Schweighart, have confirmed their appearances, and the debate will be moderated by the co-founders of chambanamoms.com.

This is the first debate the two candidates will engage in before the April 5 election.

I'll also be tweeting from the debate, so follow me @patrick_wade.

Updates to come...

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Update, 6:33 p.m.

First question goes to Schweighart: Why should voters retain him?

He says the city has been successful during the last 12 years while keeping the property tax relatively flat, he has experience, and he says he has the time to do it. Being mayor is a complex job, he says, and someone with a full time job might not have the time to do it.

Gerard rebuts:

"This is a time when people are concerned, and I think it's time that we have some new ideas, a new face and a new voice for the community," Gerard says.

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6:37 p.m.

Moderator Laura Weisskopf Bleill asks Schweighart about the cuts at the police front desk. Schweighart responds by saying the cuts are strategic to minimize the effect on services.

"I don't believe that these cuts" jeopardize residents' safety, Schweighart says.

Moderator Amy Hatch asks about Gerard's budget proposal.

Gerard said he's in favor of auditing all city departments from the top down and looking at the salaries of the highest paid city employees.

"My idea, plain and simple, start at the top," he says.

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6:59 p.m.

Gerard is beginning to go after Schweighart's record a bit, saying he voted against bills for social services. Schweighart is highlighting his record, regarding the city's work in Garden Hills and with the budget.

Schweighart also mentions his work with Bonnie Blair as an example of committment to the community.

Schweighart also says Gerard is stretching his record a bit.

"I'm getting amazed that he keeps saying I said things I didn't say," Schweighart says.

I'm expecting this deep analysis of Schweighart's record to continue from both sides.

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7:08 p.m.

Gerard responds to Schweighart's claim that Gerard won't have enough time for mayor with a separate full-time job.

"There are people in our community who work two or three jobs, just to put food on the table, just to pay their rent," Gerard says. That sounds familiar from the New York gubernatorial debate.

In any case, he says, he's up for it.

"If I'm elected, I won't be playing any softball, much to the delight of my fellow softball players, I'm sure," Gerard says.

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7:19 p.m.

On encouraging and retaining business...

"They want somebody to have their back and back them up. ...The mayor's power lies with his ability to communicate," Gerard says.

He adds that the mayor should be talking to business owners to see what they want, and he claims Schweighart has been absent from many meetings of economic development groups.

But Schweighart points to his Chamber of Commerce endorsement and said his duty is to appoint delegates to those boards. Those delegates always report back to him, he says, and he's always in the loop.

"I have been deeply involved in all of these things that he said I haven't been involved in," Schweighart says.

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7:33 p.m.

Closing remarks:

Gerard calls for more transparency, more minority contracts, more work with state legislators, more funding for basic services (like filling potholes), and less for the salaries of high-ranking staffers in the City Building.

Schweighart goes back to his record. Yes, times are tough right now, he says, but the city has put itself in a position to move ahead faster when the recession relinquishes its grip on the budget. He points at Olympian Drive and infill development projects that have occurred during his terms.

"All of these things were done with a budget that has remained balanced over 12 years," he says.

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8:01 p.m.

I'm wrapping up here. I followed up with the candidates after their closing remarks, and both (naturally) think they did well tonight. I asked again about the bickering over Schweighart's record, and here are the responses I got.

"He's making comments that I've never heard before," Schweighart said regarding Gerard's claims about things the mayor has said or done.

Gerard said he spent a lot of time researching before the debate, and he found his information in online stories and other documentation.

"They're up there and out there," Gerard said.

Sounds like the local newspaper reporter needs to do some fact-checking.

Hope you enjoy the live blog. If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to post them below, e-mail me at pwade@news-gazette.com or send me a message on Twitter.

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