And then there were 10. That would be 10 candidates for the upcoming Peoria City Council race, whittled down from the group of 14 who ran in the February 27th primary. If you haven’t been paying attention, you may be among the ranks of the 90.2 percent of registered voters who didn’t make it to the polls that day.
With only 9.8 percent of registered voters turning out, there is little cause to be optimistic about voter engagement. That’s less than 10 percent, reflecting a meager subset of registered voters—not even the general population as a whole. When the last at-large primary was held in 1999, voter turnout hit 13 percent—a statistic which we lamented then. Now eight years later, we’ve somehow managed to lop off another quarter of that number.
To reflect upon this trend, one would think that our city had conquered the crime problem, resolved the woes afflicting our school district and fully addressed our budget issues. One would suppose that controversies over such matters as TIF districts, EPA requirements, the Kellar Branch and the landfill expansion had been worked out to the satisfaction of all of our citizens.
Of course, we all know that’s not the case. This council will have on its plate a host of hot-button issues that demand solutions, few of them easy. Rigorous debate must occur and everyone’s voice must be heard. Tough decisions will need to be made. Compromises will need to be struck. Flexible thinking and common sense are not optional.
What roles should the city play in spurring economic development? How does our workforce remain competitive in an increasingly globalized world? What can we do to improve the climate for doing business in this town? How do we provide the amenities necessary to attract and retain creative professionals to the area? How do we address all of these vital issues, rebuild our infrastructure and provide for essential city services?
With five at-large council seats up for grabs, the upcoming election will play an enormous role in determining the future direction of our city. Despite the lack of citizen participation, there are reasons to be hopeful—namely the seriousness and dedication of those who are running. As I read the candidates’ responses to the survey by the Progressive Peoria Political Action Committee, it was clear to me that each of them was in the race for the right reasons. They all want what’s best for our city. Far removed from the petty partisanship and silliness that hangs like a cloud over so many of our national elections (is it 2008 yet??), we in Peoria are fortunate to have solid candidates from all walks of life who are addressing real, substantive issues.
I’ve said many times that collaboration among community stakeholders is key. In the end, we’re all in this together. While we may disagree on the best approach to tackle this issue or that issue, I take heart in the process itself. In its coverage of the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in February, the Journal Star noted that the spirit of cooperation and collaboration is alive and well with all of the candidates. We won’t always get everything we want, but we can do so much more working together.
So…get out there and vote on April 17 and be a part of the solution! IBI