Five seats on the Champaign City Council are up for election on April 9, but, unfortunately, only one race is contested.
The race for the city council seat for District 1 in north Champaign features two council veterans — incumbent Will Kyles and onetime incumbent Gina Jackson.
Because of family obligations, Jackson opted not to run for re-election four years ago, endorsing Kyles to take her place. Now that those obligations no longer exist, Jackson wants the seat back, contending that voters should elect her because Kyles has fallen short of expectations. Her desire to return to public office is understandable, but her argument falls short. The News-Gazette endorses Kyles for a second four-year term on the nine-member council.
It's always difficult to choose between two credible candidates. During Jackson's term on the council, she showed herself to be an energetic and interested council member who attended to her district's needs, particularly on the issue of law enforcement. Were roles reversed, The News-Gazette would have no reason not to support her re-election.
But Kyles is the incumbent, and, in our view, he has given voters no reason not to return him to office. He's been an active member of the council, pushed for programs that benefit his district and otherwise shown himself to be interested in his community, particularly the minority community. Jackson contends that Kyles' role as president of the Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce distracts him from his duties. In our view, it is a major benefit for him to be a council member while playing a key role in minority business development.
Jackson criticizes Kyles for not doing enough to help the district move forward and for not paying enough attention to elderly residents. But these charges are simply too vague to give much credence. It seems to us that if Jackson was still on the council, she would be doing about what Kyles has been doing.
Our greatest concern, however, is the subtext of the election — party affiliation on a nonpartisan council. Jackson is a Democrat while Kyles is a Republican, although not much of a Republican to hear him describe it. Because black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, Jackson essentially argues she should be elected because of party affiliation.
That might be the case if Jackson was running in Urbana, where Democrats face Republicans under a mayor-council form of government. But Champaign has a city manager form of government and a nonpartisan nine-member council, and there is no benefit to injecting partisanship where it does not belong.
This is a close call. But for the reasons stated, The News-Gazette endorses Kyles.