Gerard looks back on first year as Champaign mayor

Gerard looks back on first year as Champaign mayor

With Mayor Don Gerard celebrating the one-year anniversary of his swearing-in today, The News-Gazette sat down with him Wednesday in the bleachers at his son's baseball game at McKinley Field to review his first year and what's left to come as he looks to the next three.

The News-Gazette: What was your plan coming into office, and do you think you've been able to start executing?

Don Gerard: You know, I say this a lot. It's like what they taught us in Boy Scouts. Leave the campsite a little better than you found it, a little cleaner. And that's been my plan, and I think so far in the first year, we've made some really great steps.

NG: How have your expectations and goals shifted in the first year?

DG: My expectation was that it would be a lot more difficult, but we have great people in this community, and a lot of visionaries, and once you start putting them together, we get a lot done. I've just been utilizing a lot of very talented people and letting their visions be realized.

NG: Based on the goals you had coming in, did anything change along the way in the first year?

DG: I think the vision became a lot broader. I think there was a lot of things that we thought were pipe dreams that were actually closer to fruition, mostly because other people have already started along the same path. There's a lot of opportunities. A new school superintendent, a new president, another new president at the university, a new chancellor, a new police chief. It's a lot more wide open than I thought it would be.

NG: One of your biggest initiatives has been seeking a minor league baseball team and stadium. Are you pleased with where that project is right now?

DG: I am, to be honest. A lot of stuff has to happen. We always have to catch some breaks, things have to fall into place. But I am pretty amazed with how far along we've gotten with that. I'm really proud of Tony Johnston (the exploratory committee chairman); he's doing a really great job with that, and the city is really excited about it. Instead of being a pipe dream, it's become an actual consideration.

NG: What are some of your regrets from year one?

DG: You know, I don't have a whole lot. I expected the learning curve to be large. I've been really blessed, and I've had a really good run. I really don't have any regrets. Certainly, we all would do things a little bit differently, but at the end of the day, I think for the most part, it's been a pretty darn good first year.

NG: Have you found it difficult to balance your role as mayor with your full-time job as a facilities manager at the University of Illinois?

DG: No. To be honest, it's refreshing to get in and do my day job because it's much simpler and straightforward, and there's more tasks that I can accomplish. The university has done a fantastic job with the oversight committee, people in our departments and schools for which I work, and the city has done a good job. Everyone's kind of working to make sure that this succeeds.

NG: You have three years left on your term. What should residents expect from here on out?

DG: Two years from now, I'd like to see $100,000,000 in construction projects under way. I'd like to see jobs opening up at Kraft and a job-training program at Parkland (College). I'd like to see Research Park expand. I'd like to see our public schools really raise the bar. I'd like to see lights at McKinley Field.

NG: And how can you promote those initiatives as mayor?

DG: Again, a lot of this job is just working with other people and getting voices together. A lot of times, people have the same thoughts but they're just not in the same room. Sometimes it's as simple as me walking in and having a cup of coffee with somebody; and walking out, there's a whole new plan.

NG: Police-community issues were a major concern when you came in. Where do you feel the city is at now?

DG: I think we are in the best possible place we could be with Chief Anthony Cobb. He's the best man for the job, and the fact that he's from Champaign-Urbana only adds to his perspective on things. He's a man who stands for accountability, he stands for respect, and he's just top-notch. If this community can't make good relations happen with him in that leadership position, we have far bigger problems than we thought.

NG: The budget was also a major concern given the economy at the time you came in. In the past year, we've seen some marginal budget cuts as the economy improves. We've also seen city council approval of some revenue increases, like the gas tax and the storm-water fee. How do you feel about the way the budget has evolved during the year that you've been mayor?

DG: I feel great. We've been blessed. The firefighters worked with us to keep our citizens safe, keep our Class 2 insurance rating so insurance rates are low, and at the same time helped us to make the budget we had to work with. Just on down the line, I think the city staff has really been prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars. I think with us moving forward, with all the potential projects, we're just in a really good position as we come out of the recession. Champaign has money; we're not trying to dig out of debt. We have new revenue sources; we're fixing our roads; we're moving forward with our storm-water projects. And all that just rolls more money around in our economy, so to me, in my mind, it's just a win-win all around.

NG: What has surprised you the most?

DG: I've been disappointed with some of the leadership in some of the entities around Champaign that I expected more of. I think that's just something we'll have to deal with.

NG: Do you care to be specific?

DG: No. It's just that you think there's some organizations that you would expect to be doing the job that you would expect them to do, and it's disappointing to find out that there's more politics involved and it's not for the betterment of our community. It's about a political ideology. And they'll know who they are when they read this.

NG: What do you feel will be your biggest challenge moving forward?

DG: Finding enough time to do all the things I want to do and spend all the time with the public that I'd like to spend. It's been outstanding having the social networks; I think that's a great connection. But it's great to have the time to really be out, to really talk to people.

NG: What grade would you give yourself for the first year?

DG: I think a good, solid B or a B+. I think that I did a little better than average. I think I did enough extra credit to push myself up into a respectable grade. I think that's fair.

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killerut wrote on May 03, 2012 at 8:05 am

His record is about as good as Obamas.

read the DI wrote on May 03, 2012 at 10:05 am

Well, then that's pretty darn good.

killerut wrote on May 03, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it.  If his intention is to run the economy in to the ground, drive up dept to almost double our GDP.  Completely ruin foreign relations.  Hand military secrets to foreign governments.  Take a record number of vacations on taxpayers money.  Extend the recession as much as he possibly can.  Print money like there's no tomorrow.  And, blame everyone before him instead of taking responsiblity.


