Gerard elected mayor of Champaign

Gerard elected mayor of Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — Riding promises of more responsible fiscal management to the finish line, political newcomer Don Gerard defeated three-term incumbent Mayor Jerry Schweighart on Tuesday and will take his office in about a month.

Gerard exchanged hand shakes, applause and hugs with his supporters and other victors when the final vote tally — for which he carried about 51.4 percent of the 8,404 votes cast — was reported.

“Six months ago, no one gave us a chance,” he said.

Gerard will unseat Schweighart, who has served 12 years as mayor of Champaign and won his most recent eight years in uncontested elections. Schweighart has faced scrutiny recently as city revenue streams deteriorated while costs continued rising.

Gerard has pledged to work to correct the budget gap without severe effects on city services like police, fire and public works. He has said some of the city’s plans to balance the budget — like taking a fire engine out of service at station 4 and closing the police department lobby during certain times — are not the correct solutions.

Gerard repeated those promises on Tuesday night, minutes before the final precincts reported the numbers that confirmed his victory. The city needs to preserve first-responders, he said, and look for cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Gerard has also called for a top-down audit of all city departments to eliminate wasteful spending.

But on Tuesday night, he said he would first take a moment to celebrate his victory.

“We’re going to go out and have a drink first, and we’ll think about that tomorrow,” he said.

Schweighart on Tuesday was skeptical of Gerard’s campaign points and said Gerard could have a tough time finding funds elsewhere in the budget to offset, for example, the $400,000 in firefighter overtime that would be saved by removing the fire engine.

“He’s gotta make up that money somewhere,” Schweighart said.

Gerard will be able to “make some noise” on the city council, Schweighart said, but the mayor has no more legislative power than any other city council member. And Schweighart called the new council — which now includes Gerard and District 5 winner Paul Faraci — an “interesting mix.”

Schweighart said he was disappointed by Tuesday’s turnout — just under 17 percent countywide. He added that he thinks he lost respect from the city’s firefighters and AFSCME union as the budget situation grew worse. Schweighart took a staunch position during the campaign that the cuts at the police front desk and fire station 4 were appropriate. Those moves would have a minimal effect on city services, he said.

The outcry from city employees “is typical union stuff,” Schweighart said.

With his family at his side, Gerard said he was very proud of his campaign team and looks forward to working with city staff and the rest of the council.

The election, he said, was “like being in the Champaign city championships for Little League, or something.”

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Gadfly295 wrote on April 06, 2011 at 6:04 am

Sour grapes, Mr. Schweighart. Enjoy your retirement.

IU1977 wrote on April 06, 2011 at 7:04 am

Oh I dont know. How about stopping that broadband that is due to cost the City 800k+. How about furlough days for the managers who failed to notify council that the recession was near ( or at least thats what Mr.Carter said in praising the finance director). How about selling the empty parking garage?

buck999999 wrote on April 06, 2011 at 7:04 am

Congatulations Champaign. You finally have a Democrat run town. You thought you had problems before. Hang on as you ride the slope to the bottom. You will get what you deserve. Watch out Urbana, here comes another town to join you at the bottom! Go Cook County South!

mankind wrote on April 06, 2011 at 10:04 am

I've never heard of Gerard being in cahoots with any political party, Democrat or Republican. That's unlike Schweighart, who falsely claimed to be nonpartisan but was actually one of the biggest Republicans/Tea Partiers in the county and held the party line every day he was in office. I hope that Gerard is truly nonpartisan and that he does what he thinks is right no matter what the ideologues say on either side. On a side note, I see the N-G is burying this story as fast as they can under a mountain of obscure election results. Maybe Schweighart isn't the only one with a case of sour grapes.

spangwurfelt wrote on April 06, 2011 at 9:04 am

Excellent news. Schweighart was a personable enough guy, but between the national embarrassment of the birtherism and the grotesque mishandling of the Carrington case, it's not hard to see why Champaign wanted to move on. They can't vote out Chief Finney, but they sure as heck could vote out Schweighart, and they did. Having a mayor who at least knows what the Champaign Community and Police Partnership is - that's a big step in the right direction.

CopyJock wrote on April 06, 2011 at 10:04 am

I grew up with Don Gerard, and I have known Mr. Schweighart for a very long time. I disagree with the comment about a Democrat being any better or worse at governing than a Republican. For the first time in a long time, the communities of Champaign-Urbana are facing problems that cities like Decatur and Danville have been dealing with for years. Citizens that are afraid of progress are all too quick to throw out "words of fear". 17% of Champaign voted. That's what we should fear - folks who just don't care. The right to vote should be taken seriously. Just like the Presidential Election (Hey Jerry - Don't you think as bad as Hillary wanted the Presidency - she would have picked up on whether Obama was a citizen or not...?) a larger group of people came out this time for the underdog. I for one, am incredibly excited to see what my old friend Don can do. I do want to take a moment though, and thank Mayor Schweighart for his years of service.

