Five candidates are vying for the Ward 7 seat on the Bloomington City Council. But only two will appear on the ballot in the April 6 municipal election. This week, voters will determine who those finalists will be.
Ward 7 is the most contested race in Bloomington this election cycle. Alderman Scott Black vacated the seat representing the city's northwest side in October.
Tuesday's primary election is only for registered voters in Ward 7; polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Mary "Mollie" Ward, director of spiritual services at Carle Bromenn Medical Center and Carle Eureka Hospital, was tapped to serve the remainder of his term. Ward hopes to continue in the job.
"People were looking to me to be the kind of voice on the city council that isn't going to be screaming at people, but rather talking with them and be able to foster those kinds of conversations that I think our country and honestly our community is in sore need of," Ward said. "We've spent a lot of time, in recent years in particular, screaming at one another and and I think we need to tone some of that down."
Ward said her background in organizing and activism through groups like Not In Our Town and the McLean County Interfaith Alliance prompted her to throw her hat in the ring. She said a full term on the council would be an opportunity to affect real change.
She said her top priority is to create a healthier Bloomington—physically and economically. She said the community's problems didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic and they won’t end with it.
"People's access to affordable care, people's access to mental health, behavioral health, addiction, recovery services, people's access to healthy food and healthy recreational opportunities—those are all things that aren't going to go away when the pandemic someday is over with," Ward said. "Similarly, I think it's time that we as a community begin to look at at some of the the issues of public safety, particularly around gun violence, as a public health crisis, frankly, that's literally killing people."
Ward is not the only community activist on the ballot in Ward 7.
Kelby Cumpston also hopes his work in that space will draw voter support. The self-described "townie" and "political nerd" works as a project manager overseeing affordable housing construction.
Cumpston helped set up a McLean County Mutual Aid group to help those struggling during the pandemic. He's also involved in the Bloomington-Normal Really Really Free Market and other community groups.
Cumpston said he'd like to see less talking and more doing from city council. To affect change, he said, you have to make moves. He said the COVID response is a good example.
"Everybody was just perfectly trying to figure this out. What we did is we started this program by just doing it. We could have spent you know four or five weeks coming up with a perfect plan, but instead, in the spirit of mutual aid, we just started," Cumpston said. "I think that is something that the city needs to start doing.”
Cumpston said he wants to eliminate food deserts, create more programming for teenagers, uplift women and veteran-owned businesses, and bring Bloomington's first dog park to fruition. He said he's running to rewrite the west side Bloomington narrative.
"One of the memories I have is going to friend's house and for sleepovers back when I was a kid, and there was a time where they invited me over, and then I would invite them over to my house in West Bloomington. And I remember their parents in front of me saying, 'Oh, no, I can't have them go over there.' At a young age, I didn't fully comprehend what was being said with that. But definitely, as I've grown older, it's a significant part of my life is trying to rehabilitate, that image of the West Bloomington."
Cumpston wants to see a progressive majority on the council. He’s running as part of the People First Coalition, a slate of candidates that includes Jackie Gunderson for mayor, Willie Holton Halbert in Ward 3, and Patrick Lawler in Ward 5.
Another Ward 7 contender said political ideologies don't belong on the council.
Daniel Freburg is a graduate student assistant at Illinois State University.
“The good thing about being a council member is that it's nonpartisan—and I've been sticking to that since getting on the ballot," Freburg said. "I really wouldn't have to affiliate with or stay true to a certain party. So I'm looking forward to doing that.”
Freburg serves on the city's Citizen Beautification Committee and the McLean County Jail Review Committee. He helped develop the ordinance for the Public Safety and Community Relations Board that intervenes between the police department and citizens.
Like Cumpston and Ward, Freburg said he has followed council meetings for years, but wants the opportunity to be more involved. He said his biggest priority if elected is simple: fix the roads. That's a goal shared by all of the Ward 7 candidates.
Freburg said there's also work to be done in bringing life to Bloomington's downtown.
“I understand the problem to be that a lot of consumer traffic is already on the east side. So it's tough to improve a downtown area when there's no traffic there," Freburg said. "I think it's going to still be difficult. But I think that if we can do something with the downtown area, our city will be better. When I'm down there, I love looking at the old old courthouse. I would love to see the surrounding blocks be busy, be bustling."
Freburg said social action also is a big priority. He said Bloomington often has been "ahead of the curve" in this area, but there's more work to do.
Challenger Coretta Jackson said people have to be at the forefront of all council action.
“You would be surprised what someone can accomplish if (their) basic needs are met, if they have access to things that will make them a healthy individual all the way around," Jackson said. "You can't expect the city to run efficiently and effectively if its people are not treated equally.”
Jackson, a former educator and entrepreneur, said she's running because she has experienced the wide array of perspectives of people living on the west side.
"I feel like I am Ward 7. I represent that college student that wants to contribute to the community around me. I represent that (public) housing resident that lives paycheck to paycheck. I've been that person that had to decide, do I pay my bill or do I buy my medicine. I've been that middle-class, corporate employee," she said.
Jackson said the other driving force is low voter turnout, especially in Ward 7.
"That it is something that I'm very passionate about: getting people to speak up for themselves. And that's in all aspects of their lives, but especially when it's time to vote, because that's where your voice is going to really matter and needs to be heard the most," she said.
The fifth candidate, June Peterson-Middlebrooks, said she's in the race to connect with others and help out her neighbors.
"When I was signing up for my petition, I talked with a lot of people and actually enjoyed it—to hear what they had to say and what they thought their needs were," she said.
Middlebrooks works for the McLean County Center for Human Services. She volunteers with the Salvation Army and the Christian Motorcycle Association. Middlebrooks describes herself as "for everybody." She said diversity within her own family means she's open-minded and nondiscriminatory.
Middlebrooks said the current council can be too adversarial at times, adding she wants to bring civility back to local politics.
"I've watched a few council meetings. Sometimes somebody might get in their feelings and others get offended by it. I don't think we need that on the council. I think everybody needs to work together," Middlebrooks said. "They're working for this city, the people—not to be offended by each other. That's not what they're there for.”
The top two candidates in Tuesday's primary will move onto the April ballot. Ward 7 voters can vote early in the primary election at the Bloomington Board of Elections Commissioners office Friday and Monday from 8:30 a.m. t0 4:30 p.m. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked or returned to polling places on Feb. 23.
Same-day voter registration is available. To see if you're already registered, click here.
The primary is open only to voters who live in Ward 7. Find out which ward you live in here.
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