Champaign County Board chairman facing off against predecessor
CHAMPAIGN — In what may be the most closely watched primary election in years, the current chairman of the Champaign County Board is being challenged by its immediate past chairman.
Chairman Al Kurtz faces his predecessor, C. Pius Weibel, in the District 7 Democratic primary March 18.
District 7 is bounded roughly by Windsor Road on the south, Springfield Avenue on the north, Mayfair Road and Russell Street on the west and Neil and Wright streets on the east. It includes a large section of University of Illinois campus housing.
Weibel, 57, who led the board from 2006 to 2012, said he's ready to return because his wife, whom he said faced health problems two years ago, has recovered. Plus, he admitted he was "not happy with the way (Kurtz) became county board chair."
Working with two other Democrats and all 10 county board Republicans, Kurtz in December 2012 defeated the Democratic caucus favorite, Michael Richards, to become board chairman. At a recent candidate forum, Kurtz described himself as the "bipartisan-elected board chair."
The maneuver was not well-received by the Champaign County Democratic organization, which last month voted to endorse Weibel over Kurtz.
"That was not acceptable to the Champaign County Democratic Central Committee. It's an affront to all the Democratic voters in Champaign County who managed to elect a county board with a preponderance of Democrats, with those Democrats organized for a common goal," said Al Klein, chairman of the local Democratic Party.
Weibel, publicly at least, has not talked much about Kurtz's maneuver, preferring to tout his accomplishments as county board chairman — including changes at the nursing home, adopting a resolution opposing the dumping of PCBs at a Clinton landfill, and finding funding for a local drug court — and to question some of Kurtz's issues.
Among the latter are Kurtz's letters and statements to the Illinois Department of Transportation urging more state funding for local projects.
"I've been working very hard for the disparity in highway funding that has not come to this district over the last 10 years, prior to my being on the county board," Kurtz said at a candidate forum last month. "My letters have spurred action from IDOT."
Weibel, on his campaign website, said Kurtz has had "little success" getting IDOT's funding formula changed.
Weibel said "it is critical for officials at all levels of government to work collaboratively, and it is especially crucial at the local level for government officials to work together on an unlimited/unrestricted basis to find solutions to local problems that affect us all.
"Clearly Mr. Kurtz has not succeeded in creating a collaborative relationship with IDOT and other state officials to help prioritize funding for the replacement of the I-57/I-74 intersection."
Kurtz, 73, has given himself credit for passing a county wind farm ordinance and a land resource management plan and, as a member of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District board, instituting a local food service placard system.
On most issues, though, the two generally are in agreement. Both say they favor continued financial support for the Champaign County Nursing Home, support continued examination of alternatives to incarceration for some offenders, favor the county adopting its own building code, support more wind farms, and believe Champaign County is in fairly good financial shape.
On an issue currently before the county board, Weibel said he would favor two-year pay raises for the sheriff, county clerk and county treasurer; Kurtz said he "is still researching and evaluating this issue."
Meet the candidates
Home address: 710 Ashton Lane South, C.
Date of birth: Nov. 16, 1940.
Occupation: County board chairman; energy sales; owner of network marketing firm.
Political experience: Appointed to District 7 seat in 2008 after Carrie Melin's resignation; elected in 2010; re-elected in 2012; chairman from 2012 to present.
Education: Attended New York University, 1959-60.
C. Pius Weibel
Home address: 709 W. Green St., C.
Date of birth: April 17, 1956.
Occupation: Senior geologist at Illinois State Geological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.
Political experience: County board member, 2004-2012; county board chairman, 2006-2012.
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Wisconsin, 1978; master's degree, University of Illinois, 1982; Ph.D., UI, 1988.