Yatiri wrote on April 06, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Maybe those who chose to not participate, or at least some of those who chose not to participate, do so knowing that there is little difference between the 2 candidates and that the so-called democracy is a sham?

Jen R wrote on April 06, 2011 at 10:04 am

Congratulations on getting rid of your birther mayor, Champaign! I don't know anything about Don Gerard, but it wouldn't be hard to be more in touch with reality than Jerry "I don't think the President is American" Schweighart.

Apatheist wrote on April 06, 2011 at 10:04 am

Schweighart's lack of intellectual fortitude was an embarrassment for this town. Friends and colleagues from all over the country (mostly snarky liberals, but thoughtful scientists nonetheless) made much merriment from Schweighart's daft birtherism. I typically vote Republican (about 80%) but always vote competence.

chambana2 wrote on April 06, 2011 at 11:04 am

I'm so extremely happy that Schweighart is no longer our mayor. It's my sincere wish that he moves to Bloomington, Chicago, anywhere - just leave. We don't need anyone, in our city, with his lack of intelligence or heart. Now, I believe, under Gerard, our city will grow and prosper.
It's time for our city to heal and become the next great city. Schweighart was once asked before the election what he would do differently during this campaign, he said "nothing too different, just knock on a few more doors." I'm afraid he didn't knock on enough. Bye-Bye.

thechampaignlife wrote on April 07, 2011 at 8:04 am

You do realize that the mayor really has no more power than any other council member, don't you? Other than getting to run the meetings, swear in new officers, and hand out honoraries, he doesn't have much power to unilaterally hire/fire, set budgets, or start/eliminate programs. I see Don's election having only about 1/9th of an impact on city affairs - his share of the vote among the 9 council members.

jthartke wrote on April 06, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Anyone who thinks there was no difference between these candidates is mistaken. Maybe it is incumbent upon citizens in a democracy to LEARN something about their candidates. They both were out and about quite a bit. Have you ever made an attempt to ask them about their candidacy?

People love to gripe about the situation in this nation, but when 83% of those REGISTERED to vote choose to sit home (or forget, or are just too darn lazy) then they have no right to gripe.

You wonder why citizens are losing the power in this democracy to corporations, special interests, and long-term incumbents -- this is why. Shallow voters who care more about who fell on "Dancing with the Stars" than who the next Mayor of our city will be. Remember, every time you turn on the tap, or flush the toilet, that is your local government at work.

Yatiri wrote on April 07, 2011 at 9:04 am

And what are the differences? One is a "birther" the other is not?

The budget differences? We shall see. Politicians almost never deliver on their promises. If the cuts stand and Garard doesn't deliver we shall see.

Instead of attacking those who see no difference in the candidates why not explain yourself? Instead you bring up stupid TV shows?

Sounds like a political partisan to me.

Yatiri wrote on April 07, 2011 at 9:04 am

And what are the differences? One is a "birther" the other is not?

The budget differences? We shall see. Politicians almost never deliver on their promises. If the cuts stand and Garard doesn't deliver we shall see.

Instead of attacking those who see no difference in the candidates why not explain yourself? Instead you bring up stupid TV shows?

Sounds like a political partisan to me.

T.J. wrote on April 06, 2011 at 4:04 pm

chambana2 wrote: "I'm so extremely happy that Schweighart is no longer our mayor. It's my sincere wish that he moves to Bloomington, Chicago, anywhere - just leave. We don't need anyone, in our city, with his lack of intelligence or heart."

Don ran an above-board campaign and is to be congratulated. It's sad you can't be gracious in victory like him. It isn't enough for you Jerry got thumped?

whatthef wrote on April 07, 2011 at 12:04 am

I'm glad to see people have faith in someone with very little political experience. I'm curious to see how things go for Mayor Gerard. A politician without ties to deep pockets = awesome. i wish more people were elected this way.

bluegrass wrote on April 07, 2011 at 8:04 am

This is exactly the same way Obama was elected. Pliable personalities got all excited about hopey changey and voted someone into the most important office in the world with little experience.

The reality is that Mayor Schweighart did a great job for this city as mayor. He dedicated a good portion of his life to public service and to this community in particular. We all should be grateful to him for his service, instead of spewing insults at him on his way out. All these comments bashing him when he lost are typical of those with low character and no class. People like this on both sides of the aisle discourage good candidates from running for office.

