GEORGETOWN — Newly elected Mayor Kay Sanders has already proven herself to be a noteworthy official, even before she runs her first Georgetown City Council meeting.
She ran as a write-in candidate on April 9 and won against an incumbent mayor.
And she is the first female mayor of Georgetown.
She was also married to a former mayor of Georgetown, Joe Sanders, which makes hers a rare husband-wife mayoral family.
"People kept telling me that a write-in candidate couldn't win," Sanders said. "It took a hard, special effort to get me here, and a lot of help, but I did it."
Her late husband, Joe, who died in 2005, served one term as mayor of Georgetown in the late 1980s. Sanders said that during her husband's term, he tried to have a lake built near the city as a recreational area and a better drinking water source, but the project stalled.
Sanders, now retired, spent 20 years with the Illinois secretary of state's office in Vermilion County and helped her husband run Joe's Sandwich Shop on the Georgetown square. She has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary in Georgetown for years, and spent a year on the city's planning commission before successfully running for a Ward 3 seat on the Georgetown City Council in 2011.
Local politics has long been a part of the Sanders family. Joe was police chief in Georgetown, and he served as a precinct committeeman and as the chairman of the county's Republican Party for two years.
One of their two daughters, Lori Key, has been a member of the Georgetown-Ridge Farm school board since 2007. And Key was elected to her first term as a write-in candidate, too, Sanders added.
One of the reasons why she decided to get more involved in city government was the look of the city in recent years.
"Years ago, no matter how old the houses in Georgetown were, people tried to make them look good and kept their yards in good shape," Sanders said. "If we don't clean up the city, no people will want to come here."
Sanders' appointment to the city's planning commission got her started on that path.
While on the planning commission, Sanders pushed unsuccessfully to have a citywide cleanup day and to start a neighborhood watch program. She decided instead to get on the city council, with an eye on the mayor's office.
She won a Ward 3 seat on the city council in 2011, and has spent the past two years learning how the city is run.
When a mayoral candidate she supported withdrew from the 2013 mayoral race at the last minute, Sanders picked up a petition as a write-in candidate and ran for mayor in his place.
The campaign included covering the city in yard signs, mailing fliers and placing newspaper ads to let voters know that even though incumbent Dennis Lucas' name would be the only one listed on the ballot for mayor, there was another option.
She relied on help from a lot of supporters who made phone calls and talked to residents to ask them to write in Sanders' name on the ballot.
She also had an unofficial ticket of like-minded candidates running for office in Georgetown — Tracy Isaacson as city clerk, Carl Johnson in Ward 2, Wilma Wilming in Ward 3 and Tim Waterman in Ward 4 — and encouraged voters to support all of them.
In the election, Sanders received 427 write-in votes to Lucas' 353 — according to the most recent numbers on the Vermilion County clerk's website — and Isaacson, Johnson, Wilming and Waterman all won their races.
"I really want to thank everyone for working their butts off for me," Sanders said. "It took a lot of work. Even the voters had to write my name in the blank."
Sanders will have a full plate after she is sworn in on May 6.
The city is seeking a $6.5 million loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to pay for two sewer-and-treatment-plant projects, and an answer on the loan application is expected soon. The first and most expensive of the two projects involves giving the wastewater treatment plant its first major upgrade since 1984. The second project involves separating the sewers along Whittier Street on the west side of the city, so that storm water from about 300 acres of land west of the city no longer will flow into the sanitary sewers near the railroad tracks and overwhelm the sewers and the wastewater treatment plant during heavy storms.
Sanders said she knows she must complete those two projects.
She also wants to establish a neighborhood watch program, to have a citywide cleanup day and to repair the holes in city streets.
On a larger scale, she said, she wants to emphasize "service, service, service" and to treat everyone with respect — lessons she learned while working at the secretary of state's office.
"Citizens pay our officials' and workers' wages, and I am a firm believer that people should get their money's worth," Sanders said.
She is meeting with the council members and asking what committees they want to serve on and what they need for their wards.
She will also have to appoint a new Ward 3 council member to fill the vacancy she is leaving there.
Sanders plans to have an outside audit of the city's financial records but said she expects to run a deficit budget in her first year. She hopes to have balanced budgets after that.
The job of mayor is a big one, but Sanders feels she is up for the task.
Joe Sanders passed away in 2005 and did not see his daughter elected to the school board or his wife elected alderwoman or mayor.
When asked what her late husband would have thought of her recent participation in city politics and victory as a write-in candidate for mayor, Sanders smiled.
"I wouldn't have run for mayor if Joe was still here," she said. "He would have run."