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Facing Primary Challenge From Left, Segobiano Touts Bipartisan Record

Courtesy Photos
Democratic McLean County Board member Paul Segobiano and his primary challenger, Shayna Watchinski.

Democratic voters on Bloomington’s west side will decide March 20 whether their longtime McLean County Board member should get to keep his job.

Paul Segobiano, who’s served on the County Board for more than 40 years, is up for re-election in District 8, which includes much of the city’s west side. He’s facing a primary challenge from Shayna Watchinski, a health care professional and well-known progressive activist making her first run for elected office. Their campaigns sparred this week over two mysterious flyers showing up in mailboxes.

Segobiano said one of the reasons he’s seeking re-election is because county administrative staff asked him to do so. He said he was proud of his record supporting economic development efforts in McLean County, as well as the county’s mental health initiatives and the jail expansion project.

“Mental health is a big item for us, and I think we stand head and shoulders above other counties downstate,” Segobiano said.

Segobiano also noted his bipartisan list of endorsements, including McLean Democratic Party chair John Penn, Republican Sheriff Jon Sandage, and three GOP County Board members. He said his bipartisan approach to the job makes him effective on a board where Republicans hold a 15-to-5 majority.

“I’ve learned to work within the system. I’ve worked with whomever is on the board,” said Segobiano, the director of development for the Great Plains Life Foundation and its Stay 4 Project, which helps youths at risk of dropping out of high school.

Watchinski acknowledged voters want bipartisanship. But she criticized Segobiano’s record on issues she says are important to District 8, such as a bipartisan proposal in 2016 to move board meeting times from mornings to evenings, to make them easier for the public to attend.

Segobiano was the only Democrat to vote against the change.

“When you are picked to represent the most Democratic district in the county, you should reflect what your constituents are asking you to reflect,” Watchinski said. “In District 8, it’s time for a fresh perspective, some new voices, and new leadership, and I believe I can bring that to the board.”

Watchinski said her decision to run was influenced by the death of her younger brother from a drug overdose nine years ago. He left behind three young children, and their mother died from a drug overdose herself in 2016. That was followed soon after by the election of President Donald Trump, which Watchinski said compounded her feeling of “helplessness.”

“That kind of brought everything at the same time into focus for me, and I thought, I really have to put my money where my mouth is, and do what I can fully. And it’s just led down this road,” said Watchinski, whose husband is a union carpenter.

Watchinski said her personal connection to the drug epidemic and corresponding mental health issues will inform her approach to the County Board, if elected. She said community-based services that deal with mental health issues need more funding.

“I’m really concerned that the most visual representation of the work that McLean County is doing for mental health right now is a jail expansion. That’s really upsetting to a lot of people,” she said.

Watchinski is one of several women running for McLean County Board this year. There are currently only three women on the 20-member board.

Watchinski said “there needs to be representation” of women on the board, but she said gender “definitely shouldn’t be the only reason or the deciding factor” for voters.

When asked about diversity on the board, Segobiano noted that he’s Mexican-American.

“You’re judged on your character and your ability and willingness to serve, regardless of whether you’re a man or woman. And I do agree, there’s been a big push, this is the year of the woman. But what about the men out there? Men who have the intelligence and the ability to run and serve honorably. It’s the voter’s choice. It doesn’t have to do with the sex of the person, but the qualifications of the person,” he said.

The winner of the March 20 primary is expected to face Libertarian candidate Steve Suess in November.

Video: Watch a candidate forum between Segobiano and Watchinski hosted Wednesday by the Illinois Wesleyan University College Democrats:

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.