Political newcomer joins race for Champaign mayor
CHAMPAIGN – For most of Monday afternoon, it appeared that Jerry Schweighart wasn't going to have any opposition for mayor.
Schweighart was standing watch near the city clerk's second-floor office at the Champaign City Building to see if any late filers would appear, joking with reporters and some other council members.
Then Charles Mingee, a shipping clerk with no political experience, ambled into the city building just minutes before the 5 p.m. filing deadline.
Mingee submitted candidacy petitions to challenge Schweighart, a council veteran seeking his third term as mayor.
And, somewhat unexpectedly, the race was on.
Mingee, 47, of 702 Newton Drive said it just didn't sit right with him that nobody was going to challenge Schweighart in the April 17 municipal election.
He said he supported Schweighart during his first term, but isn't happy with how his second term has gone.
A nonsmoker, Mingee said he was upset with the council for banning smoking, effective Jan. 31, in bars and clubs, particularly military service clubs. He said he doesn't mind smoking prohibitions in restaurants.
"The biggest thing was the smoking ban," Mingee said. "I'm dead set against it and never would have voted for it."
Informed that Schweighart had vigorously opposed the ban and voted against it, Mingee said he thought the mayor should have abstained. He didn't explain that remark.
Mingee, who works at Great Planes Model Manufacturing in Champaign, said he believes the city is giving away far too many tax breaks and financial incentives to developers.
"We know why property taxes are too high," he said. "They're letting the developers get away with murder."
Schweighart, 68, said he knew Mingee had taken out petitions, but that other potential candidates also took out petitions and didn't file.
"I don't know that much about the gentleman," he said about Mingee. "The only thing I'm thankful for is there's only two of us and we won't have a primary. January and February is a bad time to have a primary."
Schweighart, who has raised more than $13,000 for the race, said Mingee's late entry shows "you have to be ready."
As for what voters can expect from him, Schweighart said: "There are no secrets. I'm pretty much of an open book on what I stand for. We've had balanced budgets all this time and we've seen vast improvements in the community. I'd like to continue on that course."
If he's re-elected, Schweighart said, his priorities would include seeing to completion a number of major projects that have city involvement, including a build-out of the University of Illinois South Research Park; M2 on Neil; the Burnham 310 apartment project; construction of a new medical center complex in northwest Champaign; construction of the Second Street Reach, an extension of the Boneyard drainage project; and the redevelopment of the Christie Clinic area downtown by developer Clint Atkins.
Schweighart hasn't faced a contest for mayor since April 1999, when he defeated businessman and council member Marty Smith 52 percent to 48 percent.
He was unopposed in 2003. Schweighart lost his first mayoral bid in 1995 by 1,000 votes to then-incumbent Dannel McCollum.
"It's been my privilege to serve the community 32 years on the police department, six years on the city council and eight years as mayor," said Schweighart, a retired city police officer.
The mayor's position will pay $35,000 annually after the election, an increase of $10,000 from the current salary.