URBANA — In a rematch of the 2009 election for mayor, the candidates focused a lot of attention on Wednesday night on what did or did not happen during the past four years.
Democratic Mayor Laurel Prussing is seeking a third term as the city's chief elected official. She will have to beat her Republican challenger, Rex Bradfield, at the polls on April 9.
The two met during a candidate forum in the Champaign City Building on Wednesday night. Audio from the forum is here. Bradfield said that he ran for mayor four years ago campaigning around issues of conservative budgeting, economic development and jobs — and he pointed out that has not changed much.
"Here we stand again discussing the same issues," Bradfield said.
The 2009 election between the two was not very close. Prussing collected 53 percent of the vote in a four-way race, to Bradfield's 32 percent. Prussing is coming off an even bigger margin of victory in the Democratic primary election in February, when she won 65 percent of the vote to challenger Les Stratton's 35 percent.
Bradfield's opening statement on Wednesday night included many of the key points that Stratton had adopted in his campaign: That city money was wasted on assisting the owner of the Landmark Hotel in renovating the building and in an under way project to beautify the Boneyard Creek north of downtown Urbana.
Prussing said the city has invested wisely and that $1.6 million in public funds have recently leveraged "triple that" in private investment at the Landmark Hotel, Common Ground Food Co-op and two Main Street businesses.
And Prussing said she was able to keep people employed during an extremely difficult time for the city budget.
"I think the biggest problem that we had to come to grips with was the recession," Prussing said. "And I said early on that we should keep our employees if at all possible."
Prussing said she was able to hold on to police, fire and other employees during her previous term by eliminating inefficient spending, "modest" revenue increases and a "calculated decision" to draw down city reserve funds. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly included reference to specific revenue increases; Prussing did not make any specific reference.)
"We did not let go the people that are protecting the public in Urbana," Prussing said.
Bradfield called attention to what he called his "problem-solving" ability. He has been assisting residents of the Ellis subdivision who have been asking the city for help in repairing aging sanitary sewer laterals.
Bradfield, a licensed engineer, had suggested that the city should pay for sewer lateral repairs up to the property line, and the property owner should pay for repairs to the portion of the sewer that runs under their property.
The city is still considering options on how to address sewer lateral issues throughout the city.
"I've spent my entire life solving problems as a professional engineer," Bradfield said.
Bradfield also mentioned plans to bring businesses to North Lincoln Avenue — maybe a fairgrounds, he said.
"Above all, I would make Urbana business-friendly," Bradfield said. "The door would always be open."
The two candidates were also asked what they feel should be priorities for the city. Prussing has put focus on finding a way to make early childhood education available to everyone, and Bradfield said repairs to Windsor Road are crucial.
"The infrastructure of the entire city should be high priority because it's not so good now," Bradfield said. "We've spent money elsewhere."
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, the Champaign County NAACP and The News-Gazette.