Tom Kacich: Gerard getting a little too social online

Tom Kacich: Gerard getting a little too social online

Let Tom Kacich know how you feel here.

Will social media be the downfall of another Champaign mayor?

Four years ago, a YouTube video of then-Mayor Jerry Schweighart expressing skepticism about the citizenship of President Barack Obama ("I don't think he's an American, personally") got him in trouble and probably helped Don Gerard win the election by 232 votes out of 8,416 cast.

This time, Gerard's Twitter tiff with ESPN analyst Dan Dakich over a foul call in Saturday's Michigan State-Illinois basketball game is raising new questions about Gerard's judgment.

His re-election in April is far from a given anyway — he raised not a penny in the last quarter of 2014 — but this won't help.

"Does the Mayor of Champaign have nothing better to do?" asked a commenter on

"He needs to act like a professional, not an idiot," said another.

Then this two-fer: "The takeaway message is that Champaign's mayor is trying hard to be just as pathetic as Urbana's mayor."


The spat with Dakich isn't the mayor's only recent social-media indiscretion.

On Jan. 31, he posted on Facebook, "Completed conversion from cotton to 'micro modal lycra' boxer briefs."

The mayor got lots of "likes" and comments on that one, including one that said, "TMI" (too much information), followed a few days later by one from his mother who wrote that she agreed.

Taking the two mayoral remarks together, Schweighart's can almost be forgiven. He was ambushed by a questioner with a camera at a tea-party event — remember those? — in West Side Park. But Gerard's was self-inflicted. He started it, kept it going and now would like to turn it into a peace accords meeting over a beer with Dakich.

"That's not really very good," opined Kelli S. Burns, a social-media expert and associate professor in the school of mass communications at the University of South Florida.

I asked her if this unfiltered social-media commenting is common among many politicians.

"No, I would say not. I was just looking at our mayor's tweets. His name is Bob Buckhorn and his tweets are all, 100 percent Tampa, Tampa, Tampa, how this is such a wonderful city," she said. "This other, it's definitely outlier kind of behavior.

"I think people will always make mistakes using social media, but I can't think of anybody in political office who we can really compare this to."

As for Gerard's underwear update, Burns said, "Really? I think a lot of people think they can use social media to share the details of their public life, but when it comes to someone in public office, there's only so far you should go. You've definitely crossed the line with something like that."

Burns noted, "Just imagine if a woman mayor had written something like that. When I think about a woman doing that, I'm just — that would be awful."

Her advice to politicians on social media?

"If you hold public office, you have a responsibility to your constituents. That responsibility should not be taken lightly," Burns said. "As the mayor of a city, your primary job is to promote your city. Even though you might be using a personal social-media platform, you should still conduct yourself as the mayor. You have to take social media seriously."

And also remember that it's permanent, she said.

"It's there. You can go back and delete it, but someone may already have captured it. Your exact words are there to be talked about on the news and featured on blogs," Burns said. "Everyone has the evidence of the conversation and you cannot dispute what was said."


U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, spent $1.8 million in the 2013-2014 election cycle, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. His Democratic opponent last fall, Eric Thorsland of rural Mahomet, spent $24,243.

That's a per-vote total of $10.92 for each of the 166,274 votes Shimkus got in the large, rural and Republican 15th Congressional District in November. Thorsland spent about 43.5 cents per vote.

Although Shimkus reported spending almost $2 million during the two-year period, about a third of his disbursements were to other candidates and to various Republican organizations. He gave, for example, $10,000 each to the late Judy Baar Topinka and to state treasurer candidate Tom Cross, $4,000 to Mike Bost's congressional campaign, $2,000 to Rodney Davis' congressional campaign, more than $100,000 to the Illinois Republican Party and about $445,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Thorsland, meanwhile, is mulling what to do in 2016. Last year, he said he planned to run again against Shimkus, but now he's hedging on that.

"There is some campaign debt to recover ($1,900 the campaign owes to Thorsland), and that is a priority at this time," he said. "Our campaign fund is active. We may have the lowest cost per vote of any campaign in the state, and though we lost, money was still spent.

