Tom Kacich: Sorry, election-weary; it's time to vote again

Tom Kacich: Sorry, election-weary; it's time to vote again

Even in Urbana, there are only so many Democratic votes to go around.

And now there are three Democratic women running for mayor in a primary election 20 days away that traditionally attracts few voters. All of this is coming three months after a big presidential election that left a lot of Democrats exhausted and distraught.

"Folks, I think, are finally realizing there's another election," said Esther Patt, the former Urbana City Council member who is back again as chairwoman of Mayor Laurel Prussing's re-election campaign. "It's hard because there's so much fatigue from the last election. The number-one mission now is to let people know there's an election on February 28th."

"I just hope people vote," said Diane Marlin, a current council member who is challenging Prussing, as is Evelyn Burnett Underwood, the third candidate. "Very few people vote in primaries. And people really are exhausted. They're worn out. But of all the elections, your local elections are the ones that have the most impact on our everyday life."

Four years ago, fewer than 2,000 Urbana Democrats voted in a two-way mayoral primary. Twelve years ago, fewer than 5,000 Democrats turned out in a three-way race much like this one: where Prussing unseated Mayor Tod Satterthwaite by 270 votes, and a third candidate, Shirley Hursey, got 125 votes.

Compare those numbers with the 12,693 votes that Hillary Clinton got out of Urbana in November.

"The majority of people who vote in November elections do not vote in municipal elections. So that leaves the majority of voters as targets to increase turnout. I'm sure that's what the Marlin campaign is doing and what we're doing, too," said Patt, who has helped run Prussing election campaigns since a successful race for state representative in 1992. "Prussing's had a lot of support from a lot of Democrats, and we're trying to get as many as we can to vote on February 28th or before."

Early voting has started, and as of Tuesday morning, County Clerk Gordy Hulten said, about 210 people already had voted for mayor.

Patt said her message to Democratic primary voters is that Prussing has been fearless in fighting for what she believes in, whether it's battling Carle over property tax payments or defending the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois.

"Her greatest asset and why people support her," Patt said, "is that she fights for the public interest — and once she's got her position, she isn't going to waver just because people are yelling at her. She takes the beating and goes on. And then when we win at the appellate court (in the Carle property tax case), people say, 'Oh, she was right.'

"She doesn't make her decisions based on tomorrow's headline but instead about what is in the best interest of Urbana for the long term."

One fear in Prussing's campaign is that Marlin is reaching out to Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary. There is no Republican primary with only Rex Bradfield representing the GOP.

Marlin has received campaign contributions from people who are more traditionally identified with Republicans: $1,000 from Peter and Kim Fox and $2,500 from Howard Wakeland, who runs Advantage Properties C-U.

Asked if she is encouraging crossover voting, Marlin said, "I'm not actively seeking them, no, but the fact of the matter is that this is a local election, and people vote for the person rather than the party."

Patt, though, said that some Democratic voters are skeptical.

"I can understand the political strategy of trying to play to someone other than the Democratic base to get extra votes, but what's that going to mean after the election? That's a concern. People in my neighborhood were concerned when they saw Diane say (in a candidate forum last week) what she did about loosening development regulations. That and a $2,500 campaign contribution from someone (Wakeland) who days later announces that he has a development site in Urbana. What kind of change is this going to be?"

For the record, Marlin said at the forum that the city has "to look at specific procedures and practices that have been used over the years to see how they're impacting business, and work with the community on ways we can modify them."

Marlin said Tuesday: "I don't make promises to anybody. The only promise I make to anybody is the one I make to everybody, and that is I'll do the very best I can for the community."

Further, that she's "not advocating loosening regulations.

"We all follow, no matter what city you're in ... the same fire code and building standards," Marlin said. "What I'm saying, and what builders have told me, is that there are ways to meet every single standard, but other cities give them flexibility in figuring out how to do that. We don't compromise safety or quality, and we don't compromise our principles, but giving people some flexibility in meeting codes — which is what other communities do — that's what they mean when they say that Urbana often makes it harder."

Marlin said Urbana "has to cultivate good, productive relationships with businesspeople and developers.

"Being the mayor of a little bitty city like this is all about personal relationships," she said. "We have many people in Urbana-Champaign who tell me they won't put one more dime in this city because of the way the city administration has not cultivated and kept a positive, working relationship. The first thing I would do is bring in people who used to invest in Urbana and stopped, and people like (Champaign businessman) Carlos Nieto, who could very well build over here and chose not to. I'd bring in a group and say: What would make it easier for you to invest in Urbana, or what have we done to keep you out of here? And then just listen and go from there."

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

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Bystander wrote on February 08, 2017 at 7:02 am
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5000 votes? Prediction: Marlin 2500, Prussing 1,500, Underwood 1000. Good-bye Prussing. 

rsp wrote on February 08, 2017 at 11:02 am

So if Republicans vote for Marlins, and she wins, then she would face Bradfield. Maybe the Republicans just think Marlins would be easier to beat?