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Normal Town Council Hopefuls Differ On Social Issues

Crowd holding signs at Uptown Normal rally
WGLT file photo
Supporters of the Welcoming Community ordinance rally in Uptown Normal on Monday, May 7, 2018, before a Normal Town Council meeting.

Much of the debate in the Normal Town Council and mayor's races has centered on taxes, debt and town essentials, including roads and water. But several town council candidates say town government also has a role in fostering diversity and inclusion.There are three open seats on the town council and nine candidates.

Kevin McCarthy has been on the council since 2012. He said economic development is the number one issue for him in this election, but added you can't separate that from social equity. He said you can see that in the council's 2015 approval of a sales tax increase that helps pay for the county's mental health programs and expanded Connect Transit service.

McCarthy said the town needs more diverse voices playing an active role in the decision-making process.

“It starts with a conversation with the people you are trying to attract and you bring them in, and then on the government level looking to see who we can appoint,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said town leaders should say racism is a problem, but that inclusion goes beyond skin color. He said the town also must promote equity based on age, gender and ability. He said those conversations already have started within the police department, at city hall and with the town's boards and commissions.

Chemberly Cummings, who is seeking her second term on the town council, said social issues are at the forefront of her campaign. She said pandemic recovery is a big part of that as the coronavirus has hit people of color much harder.

Cummings said she wants the town to do what a growing number of cities are doing in offering more incentives to home ownership and creating a more blended community. She said that could mean changing zoning rules, or requiring that a certain percentage of affordable homes be included in any new development.

“It allows people the opportunity to even get encouraged to go into home ownership, and they have seen where a lot of those who were renters become actual homeowners,” Cummings said.

Scott Preston is running for a third term on Normal's governing body. He said he's open to any conversation the public wants to have, but he sees the council's role as helping the town maintain a high quality of life and moving past the pandemic.

“The town will be focused on -- at least from my standpoint -- the economic growth and lot of the lasting repercussions of what our town and what the world looks like getting through the rest of COVID and on to the other side,” Preston said.

Several town council hopefuls said social issues aren't part of their platform, but they are willing to listen.

Challenger A.J. Zimmerman said he wants regular dialogue with constituents.

“I do want to take the temperature of the town on a frequent basis,” Zimmerman said.

Candidate Donna Toney said constituents are more concerned about poor roads and water quality. She said they need to be heard.

“(I will be) making sure that the community, that our people -- and when I say 'our,' I’m not going into a racial (claim), but our community as a whole has a voice to their problems,” Toney said.

Another candidate, Brad McMillan, said the town can play a role in promoting social justice. For example, he supports the Welcoming Community ordinance the town council adopted in 2018. The measure limits police interaction with immigration agents. But McMillan said that's not what this election is about.

“I don’t think the social change issues are the highest priority,” he said. “I think the economic growth and development and infrastructure are the higher priority focus.”

Council candidate Karl Sila said his campaign's focus is on the town of Normal's finances.

“Among council needs, basically analysis of what’s appropriate, primarily financially,” Sila said of what he plans to focus on if elected.

Candidate Steve Harsh said much the same thing. He said he’s worried about town spending, but otherwise, the town needs to take a hands-off approach.

“The spending, the taxing (and) fees and regulations and the infrastructure,” Harsh said of his priorities. “The roads are a mess. The water system like it is for these residents, there’s not excuse for that. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Candidate David Paul Blumenshine did not respond to WGLT's request for an interview.

Election day is April 6. Early voting is underway.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.