Mr. Gerard is facing a situation where revenues are declining while costs are increasing, and he's going to have to make some very difficult decisions that will directly impact the lives of people who live and work in this city. I know that Mayor Schweighart has the ability to make tough decisions, it remains to be seen how Mayor Gerard will respond.

I wish the new mayor much success, and I sincerely hope that he does a great job for those who work and live here in Champaign.

John O'Connor wrote on April 07, 2011 at 9:04 am

Ah, yes, 'hopey changey' -- just like Palin likes to endlessly repeat. It never hurts to get in a little Obama bashing, huh? Former mayor Schweighart has been indulging in some very sour grapes in post election interviews -- do you really want to lecture others on character and class on his behalf?

The fact is that the former mayor alienated many different groups, enough so that he lost what he and his team considered a gimme election. I'm glad to hear you wish the new mayor success -- as far as I've seen, that's more than the former mayor has done.

bluegrass wrote on April 07, 2011 at 11:04 am

I didn't bash Obama. I'm just saying he was elected with little experience. Is that bashing? If anything I'm bashing those that voted for him.

And I'm not lecturing anyone. I'm saying making nasty comments about someone who lost a local election like this is pretty low.

Yatiri wrote on April 07, 2011 at 9:04 am

He did a lousy job as liquor commissioner, just my opinion. The so called "Unofficial" is just drunken debauchery, underage drinking, and other lawbreaking created and fomented by the businessmen who bankroll every mayoral candidate since he will also be liquor commissioner

How many deaths, and don't tell me this year's wasn't related to the public drunkenness, before the bars are simply closed and the nonsense stopped?

The Liquor Commissioner has emergency authority to stop the annual public drunk, and underage drinking here in town.

He opposed an underage binge drinking prevention program because it was funded by a Federal grant. Then he flip flopped and supported it

As usual the election choice was dumb or dumberer. I don't have any hope for change, Gerard is very similar and we shall see who he took money from when the information is finally released 2 weeks after voting.

Some Democracy eh?

bluegrass wrote on April 07, 2011 at 10:04 am

Again with the dumb and dumberer name calling. It's just sad.

Yatiri wrote on April 07, 2011 at 9:04 am

He did a lousy job as liquor commissioner, just my opinion. The so called "Unofficial" is just drunken debauchery, underage drinking, and other lawbreaking created and fomented by the businessmen who bankroll every mayoral candidate since he will also be liquor commissioner

How many deaths, and don't tell me this year's wasn't related to the public drunkenness, before the bars are simply closed and the nonsense stopped?

The Liquor Commissioner has emergency authority to stop the annual public drunk, and underage drinking here in town.

He opposed an underage binge drinking prevention program because it was funded by a Federal grant. Then he flip flopped and supported it

As usual the election choice was dumb or dumberer. I don't have any hope for change, Gerard is very similar and we shall see who he took money from when the information is finally released 2 weeks after voting.

Some Democracy eh?

cats kradle wrote on April 07, 2011 at 10:04 am

Your well-wishes for the mayor-elect ring hollow considering that in the other breath you credited Gerard's victory to the same "pliable personalities" who voted for Obama. Not only that, but your assertion is dead wrong. Nobody knows who the heck Gerard is. This was a referendum on Schweighart. The only thing he gave a hoot about was kowtowing to the Republican Party line of lowering taxes. Well, guess what, people like it when someone answers the phone at the police department. They actually like public services. So you can cry about how Schweighart was voted out by a bunch of ingrates, or you can interpret the firm kick in the pants he's getting as fair warning that people are fed up with the GOP chop-shop mentality.

bluegrass wrote on April 07, 2011 at 11:04 am

I do sincerely hope that Gerard does well. He's the new leader, he'll have a lot of tough decisions to make, and I absolutely hope that he does a great job.

If you knew Schweighart at all, which it is apparent that you do not, you would know that he doesn't "kowtow."

cats kradle wrote on April 07, 2011 at 3:04 pm

No, I admit, I don't know Schweighart aside from the numerous news articles I've read about him, numerous interviews I've seen and heard, and the numerous council meetings I've seen on television, and the debates. Apparently he strikes a completely opposite impression in his private moments, which I'm not privy to. All I have to go on is what he says publicly, and all I see is someone who cares about little more than appealing to Republican party interests and slowly killing public services. He's totally inept in dealing with the university and he lacks the interest or ability to speak out on any matters other than grumbling about the budget. Not a peep from him when black kids were beating up random white people. No problems here, everything is fine cuz we're holding the line on taxes! People choose to run for public office. We're under no obligation to thank them when they screw up.