Bloomington Ward 6 city council candidates share visions for downtown
The city ward that covers much of downtown Bloomington has had three city council representatives since 2019. The city's urban core will get another new council representative this spring.
Ward 6 includes all of downtown Bloomington and some neighborhoods to the east and west. In 2019, Jenn Carrillo ousted longtime council member Karen Schmidt. Carrillo resigned two years later. The council appointed De Urban to the seat in 2021. Urban is not seeking a full term.
Jordan Baker and Cody Hendricks are running for Ward 6 in the April 4 municipal election. Hendricks teaches civics at Olympia High School in Stanford in western McLean County. Baker recently served as an aide to Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman. Since Barickman retired in January, Baker said he's been a full-time candidate.
This is not the first campaign for Hendricks or Baker.
Baker grew up outside Atlanta, Ga. He came to Bloomington to attend Illinois Wesleyan where he played golf. He graduated in 2020 and said the COVID pandemic made it an easy decision to stay. He went to work for the McLean County Clerk's office and later Barickman's office. He said that fueled his passion for public service.
“In those roles, I’ve been doing constituent work, so that area is something I enjoy and it’s always been something I want to do, run for office and win and be an elected official and just wanting to give back to the community that brought me here,” Baker said.
Baker made an unsuccessful bid for McLean County Board in 2020.
Hendricks also got his start in government while in college. Hendricks served four years on the Pekin City Council starting in 2011 when he was a student at Eureka College. Hendricks said his time on the council taught him the importance of constituent services.
“I learned a lot about the power of listening, about trusting the experts, about getting out more and more in the community to hear about individuals’ concerns” Hendricks said. “That’s really at the heart of my campaign as well is constituent relationships.”
Hendricks said his campaign also is focused on providing equitable city services and revitalizing downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
The city is working on a new downtown streetscape plan. Hendricks said he wants to “radically transform” the city's urban core, adding downtown's long-term future could be decided on Election Day.
“I’m excited about downtown. I think there’s a lot of opportunities and I think this election is crucial. Moving forward with creation of a plan came down to a 5-4 vote and I think that the outcome of this election will determine if we actually move forward with downtown,” he said.
Baker said he also supports investment in downtown, citing the city's expansion of outdoor dining as one example of downtown's improvement. Baker said he wants to the see the final streetscape plan before pledging any dollar amount.
“It certainly takes investment and that is dollars, but I’d certainly like to see the city go after as much federal and state grants as possible to lower any costs to the city,” said Baker, noting his priorities are public safety and infrastructure. Baker said he's heard from Ward 6 residents they are concerned about crime in their neighborhoods.
“Some of the more physical and just terrible crimes, one-third of those happened in Ward 6 as compared to the whole city, talking about sexual assaults, murders, things like that,” he said, adding it will take a collaborative approach between police, residents and nonprofit groups to work on solutions.
Baker said the current city council has made roads and sewers a priority, but he's still not sure it's enough to keep up with maintenance. “Certainly, we need to invest more in roads and do it in a smart fiscal manner. Obviously, representing the west side there have been complaints about old sewer lines,” he said.
Hendricks said he wants the city to do more to encourage infill development to help with the housing crunch, especially with the lack of affordable housing. He said that may require perks for developers, such as waiving liens on vacant buildings, waiving sewer hookup fees and setting up pre-developed housing plan. He said it also will likely take changes to the zoning code.
“A lot of cities have done that. It takes time as you casually review those and determine if this (is) something we still need as a zoning low or code. I think that’s the first step,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks said he's encouraged by the city's move to bring management of the city-owned downtown arena in house. It's lost money for years. Hendricks said he hopes the venue can at least break even, but said the arena and ice center next door have value as a resource for all kinds of community events.
“I don’t know what that point is right now and I think that’s where we have to have those conversations, but I am somebody who does believe as a teacher, I believe in providing opportunities for individuals in our community, especially kids to have those opportunities,” Hendricks said. “I think we need to find what that level is if we don’t break even.”
Baker said he wants to give city staff a chance to reverse the arena's trend of financial losses before considering other options.
“I don’t think it helps them projecting negativity when they are trying to work on some new ideas and concepts to get more people in, get more revenue going,” Baker said.
City council races are nonpartisan, but candidates don't leave their political views at the door. Hendricks said on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most conservative and 10 being most liberal, he gives himself a 7. Hendricks said he wants to help the ward's higher percentage of low-income residents and to live in an inclusive community.
“My partner, Eric and I, being part of the LGBT community, it’s important that we have a place that is safe that we feel we can be our true selves in,” Hendricks said. “I think that’s important to the city council as well, being a representation and showing that Bloomington is a safe place for all people.”
Hendricks said he's like to see the city contract more with minority-owned businesses.
Baker ran as a Republican for McLean County Board, but said he doesn't plan to view city issues through an ideological lens.
“If it’s a more center-left idea that makes the most sense and checks off all the boxes, I’m more than happy to support it. If it’s a center-right idea that makes the most sense to a problem, I’ll support it,” Baker said.
Baker and Hendricks both hope they can find enough support to help shape the future of downtown and the city as a whole.
Early voting is underway. In addition to the Ward 4 race between John Wyatt Danenberger and Steven Nalefski, wards 1, 2, and 8 are on the ballot. Those three races are uncontested. Each of the candidates has been invited to appear at the candidate open house at 5:30 pm. March 22 at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center.
WGLT will host the event along with the League of Women Voters of McLean County, the Bloomington-Normal NAACP and the university's Center for Civic Engagement.