A well-known community organizer unseated a five-term incumbent in Tuesday’s election, meaning four new faces will be joining the Bloomington City Council next month.
With all precincts reporting, challenger Jenn Carrillo led Alderman Karen Schmidt with 53% of the vote—a margin of just 44 votes—in Ward 6. That ward includes west Bloomington and parts of downtown.
"We went toe to toe with establishment politics and we beat them," Carrillo told supporters who had gathered at the Bistro in downtown Bloomington. "I think people have been struggling in Ward 6 for a long time, and I don't think that a lot of people feel like their struggles have been heard."
Carrillo said she plans to push the city council to reconsider a Welcoming City ordinance for undocumented immigrants. Mayor Tari Renner instead directed Police Chief Clay Wheeler to implement it as department policy.
Video: Watch Carrillo's victory speech Tuesday night.
Otherwise, Carrillo said didn't single out any specific policy objectives.
"In all honesty, I didn't want to be presumptuous and I have not thought about it much. This is a surprise to me, so tonight I am just going to celebrate the hard work or my team and then tomorrow I will start to figure that out with my constituents," Carrillo said.
Schmidt, a retiring librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University, was seeking her sixth term. She conceded late Tuesday.
Schmidt said there is a difference between activism and leadership.
"When you're an activist, sometimes you're not listening to everybody. It takes a while to listen to all points of view and to come up with decisions that embrace the widest number of people possible, bringing people together," said Schmidt.
And that, Schmidt said, is her legacy: community engagement.
"I think people know I really deeply care about this community and that I am a respectful listener and reflect who they are and what they want," said Schmidt.
The other side of engagement is policysetting. Schmidt said she has a legacy there too.
"I think I have really influenced the way the city spends its money. I have tried very hard to reflect the people in my ward who don't necessarily have the opportunity to have 3 percent increases and things, just to prioritize and think about how people's budgets are in a day to day setting," said Schmidt.
Schmidt said she will remain active in the community. She said she is deeply involved in the West Bloomington Revitalization Project and the Boys and Girls Club and may do more with Habitat for Humanity.
Ward 2 - Southwest Bloomington
Wards 2, 4, and 8 were also up for election Tuesday. The three incumbents in those wards chose not to seek re-election: David Sage in Ward 2, Amelia Buragas in Ward 4, and Diana Hauman in Ward 8.
In Ward 2, Donna Boelen defeated Georgene Chissell with 60 percent of the vote. Ward 2 includes south and southwest Bloomington. Boelen won the support of the McLean County Republican Party, the Chamber of Commerce PAC, and Sage. Chissell is a small-business owner and Democratic precinct committeeman who serves on Bloomington’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Boelen said the campaign enriched her life because she is normally an introvert and getting out and meeting constituents opened her eyes.
"When you begin to meet and interact and talk with members of the community, it's like you become one with the community. You develop a closer relationship with the city," said Boelen.
She commended her opponent, Chissell, for having the courage to run and offer service. Chissell said she will seek to serve on a board or commission and will run again in four years.
Boelen said her first order of business when she takes office will be to craft deeper relationships with other aldermen.
"I interacted with them during the campaign, but will need to do more to work well with the other council members," said Boelen.
Although it did not factor in the race for the open seat in her ward, Boelen acknowledged an anti-incumbent sentiment.
"There is some unrest in the community regarding the spending and taxing. taxes and fees have gone up every year for the last five years, and there is not a lot to show for it in regards to government services that are supposed to be provided," said Boelen. She said there is concern whether there will be jobs and the financial situation the city will be in the next two years.
Ward 4 - Central and Downtown Bloomington
In Ward 4, Julie Emig won election over Don “Chip” Frank. Ward 4 includes parts of central and downtown Bloomington. Emig is a first-time political candidate who teaches at Illinois State University. Frank is a small-business owner who lost to Buragas in 2015.
Emig said being part of a wave of four new members joining the council presents more of an opportunity than a challenge.
"The only challenge is that we will all be learning as quickly as we can the history of what's gone before but it's more of an opportunity ... to find a new way to find creative solutions that are potentially outside the box," Emig said.
Emig added a frequent refrain she heard on the campaign trail were potholes and infrastructure and the recent 4-cent gas tax increase.
"A lot of folks expressed concern about the gas tax, but most of them were allayed when I assured them that the gas tax in this round is specifically being used for road repair, sidewalk repair, infrastructure," she said.
Ward 8 - Southeast Bloomington
In Ward 8, Jeff Crabill cruised to election Tuesday. With Hauman not seeking re-election and another candidate ineligible because of a residency issue, Crabill essentially ran unopposed. Crabill, a self-described progressive, is an attorney at State Farm and serves on the Bloomington Cultural Commission. Ward 8 includes much of southeast Bloomington.
"(Aldermen) need to make decisions based on how that is going to impact everyone in the city, not just a few people," Crabill said. "Are we helping entrepreneurs start business, grow businesses? Are we focuding our funds in the proper way?
"Are we giving small businesses a chance to succeed? Are we impairing that with the gaming machine moratorium, for instance."
There are nine aldermen on the Bloomington City Council, plus Mayor Tari Renner.
The new aldermen will be sworn in May 1.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Donna Boelen won the support of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce PAC, not the chamber itself.
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