Tom Kacich: Bambenek puts Petry in sights

Tom Kacich: Bambenek puts Petry in sights

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About three months out from Election Day, Deb Feinen has the fundraising lead in the four-way race for mayor of Champaign, with about $32,000 on hand.

But the most intriguing news may be that Champaign school board member John Bambenek says he's willing to devote big money to defeating another mayoral contender, Joe Petry.

Bambenek has formed an "independent-expenditure-only" committee, meaning it can't coordinate with any candidate or committee, with the expressed purpose "to defeat Joe Petry."

On Thursday, Bambenek gave the anti-Petry committee — which has the crafty name "The Committee" — exactly $27,306.52.

That's precisely a thousand dollars more than Petry reported having in his campaign fund on Dec. 31, 2014.

The message?

"I will spend more than he will to make sure he loses," Bambenek said.

Bambenek, a Republican who has his own cybersecurity company and ran for the Illinois Senate against Mike Frerichs and lost in 2012, is angry with Petry over his involvement in questioning the school board's siting of a proposed Champaign Central High School on the far north side of town.

He contends that Petry is behind proposals from architect Neil Strack to reconfigure and rehabilitate the current Champaign Central.

"It turns out that (Strack) is under contract to the park district over the McKinley YMCA (swimming pool proposals) while simultaneously producing proposals that tell us how to we're going to use that building," Bambenek said. "Dude, why are you using park district money to sit there and tell the school district what to do?"

Bambenek said that he is "proceeding with the assumption that Neil Strack is acting under the advice and direction of his boss, Joe Petry."

Petry said he didn't want to address Bambenek's accusations.

"I'm unaware of any PAC (by Bambenek). We're excited about pursuing a positive, issue-oriented campaign," Petry said. "I know there are rumors out there of another PAC but I haven't looked into it."

Bambenek said that if Petry "really wanted to work with the school board, he could start by not having his architect release proposals to you guys (The News-Gazette), who then call us asking our opinion about this new proposal. He's been doing that stuff for 12 months.

"There are people who disagree with the school board. Fine, I get that. Vote no. Campaign against (the anticipated bond issue vote). And then there are people who want to engage in schmuck maneuvers and play politics. All right, I'm more than happy to let people know how you've been playing this game, Joe. I'll just be doing it in 30-second TV commercials."

Bambenek said he would not endorse any of the other mayoral candidates. He also said he believed he could get other donors to give to his anti-Petry committee.

Meanwhile, the two other candidates — council member Karen Foster and Mayor Don Gerard — have more modest amounts in their campaign funds. Foster had $8,968 on hand and Gerard had $3,561. Gerard reported no campaign contributions in the last three months of 2014; Foster reported $6,175, most of which was a $5,000 loan from David Anderson, her father.

And the winner is ...

In the race for the 103rd House District seat, Democrat Carol Ammons outspent Republican Kristin Williamson, $264,842 to $208,745.

That translates to $19.81 for every vote (of 13,362) that Ammons received. Williamson spent $24.87 for every one of the 8,392 votes she got.

Ammons' biggest donor was the Democratic Party of Illinois, headed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, which gave her $74,536. She voted last week to re-elect Madigan as Speaker. Next was the pro-choice PersonalPAC ($35,612) followed by the Service Employees International Union ($32,457) and AFSCME Council 31, which contributed $20,200.

Williamson's biggest donor was the Downstate GOP organization ($30,300), followed by the House Republican Organization ($26,021) and the Champaign County Republican Party ($22,100).

Ammons' biggest expenditure was $45,917 for advertising at WCIA-TV.

Tom Bennett's first bill

Of the three new area state legislators sworn in last week, state Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, is the first to have his name attached to a piece of legislation. It's House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 3, of which every Republican in the House is a co-sponsor.

It would eliminate the offices of state comptroller and treasurer and form a new office called Comptroller of the Treasury. It also provides that no comptroller or treasurer would be elected in 2018, eliminating the office of state treasurer that Champaign Democrat Mike Frerichs was elected to last year.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at

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SaintClarence27 wrote on January 19, 2015 at 9:01 am

This makes me want to vote for Petry.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on January 19, 2015 at 10:01 am
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I assume it'll have that effect on a lot of people -- especially given the popularity of the Interstate Drive site.

But I can't see too many media outlets refusing the money. 




