The first Bloomington mayoral candidate to emerge says he would lean into his business background to help the local economy navigate the pandemic.
Mike Straza, an entrepreneur and business consultant, announced a run for Bloomington City Council in Ward 5 just last month. But he changed his plans after Mayor Tari Renner announced this week he would not seek a third term in 2021.
“I’ve been in this community for 37 years. I love this community, I’ve been part of it, and I’ve always wanted to be more and more involved with the city,” Straza told WGLT. “As I announced about (running) in Ward 5, I was going to concentrate on that. But then when this opportunity came up—it was always a plan of mine to run for mayor. When I realized that Mayor Renner was not seeking another term, I felt this was a great time to share my vision and lead in the way of being mayor.”
Straza said investing in infrastructure would be one of his top priorities. Another would be helping the local economy recover from the pandemic. To that end, Straza said the city must continue to listen to business owners, like it did by crafting an outdoor dining plan for downtown.
“One of my strengths is working with people, developing business, developing an economic plan to get us back on our feet through this COVID thing because it’s really put a hurt on a lot of industries, especially the service industry,” Straza said.
Straza, who has lived in Bloomington for around 37 years, has never held elected office before. He currently serves on the Bloomington Zoning Board of Appeals and previously was a member of the Town of Normal’s Vision 2040 committee. He also worked on Normal Mayor Chris Koos’ re-election campaign in 2017.
“With the background I have and the people I’ve met and listened to over the years, I feel like I’m qualified even though I haven’t held an elected position,” Straza said.
Straza was the founding treasurer of the Responsible Cities political action committee (PAC) earlier this year, but has since left that role. The PAC looks to recruit and support candidates for nonpartisan offices like city councils, preferring those who take a collaborative and less ideological approach and avoiding the extremes on either side.
“In this day and age of how politics has been done and played out in the media and on social media, it’s been very difficult. It’s been hard to find people who are willing to take that chance who are very qualified to run for office,” Straza said.
Straza is currently operations director at Vale Church in Bloomington. But he said the bulk of his professional background is in entrepreneurship, business consulting, and business mentorship.
He’s the founder of Straza Consulting, and he said he’s helped “more than a dozen owners grow and accelerate their businesses.” He said he’s working with two young companies right now, including one that helps small or medium-sized businesses find investments. He declined to name them.
Straza also said he’s started and maintained six different businesses. One of them was ZDI, now called RoomReady that he co-founded in 2007. The company, still based in Bloomington-Normal, started with five employees but now has more than 100 and operates internationally, he said.
Straza praised Renner’s tenure as mayor as well as City Manager Tim Gleason.
“It’ll be a different approach. A different leadership approach, different backgrounds. Renner, a college professor, "comes from an education background, and has served well. I’m coming from more of a business background,” Straza said.
The election is in April, with a possible primary in February.
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