"The only firm decision at this time is that we will again run our own campaign, with our message, and will run it our way," he said. "One good way to lose is to have the district numbers make it hard to overcome the percentages; another way to lose is to work with the (Washington-based Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), and we did not and will not do so. We worked with the local parties and will approach any race the same way again. National issues are local issues that in the end affect people where they live.

"I have not yet made a decision on running in the 15th against Shimkus again or running against (Rodney) Davis in the 13th. There is a very good team of people in place in the 15th, and I connected well with the voters I was able to reach, we just did not have the budget to reach enough of them. The 13th has similarities with the 15th but has more potential to raise the needed funds and a desire for a candidate willing to work hard to win."

The 13th District, which includes Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Decatur and parts of Bloomington-Normal, is more Democratic-friendly and potentially winnable, especially in a presidential election year like 2016.

Young Dems happy hour

The Champaign County Young Democrats will hear from newly appointed state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, during a happy-hour social at 5:30 p.m. today at the Blind Pig, 120 N. Walnut St., C. Bennett replaced Mike Frerichs, also of Champaign, who was elected state treasurer in November.

Petrie town-hall meetings

Champaign County Board Chairwoman Pattsi Petrie, a Champaign Democrat, has scheduled countywide town-hall meetings with Republican members of the board. On Saturday, she'll meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Mahomet Community Center, 510 E. Main St., with board members Gary Maxwell and John Jay. They'll talk about various county issues. At 8 a.m. Feb. 21, she'll accompany board members Diane Michaels and Jack Anderson at a Republican breakfast at the Red Wheel Restaurant on Murray Road.

"Democrats will come into play in May and June, when the rural folks move into planting season," Petrie said in an email. "Then the aim is to complete the two remaining rural districts in July and August." After that, she said she'll have sessions in the remaining Champaign-Urbana districts.

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 kacich@news-gazette.[JUMP]com.

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gamera wrote on February 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

First off, Schweighart was NOT "ambushed" nor was what Schweighart said a mistake. He doubled down on those remarks repeatedly---Schweighart does not believe Obama was born in the US. And he STILL believes that. Do not try and pretend Schweighart got smeared by accident. The implication is not only revisionist history but it is insulting to the citizens of Champaign---we voted out a birther mayor precisely because he is a birther. 

Second, I find it absolutely HYSTERICAL that some folks have zero clue how social media works. And I'm guessing it's because of the way *you* use social media. The night Don posted about his underwear conversion? There were a slew of people posting inane "life milestones" that were anything but---it's called a joke but I see many have zero clue what they are seeing so they make assumptions. One friend made a lifetime event for "changing her role of toilet paper." Also, if you didn't catch that Don's mom was making a joke as well, then I feel sorry for your sense of humor---please find it and give it a hug  

And finally, not only did Don turn out to be correct regarding the recent "dead ball kefluffle," Don was interviewed on a national sports talk show giving CU some visibility, he got an extra $1000 donation to CU at Home, and he and Dakich are going to do a fundraiser for a CU charity to be named later. 

Somehow...all that is missing from your column. Not surprising really that some citizen could dig up a bunch of tidbits left out of the print edition. Pretty typical, but this one...Oof. It's almost like you don't know that a Communication course at the u of I had section called Mayor Don Gerard and Social Media---and the mayor was shown as a "Do." I wonder why you had to find an expert so close in SOUTH FLORIDA rather than the university right here in town, but if I think about it hard enough, I might come up with the answer all on my own....

johnny wrote on February 12, 2015 at 5:02 am

"Schweighart does not believe Obama was born in the US. And he STILL believes that."

Unless he has changed his position in the past 24 hours, that absolutely is not his position, and he is all too happy to tell anybody his position.

Politicalchemy wrote on February 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

"Taking the two mayoral remarks together, Schweighart's can almost be forgiven.

Mr. Kacich, you can't be serious. Comparing Gerard's Twitter exchange with an ESPN commentator and his questionable sharing of an undergarment transition to former mayor Schweighart's birther assertions on video is a comparison of apples to elephants. 

You also chose to omit the fact that Gerard's interaction with ESPN's Dan Dakich produced a sizable contribution to C-U at Home and significant exposure for that organization.

