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April 2 has come and gone, and life is returning to some semblance of normal for the Feinen family.

There are taxes to file, summer plans to arrange, college visits to make and definitely obedience school for dogs Norbert and Bellatrix, who were not very happy to be penned up on Election Day.

Deborah Frank Feinen has wrapped up her re-election as Champaign's mayor with a huge victory margin, the product of knocking on thousands of doors in Champaign, help from the Chamber of Commerce, and a team effort by a politically diverse group of incumbents.

So what was Tuesday like?

Election Day starts early.

Feinen skips her usual 5 a.m. run, and campaign workers start showing up at her house about 6:30 a.m. They collect signs and balloons (above) to wave at passing motorists during the morning rush, positioned at busy street corners — Kirby and Neil, First and University, Kirby and Crescent.

There's the usual get-out-the-door morning bustle, with dogs barking and someone yelling "Where's my coat?" But it's not a typical weekday for Feinen and her family — husband Chuck and daughters Karlee, 17, and Cate, 12. Deb Feinen took the day off from her law firm to campaign, and the girls stayed home from school to help.

Feinen checks the Wi-Fi password — "Lowercase, right?" she asks her daughters — so she can post election photos to Snapchat.

As volunteers get their assignments, the family heads to nearby Windsor Road Christian Church to vote. The mayor stops to take a family selfie in the parking lot before they go inside.

Election judge Julia Schmidt greets her: "How are you, Mayor? How many Feinens are voting today?"

Just two. Karlee's first election will be the 2020 Illinois primary.

The mayor spells her last name for the judge. She will be voter No. 12 at the polling place, home to two precincts. The girls stand behind her while she votes (right).

Back home, the two dogs — named for Harry Potter characters — are barking like crazy at all the invaders.

"We think he has claustrophobia," Cate says of Norbert, but Bellatrix also likes to clear the counters, hence the crate. Obedience school is in the cards — after April 2, Feinen says.

She asks her daughters to go stand at Duncan and Windsor.

"You want more balloons?" she asks. "No, I'll pass," Karlee says, in a perfect teen voice.

Coordinating strategy from the kitchen table is Garrett Hill (left), her "all-around good guy and person with the list." His real title is public policy director for the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, and he helps candidates endorsed by the chamber's Business Empowered PAC.

Shortly after 8 a.m., Feinen and her crew head out to Panera to chat with voters, honking at her daughters as they drive by.

Panera is a "political hot spot," Hill says, full of informed people who vote.

"Good luck; we've always voted for you," regular Charlie Younger greets Feinen as she walks in. At another table, Holly Thompson gives her a hug, saying, "We already voted last week."

Hill, who worked on state legislative campaigns before taking the chamber job in 2015, said the regulars show up every day, not just once a week.

"They've been in the community forever. And they always vote," he says.

On Election Day 2018, he saw a parade of politicians stop by, both Democrat and Republican — U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, new County Clerk Aaron Ammons, then-Champaign County sheriff candidate Allen Jones and state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

Feinen is sometimes invited to Panera to talk about issues, and council member Matt Gladney holds office hours there.

Wearing red and blue nail polish to match her Election Day dress (right), Feinen remains cheerful when a voter gets grumpy about taxes that "never go down."

"Some of them sunset," she reminds him.

Feinen is soon joined by Champaign City Council member Will Kyles (above), who is also running for re-election.

They've teamed up with other incumbents to campaign for Tuesday's election — Gladney and council member Tom Bruno and Unit 4 school board members Amy Armstrong, Chris Kloeppel and Kathy Shannon. It's a politically diverse group, with backgrounds in Democratic and Republican politics, though these races are nonpartisan.

Feinen says they all got to know each other four years ago, when they attended countless candidate forums. The $183 million Unit 4 construction project meant they had to collaborate on some big decisions. She also has regular lunches with school board members. It's good for the community when they work together, she says.

They didn't start out campaigning together this time, but then they found they were knocking on all the same doors in the same neighborhoods.

"It's more fun to go with a buddy," she says. It also proves to be a winning strategy.

They settle at a table with Hill and other campaign supporters and a few customers, including Champaign County Board member Jim Goss, a Mahomet Republican.

They all say they like the nonpartisan nature of local elections and wish it could be applied to higher levels — even Goss, who says "people tell me I'm pretty partisan."

People may still disagree, but when they're not divided by a party platform, they listen more, Goss and Kyles say.

