CHAMPAIGN — Champaign park board president and 2015 mayoral candidate Joe Petry says his new role as chairman of the state's parks association will put the city in a strong position, and it's "the kind of thing we need our mayor to be doing."
Petry, who has been a Champaign park district commissioner since 2003 and became its board president last year, will launch his campaign for mayor this spring. He took over as chairman of the 18-member board for the Illinois Association of Park Districts this week.
"Every time we are in a leadership position at the state level, that helps to promote us as a strong community and a community people want to emulate and hopefully even move to," Petry said.
The state association is essentially an advocacy group for parks, forest preserves conservation and other recreation agencies. Petry said he's been active advocating for parks at the state level for "quite a few years," and said it's one type of leadership activity he wants to see more of.
"To be honest, I think this is the kind of thing we need our mayor to be doing," Petry said.
The state parks association does strategic planning for Illinois and leads training to make local park boards more effective, Petry said. It also helps secure grant money and other kinds of revenue for local park districts and recreation agencies.
Petry said grants have been important to the Champaign Park District in the past decade. The agency has received about $7 million in state and federal money, including about $2.5 million it's using right now to build a new Leonhard Recreation Center.
He'll be among at least four candidates for mayor for the April 2015 election. Mayor Don Gerard plans on running for re-election, and his city council colleagues Karen Foster and Deborah Frank Feinen plan on challenging him, too.
Petry said his campaign for mayor will be about uniting the city, the University of Illinois and the business community so they "all get on the same page and work aggressively for the same goal."
"The focus would be on economic development and job growth, so that's going to be a pretty unique and unparalleled focus," Petry said.
The election for Petry's park board chair coincides with the mayoral election. Petry plans to keep his name off the ballot for park board, which means his tenure as a park commissioner will end regardless of the outcome of the mayoral election.
Petry thinks the city has been fairly successful in recent years, but he said there's opportunity for more.
"I kind of see it bigger picture," he said. "If we're all working together to accomplish these things, then I think we'd have a much bigger chance to have more victories than we've already have."