Urbana mayoral Dems hash it out in first forum

Urbana mayoral Dems hash it out in first forum

URBANA — Less than a month before the Feb. 28 primary, an overflow crowd watched the three Democratic contenders for Urbana mayor hash out their views on economic growth, gun violence and policing at the first candidate forum Monday night.

Urbana residents will choose between current Mayor Laurel Prussing, Alderwoman Diane Marlin and the Rev. Evelyn Burnett Underwood, associate pastor of New Free Will Baptist Church, before the April 4 election. The primary winner will face Republican candidate and engineer Rex Bradfield.

Inside Urbana's council chambers, the three candidates were asked repeatedly about improving economic development downtown and elsewhere.

Marlin, a council member since 2009, said she has been talking with business owners who stopped investing in the city to find out why.

"Most economic development comes from within a community," Marlin said. "You need to cultivate and maintain relationships with local investors and developers. It's also a question of personal relationships; we need to look at specific procedures and practices used over the past years."

When addressing this issue, Prussing cited her background as an economist with a speciality in public finance and said there were 115 new or expanded businesses throughout her past four years as mayor. She added that she would encourage high schools to bring back job skill training and "practical education" in areas such as construction.

Underwood said the city should think twice before investing in renovations to the Urbana Landmark Hotel, which she called a "black hole." "I see Urbana dying and I don't want to see that," Underwood said.

Other issues discussed Monday night:

— Gun violence. The city saw an uptick in 2016, a year with four homicides.

Prussing said the CU Fresh Start program, which encourages previous violent offenders to stop that behavior and be rewarded with opportunities to build a new life, is going well and there should be other efforts to help children with behavioral issues.

Marlin referred to the summer youth employment program for high schoolers as a deterrent to violence. She said it includes "a very intensive week" of training on how to act and dress in job interviews, open savings accounts and interact in public, among other things.

Underwood said the key to reducing violence is keeping youth occupied by offering more community programs. She also said Urbana's video gambling opportunities may have negative effects.

— Policing. The city council is ready to take a final vote on adding two new officers to the force after initially approving the idea last week.

Both Marlin and Prussing said they're in favor of the additions, but Marlin said she regrets that they weren't hired sooner and that the city has to play catchup now.

Prussing said she couldn't have hired officers sooner; following the Great Recession, she had to work to not lay off any officers.

Underwood didn't explicitly say whether she was in favor of adding police.

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prp wrote on January 31, 2017 at 7:01 am

While the general election for mayor is on April 4, this primary (which is the real election in Urbana) is on Feb 28.  This article really should state the primary date and not the date of the general mayoral election.

The way this article is clumbsily written would lead the reader to believe that the primary is on April 4.




drgndna wrote on January 31, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Perhaps a thorough reading of the article before commenting would be a good idea.  The first sentence of the article states that the primary is Feb. 28.

drgndna wrote on January 31, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Perhaps a thorough reading of the article before commenting would be a good idea.  The first sentence of the article states that the primary is Feb. 28.