Then there's the matter of using three negative comments from News-Gazette readers to characterize the mayor's use of social media while ignoring the many examples that could be described by the social media expert you consulted, who observed: 

"As the mayor of a city, your primary job is to promote your city.

Whether you support him or not (and clearly you do not), I think there is little doubt that this is exactly how the mayor views his job. If you objectively surveyed his use of social media to promote the city and the many causes to which he contributes his time you would know that.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on February 11, 2015 at 10:02 pm

I have to agree with some of the other posters that comparing the situation with Schweighart with the current story on Gerard is foolish. The former mayor of Champaign was not ambushed or forced to attend a tea party rally. It's been said that he had his emails printed out and his campaign manager also looked after his twitter account. Schweighart made an ass out of himself, and he is responsible for his own actions. 

Members of the current city council use facebook, twitter, and online tools to keep their constituents current over what is happening in Champaign. I've seen Karen Foster, Marci Dodds, William Kyles, and Deborah Frank Feinen utlize facebook. One of the talents that Don brought to the table in the last election was his ability to use social media. Gordy Hulten as the Champaign County Clerk also uses online tools in his position, and his experience running the Illinipundit site has probably come in handy. 

There are reasons why I will not vote for Gerard this time around, but I will give him credit for his use of social media. 

Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on February 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

What I am most concerned about is cumlative public spats that he has had


1) OOP by ex girlfriend


2) Fight at the Boneyard with a local over who found a dead animal


3) and this.


The media accross the internet has posted that Champaign Mayor gets in twitter war with ESPN commentator.   Dakich has his own radio program.  What do you think the folks in Indy think of Champaign?  


The Mayor must promote the CIty, NOT be a reason for laughter and that is what he is right now.    Other than future wives or girlfriends, exactly who cares what he wears under his pants?

ericbussell wrote on February 11, 2015 at 10:02 am

I think an exceptional town like Champaign deserves an exceptional Mayor.  The unflattering headlines about the Mayor's behavior are getting pretty old, but I have to give him credit for turning this situation into a positive with the fundraising, etc.   It has been very entertaining to watch.  

The Mayor uses social media to promote himself and the community.   I think it is one of his strengths.   Nobody loves taking selfies and being noticed more than this Mayor, but I wish he would refrain from getting into so many public altercations.   This one turned out okay, but it will be interesting to see how the next one works out.  


prd2bme wrote on February 11, 2015 at 10:02 am

For one, I would rather have a human being as a mayor than a script spewing robot.    

I agree with the other commentors who brought up the good things that Twitter war brought up (which yes, magically failed to get mentioned in your post).

And if he wins re-election without raising a 4th quarter penny, I would think that speaks volumes to his public record as mayor.  




billjohnson217 wrote on February 11, 2015 at 11:02 am

Schweigart was considered humorless and his comments perceived to be racist. How Kacich finds his behavior forgivable over occasional humorous, sociable posting, I cannot understand.

Batmantis wrote on February 11, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Have to agree it is silly to compare being a Birther (which has as much "evidence" behind it as being a 9/11 "Truther" or worse) to Don going back and forth with a tv commentator on Twitter. Kacich is usually halfway readable, but this is inexcusable.

awycislo wrote on February 11, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Well I see Gerard's defenders are out in force.  Sure, let's focus on the no-longer-in-office and therefore irrelevant mayor's comments and ignore the fact that the current mayor is also acting like an idiot.

read the DI wrote on February 11, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Laura Huth, everyone! Thanks for joining in!

narciblog wrote on February 11, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Engaging with the public on social media is exactly the sort of thing a twenty-first century mayor should be doing. Mayor Gerard uses social media to talk about events going on around town, the city government, and talks up local businesses and restaurants. 

His penchant for selfies might be a source of amusment, but it's a good way to publicize the celebrities that come to down. Emmylou Harris. Ed Asner. Victor Garber. Patton Oswalt.

He is a clear and consistent advocate for Champaign, exactly what a mayor is supposed to be.

The underwear comment was clearly just a bit of goofiness and not an attempt to keep the public updated as to the state of the mayoral undergarments, as anyone with a functioning sense of humor could tell.

When the main sources for a newspaper article are anonymous Internet commenters, you should probably rethink the need for an article. Let's just hope that no one introduces Tom Kacich to YouTube comments.