Hey John, do you know about

Local Yocal wrote on January 19, 2015 at 11:01 am
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So a school board member is so infuriated over a citizen giving input on the largest and most expensive construction project in School District history, that he thinks he can buy the election outcome. The News-Gazette licks its chops over such fruitloop thinking. Yes, believe media outlets control elections and our sales staff will be happy to help you now...

ericbussell wrote on January 20, 2015 at 7:01 am

Keep in mind that John hasn't spent a dime.  He is the master of earned media. 

While John is certainly responding in extreme fashion, I'm not suprised that school members might be a little irked and defensive.  Unit 4 has been working on a solution for years and Petry is suddently involved in the discussion and criticizing board members, but only after he decides to run for Mayor.   Personally, I think it's better late than never and that a school board member shouldn't be discouraging input for any reason.  But I think I understand the rub here...

MSJ66 wrote on January 19, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I agree. Anything nutbag, tea bag Bambenek thinks I will totally disagree with so this too makes me want to vote for Petry. Not sure why Bambenek is even on this board. My recollection is his children don't even go to Unit 4 schools. To me he is just another Fox "News" watching, right wing tea bagger. No wonder Mike Frerichs beat him so handily when he ran for state senate. At least he had the sense to not seek reelection on the school board as he would have been defeated then too.

787 wrote on January 19, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Well, looks like we have a childish, name calling liberal here.   Probably lives in Urbana and thinks Laurel Prussing is the best mayor ever.

That's the way to keep it classy, MSJ66.   Here's some advice...Grow up.

spangwurfelt wrote on January 20, 2015 at 6:01 am

MSJ66 is right on the money.

If you have evidence that Bambanek *doesn't* watch Fox News, please post it. Otherwise, just wave your hands in the air and scream "liberal."

rsp wrote on January 19, 2015 at 6:01 pm

I wondered if this was some kind of reverse psychology thing where he was secretly supporting him by publicly saying he was against him...

spangwurfelt wrote on January 20, 2015 at 5:01 am

Another Bambi tantrum. That boy has some growing up to do. 

MSJ66 wrote on January 20, 2015 at 9:01 am

787 a little research of my previous comments, found right here on the Gazette, would indicate my feelings regarding Laurel Prussing and I don't live in Urbana. Another rightwinger that believes in freedom of speech but hates it when that speech doesnt agree with their particular mindset and opinion so just throw out the liberal buzzword without any idea of my political leanings and thoughts. I am well aware of John Bambenek's political leanings thus the basis for my comments.

cjwinla wrote on January 21, 2015 at 11:01 am

So Neil Strack has produced 2 or 3 versions of high school sites for Joe Petry, and then he gets a contract from the PD which Joe is President paying him for basically doing what was obvious to all..... McKinley is too expensive to maintain ....I could of told you that from the bleachers... but hey lets get Neil paid since he has been helping me on the Unit 4 sitch.... The good ole boy network is alive and well under Joe Petry....

alabaster jones 71 wrote on January 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm
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You do realize that this community's poorest residents would be the ones most screwed over by the Interstate Drive location, right?

ericbussell wrote on January 22, 2015 at 6:01 am

You do realize that cjwinatlanta was proactively involved in getting school board members elected and he just happens to be a bond salesman.  The sooner he can get this referendum passed, the sooner he can line his pockets.  He was also involved in the effort to attack leaders of the REWIND group that led to Urbana resident Aaron Ammons accusing the Champaign group at a School Board meeting of having a racist agenda as he claimed to represent the 59% of democratic voters who voted for the democrat candidate (his wife) in those particular Champaign precincts.  Don't let Craig tell you it was about some stupid facebook shares by Dr. Kurley, he was just attacking Jon Rector on my facebook page the other day.   The only agenda of the group formerly known as REWIND is to make Central central and develop a more comprehensive plan for school facilities.  I'm not sure how advocating for a more central Central is unfavorable for any particular demographic.  The North End Breakfast Club activists have backed off of the racist rhetoric, but Craig Walker continues to be relentless in his attacks on anyone who has a different opinion.  Most people are involved in the schools conversation because they have the best interest of the kids/community at heart.   Others are clearly in it for the money. 

It's really interesting watching Craig Walker try to smear people in this community after he moved to Atlanta and immediately made headlines for his shenanigans down there.   (  Just remember, all special interests are inherently evil, except when they benefit Craig Walker.