Mayoral challengers could force February primary

Mayoral challengers could force February primary

Kurtz, Kyles appear to be thinking of joining the race

CHAMPAIGN — Still long in advance of the April 2015 election for mayor, a primary election is looming as the list of challengers to Mayor Don Gerard threatens to grow.

Four people, including Gerard, have already said they intend to run. Sitting council members Karen Foster and Deborah Frank Feinen both plan to seek the seat, as does Champaign Park District board president Joe Petry.

This week, two more people — outgoing Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz and council member Will Kyles — added energy to rumors that the list might grow.

Only one of those two would have to throw a hat into the ring to trigger a primary election that would occur in February 2015, just weeks ahead of the general election in April. The field of candidates will not be finalized until everyone submits their papers during a formal filing period in November.

"I am interested in running to be the next mayor of our great city," Kyles told The News-Gazette in a statement on Friday. "As you know, from past interactions, I will make a final decision after much thought, prayer and consultation."

City council elections are staggered, and Kyles' current term will not expire until 2017. That means he could run for mayor without risking his District 1 seat.

As for Kurtz, it wasn't so much his comments but rather a lack thereof that fueled suspicion about his impending attempt at the seat. Asked this week about rumors that he might pose a challenge to Gerard, he said he had no comment.

The last primary election for mayor in Champaign happened in 1995. Then-Mayor Dannel McCollum finished on top among three candidates with 42 percent of nearly 6,500 votes — he also went on to win the general election.

Then-newcomer Jerry Schweighart also won a spot on the general election ballot with 33 percent of the vote. He would lose the general election in 1995 but win the office in 1999. Schweighart held office until he was unseated by Gerard in 2011.

The rules were different in 1995, when only three candidates triggered a primary election to whittle the field to two.

The rules governing city council elections now say that the number of candidates must be more than four times the number of seats available. For mayor, that means five candidates trigger a primary election. The last time five candidates ran for mayor in Champaign was in 1991.

The city council's three at-large seats are up in 2015, too. But because those seats are elected from a single field of candidates, it would take 13 candidates for the three at-large seats to trigger a primary election.

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