Look for contested mayor race in Champaign
CHAMPAIGN — Nearly two years in advance of the election, Mayor Don Gerard already knows that he will have competition in his 2015 re-election bid.
Champaign City Council member Karen Foster announced on Monday that she plans to run.
Foster said her six years as an at-large city council representative has given her the perspective she needs to understand what Champaign residents are looking for.
"I want to continue working with the projects we've been working on," Foster said. "I feel that, after six years, I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge on how the city functions."
She said she wants to continue focusing city efforts on improving storm water drainage in the West Washington Street area and to emphasize economic development as it starts to regain momentum.
"The recession has turned a corner, and the staff has done a really great job," Foster said.
Champaign City Council elections are non-partisan, but Foster represents her precinct on the Champaign County Republican Party's central committee. Gerard, on the other hand, has a history of support from Democrats.
With 22 months to go before the election, that leaves plenty of time for more candidates to start making their intentions known. The field will not be official until late 2014.
Council member Deborah Frank Feinen, who previously sat for 14 years as a Republican member of the Champaign County Board, said she intends to run for mayor, too, though she does not plan to make any kind of formal announcement for some time.
"Two years out, it seems very early to announce and begin a campaign," Feinen said.
She was first appointed as an at-large city council member in 2006 and has been re-elected twice since then. She said she hopes council members can continue to work together during the coming years without campaign politics getting in the way.
That would make three sitting council members vying for the mayor's chair, but Foster said she does not think that will affect how they interact during the next two years.
"I think for all of us, we have a good working relationship now," Foster said. "And I think that there's no reason not to continue that."
Gerard said on Monday that a contested election will be good for everyone.
"It keeps us on our toes and it keeps us accountable," he told WDWS.
He said there have been changes in Champaign since he took office in 2011 — a new city manager, police chief and budding construction projects among them.
"We'll see in two years how things stand and what challenges we're facing then and who has the ambition to address them," Gerard told WDWS.