Feinen says her time on the county board convinced her that "party politics shouldn't be involved in our elections." Removing politics changes how council members interact, allowing them to focus on the city's best interests, she says.

"I'm very moderate, and being nonpartisan has allowed me to kind of follow my own path. There's a wider breadth in what you can do," she says.

Back at the house, Feinen changes into comfortable shoes for the real work of the day: knocking on doors to get out every last-minute vote. Her team pinpoints the Southwood area around Robeson Park.

"There's a lot of voters in there," Hill says.

Joining her are Kyles; Armstrong and council member Vanna Pianfetti (left); and volunteer Tahj McDaniel. They pile campaign flyers into Feinen's trunk.

Karlee isn't going — she has to pick up her prom dress at 11 a.m. She and Cate also have homework.

Hill estimates they've reached at least 3,000 houses since the campaign began in January, and probably more. Feinen and her team covered nearly all of Districts 4 and 5 in central and southwest Champaign, which always produce the highest turnout in city elections, he says. Kyles covered most of District 1, in northeast Champaign, sometimes joined by Feinen.

They walk the neighborhood for an hour and a half. Most people aren't home, and those who are have mostly voted already. Feinen says she usually does this on weekends, or after 3 p.m. as people return from work.

Hill walks down the middle of the streets with his clipboard, directing them and calling out the name of the owner of each house. Of the 275 names on his list, Hill estimates they reach more than 200 homes, in person or leaving flyers.

When a miniature Schnauzer starts barking at the group from across the street, Feinen crosses to pet it. Owner Charlie Rubarts introduces himself and Marlie (right). They chat about local schools. He seems agreeable to voting: "I didn't even know it was today," he says.

Door-to-door campaigning is still crucial, Feinen says.

"You cannot beat a one-on-one conversation with people, standing in their neighborhood, talking to them about what their issues are," she says. "I also think if you're going to spend 20 minutes talking to somebody, they're probably going to vote for you."

What do they usually ask about? It depends on the time of year.

"Right now, it's potholes. Sometimes, it's snowplowing," she says.

But they also want to talk about bigger issues, like what the city is doing about gun violence or the proposed hockey arena downtown. She tells them about the Fresh Start program, and the city's effort to hire more minority and female contractors, and joint city-school programs to start reaching kids in middle school.

By 11:30, they're done, and the troop is tired.

"One way you can tell if someone is losing a campaign is if they gain weight. You have no time to eat, and you're always walking," Hill says.

After a break for lunch at the Esquire downtown, Feinen heads to campus to encourage students to vote in the city elections, a tall order. She's struck by the number of students wearing earbuds, who tend not to stop and chat.

But she inspires a few to vote, including graduate student Chris Williams, who is disappointed when he finds out he can't vote for Feinen because he lives in Savoy. He plans to vote anyway.

"Not exercising it is kind of a failure on our part," he says.

Feinen also runs into a crop of journalism students (left) who had just attended a council meeting last week. She talks to them about voting, and they ask her questions: What issues she has addressed, what she will do if re-elected. She spends several minutes talking with them, and also says she supports more campus polling sites and getting more students registered to vote.

Freshman Sabrina Arte says she liked Feinen's answer, and heads inside to vote.

Around 5 p.m., an "exhausted" Feinen sits down for a beer with her husband and a few friends at Huber's, the neighborhood bar she'd visited four years ago to see her good friend, the late Linda Cross. It's their "lucky spot," Chuck Feinen says.

A couple of hours later, the city council and school board incumbents, along with some council members who were not up for election, like Clarissa Fourman (right), gather at Farren's downtown to await election results.

With 50 percent of the precincts in, Feinen learns she has nearly 85 percent of the vote, an insurmountable lead. She gets a big hug from campaign staffers. As the final results come in, all the incumbents win re-election.

Relieved, sitting down to a salad, Feinen credits the win to a team effort and lots of hard work. She hopes it means voters are happy with their records.

One thing she wants to do, aside from all the "serious stuff": help Champaign win designation as a "dog-friendly" city.

Cate stands by as her mom finishes an interview. Afterward, she hugs her and says, to no one in particular, "We're going to get her back tomorrow."

Stephen Haas photos/The News-Gazette

Champaign Mayor Deb Frank Feinen hugs her daughter Cate as results confirm her re-election campaign was successful Tuesday, April 2, 2019, at Farren's Pub & Eatery in downtown Champaign.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).