I'd say, ya, Obama is doing a good job.  Im thinking, a few more years of this, and he will be able to declare himself king.  At least until he sparks another civil war.

Mark Taylor wrote on May 04, 2012 at 12:05 pm

" At least until he sparks another civil war."

Thats right. If ballots won't work, we can just change things in another way.

read the DI wrote on May 05, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Sounds good to me!

enoughalready wrote on May 03, 2012 at 11:05 am

enough with the baseball already...we get it...he likes baseball.

so, now the neighbors around McKinley field need to be worried that the mayor is going to try to get lights installed.  is he trying to create a mini-Wrigley environment or is night baseball simply more convenient for his schedule?  this idea would not be neighborhood-friendly and would be yet another example of ill-conceived ideas that end up wasting a lot of time and energy when there are plently of real opportunities and issues that need them

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 03, 2012 at 1:05 pm
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Nah, I think people just prefer to have charged-up teenagers trampling through the neighborhood between 10pm and midnight.


Who doesn't?

enoughalready wrote on May 04, 2012 at 8:05 am

whew...glad you solved that one! All we needed was night baseball and all teenagers will become obedient law abiding citizens constructively adding to our society, economy and future well-being. And to think all this time it was my neighborhood's preference to not have night baseball that resulted in charged-up teenagers trampling through our streets.  Silly us...if we had only known.

Yocal wrote on May 03, 2012 at 12:05 pm

if he wants it he will get it, despite what the voters think.

Local Yocal wrote on May 03, 2012 at 1:05 pm
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"[Cobb is] a man who stands for accountability, he stands for respect, and he's just top-notch."

We'll see about that when the other shoe drops here shortly. The FOP can't hide everything, though they've tried very hard these last 15 years. There are some officers who will wish Finney had never been run out of town.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 04, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Baseball field lights?  The legislature just gave $31 Billion away for pork barrel projects including baseball field lights, and a dolphin pool liner among other whims.  Is Champaign paying all of the costs for whims; or are others to pay for them?  The Champaign Park District is building a new recreational building with state money while the state's debts, and obligations are not being honored.  Cuts are being made to child care, services to the disabled and elderly; and earned pensions being stolen.  Public safety has been reduced in fire fighting, and law enforcement.  Schools are hurting for the lack of funding.  Yet, new lights for a baseball field is a goal?  Just more Bread and Circuses to have a part time job as mayor, and liquor commissioner.

bluegrass wrote on May 04, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Plan?  - Leave only footprints, my friend.

Job so far? - Surprisingly not difficult.  I just take various people in the 'community,' and I 'organize' them into a group. 

Budget? - Success - implemented 3 separate new taxes.

Forecast? - Just a cool hundred million in projects, no biggie.  Take a little Kraft cheese over here, add a little Cobra meat training over here, a dash of reseach park and BAM!  My recipe for Champaign Gumbo is a-cookin baby!!  WHOO!!

Problems? - Some people don't like me and/or my politics, and I have a problem understanding how that could be possible.  They need to work harder to see the overall Gerardedness of the situation.  It will happen, it just takes some longer to come around.

Overall grade? - I would love to give myself an A++, but I'll go with a B+ so as not to seem like a smarty pants.  But friends, I think you all know, I nailed it.  Fade out to fist bump that morphs into an explosion.





Sid Saltfork wrote on May 04, 2012 at 4:05 pm

bluegrass; I have to agree with you on this one.  If the people of Champaign, or Urbana have a list of wants versus needs; that is fine with me.  However; they should not use state, or federal money to pay for their wants.  Actual needs are a different story.  Statues, roundabouts, hiking trails, new buildings, more career programs with unlikely job prospects, baseball field lights, minor league teams, and gumball dreams are not needs when using others money during this tough economic time.  Is local labor going to be used in constructing the new hotel?  Who is getting the contract for the storm drains?  Is the Fire Dept. being reduced?  Are more police officers going to be hired?  Is he going to wear that huge, fur hat again for the sleepover for the Homeless?  

Mark Taylor wrote on May 04, 2012 at 5:05 pm

That's right. What makes those smarty pants in CU think they're so special.  Absolutely no other city, town, county or rural area in the state has ever used state, or even federal, funds for anything other than what I, in my unbounded wisdom, deem necessary and legitimate. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 05, 2012 at 7:05 am

When a family has holes in the roof of their home; the last thing they need to do is buy new furniture.  What happened in the past has brought on this financial mess regardless of who benefited from it.  The state is at a time when needs must outweigh wants.  You can play the Steven Colbert game all you want; but it does not change the reality.  The state legislators gave out "pork barrel projects" to their communities while they skipped paying debts, and obligations.  They benefited by doing it with "campaign donations", and votes.  Mr. Fuddles, and the legislators are facing a credit downsizing by Moody's, and others due to it.  Their solution is to blame it on the employees.  Lenders will see thru this.  Would anyone loan money to an outfit that spends foolishly while stealing from their employees?  Now, you can pose for a future Urbana statue.      

Mark Taylor wrote on May 06, 2012 at 1:05 pm

That's right. Its completely irrelevant that other cities and towns and rural areas get state and fed money. What we need to do is to make sure those bums in CU don't get any!

Feltrino wrote on May 08, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Three more years?  Really?