Tom Kacich: Weibel to challenge Kurtz in primary
In what may be a first in the history of Champaign County, the former chairman of the county board plans to challenge the current board chairman in next year's Democratic primary election.
C. Pius Weibel, who headed the board from 2006 to 2012, says he's hoping to return from a two-year break to take on Alan Kurtz, who replaced him as board chairman last December.
The two will face off in the March primary in District 7, an area entirely within Champaign and generally south of Springfield Avenue, west of Wright Street, north of Windsor Road and east of the Champaign Country Club and Mayfair Road. It includes everything from University of Illinois student apartments, residence halls and fraternities to the South Side School neighborhood and the tony Greencroft and Champaign Country Club areas.
It probably won't be the only primary among the feuding Champaign County Democrats next year; six Democrat-controlled county board seats are up next year and primary contests are likely in at least two of them and perhaps more.
But nothing will be as big as the Kurtz-Weibel contest.
Kurtz was elected chairman of the board by working with Republican members to overturn the Democratic caucuses' chosen candidate, Michael Richards.
Kurtz and fellow Democrats Ralph Langenheim and Astrid Berkson joined with 10 Republicans to provide the necessary 13 votes to elect the chairman of the 22-member board.
At the time of the vote, Richards — whose county board seat is up next year, but who has chosen to run for the Illinois House of Representatives instead — predicted intra-party problems.
"We've got a lot of angry people here tonight, and I think that's going to continue," he said on the night of Kurtz's coup.
Weibel said that's part of the reason he's running again.
"I'm not happy with the way he became county board chair. That's an honest statement," said Weibel.
Another reason, he said, is that he plans to retire from his position as a senior geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey.
"I'm looking at the end of May (2014)," said Weibel, who is 57.
"I'll have a lot more time and it will be less stressful on me and my family" to serve on the county board again, he said.
Although he said his candidacy "isn't official until I get the (petition) signatures and I'm not done with that yet," Weibel said he told Democrats at a recent party picnic that he's in the race.
And he said he would be willing to serve again as county board chairman "if the (Democratic) caucus said we want you to be chair and there's a clear majority. But I'm not running to become county board chair."
Kurtz, who said he's definitely running for re-election, made note of Weibel's announcement at the gathering.
"At the Democratic picnic I stated my reasons for running for the office again," Kurtz said. "I stated my accomplishments. But when Pius announced he was running, his only stated reason was to have the chair elected by the entire Democratic caucus. That was the only thing he said and then he sat down."
Kurtz said his accomplishments include opposing the dumping of PCBs at the Clinton landfill over the Mahomet aquifer, working on wind farm ordinance for Champaign County, helping put together a Land Resource Management Resource Plan for the county, working to increase Head Start funding and to expand Amtrak service in Champaign County, calling attention to the disparity in highway funding in East Central Illinois and examining the possible creation of a local airport authority to run the University of Illinois-Willard Airport.
Ironically, Kurtz was appointed to the board by Weibel in 2008 after Democrat Carrie Melin moved out of her county board district.
"He's a decent guy. He has his reasons for running, but I think my accomplishments should show my constituents that I'm working for them and for the county," Kurtz said of Weibel. "I certainly respect Pius. I promise to run a vigorous campaign and to work for our county as I have for the last five years."
The Weibel-Kurtz contest won't be the only Democratic primary next year. Langenheim will be challenged in District 9 by Shana Harrison of Savoy, former president of the Illini Democrats. And other races could materialize before the candidate filing period ends in early December.
Happy 161st birthday. On this date 161 years ago the first edition of The Urbana Union — the forerunner of today's News-Gazette — was published. It was run by William Nichols Coler, who, according to early Champaign County historian J.O. Cunningham, was the second lawyer to come to the county.
He also must have been more interested in wealth than journalism, because he sold the newspaper within a year and went on to a long and prosperous life as a banker and financier, a land baron and, despite his support for the Democratic Party, a leader in Champaign County of the effort to recruit soldiers for the Union cause in the Civil War.
The Union went through a number of names and successions, eventually ending with the merger of The Champaign Daily News and Champaign Daily Gazette in 1919.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.