Smile Politely

Taking a look at Urbana’s mayoral candidates

Most people, myself included, tend to drown out politics once the Presidential election is over. I never consider the fact that all politics, especially local politics, affect my day to day life. Being a student at the University of Illinois, I am not a born and raised citizen of Urbana. I do not know the previous politics and can say very little on what I think the City of Urbana needs. That being said, I have come to love the city I live in and for the next year, it will continue to be my home. And because it will continue to be home, I care about the results of this election and will continued to be affected by it.   

Last Wednesday, I attended the Urbana Mayoral Primary Debate for the Democratic party. The candidates included current Mayor Laurel Prussing, Dr. Evelyn Burnett Underwood, and Diane Marlin.  Honestly speaking, I had never heard of the candidates, except for the current mayor Laurel Prussing, but knew little about her politics. I was very eager to see how the candidates were similar, what they disagreed on, and what plans they had for the future of Urbana. What better way to get a raw interpretation of the candidates then to watch them debate, having not heard them before?

The candidates debated on Wednesday night at Riggs Beer Company for approximately 90 minutes with topics ranging from their perfect day in Urbana, to the police force within the city, and simply how to make Urbana more attractive to families. Moderators included: Laura Bleill of Chambanamoms, Diya Tahiliani of Champaign County Young Democrats, and Seth Fein of Smile Politely.

The questions asked were as follows:

1. Describe your perfect day in Urbana.

2. If the federal government decides to withhold funding for sanctuary cities, are you willing to reevaluate the status for the sake of maintaining federal funding.

3. What can the city do to make Urbana’s downtown more family-friendly?

4. Do you support the county government’s continued support of the Champaign County Nursing Home and what impact do you believe privatization of the home would have on the City of Urbana?

5. What role should the city play in funding organizations like the UBA, and events like Sweetcorn Festival?

6. Each Candidate received their own question:

For Diane Marlin: In 2000, 2002, and 2004, public voting records show you voted in Republic primaries. Earlier this week, the News Gazette ran and article speculating that people believe you are running on the democratic ticket because of the political climate of Urbana, but that fundamentally you are a conservative/republican. How do you respond to those who are concerned with your allegiance to the democratic party?

For Mayor Prussing: Your efforts regarding Carle Hospital have been perceived as highly controversial within the community. If elected to another term, how do you plan to bring the community together around this issue?

For Dr. Underwood: Coming from outside of politics, what do you believe are your biggest assets and what do your think will be your challenges if you are elected mayor?

7. I feel like the Philo Road “Business District” has been forgotten (or at least ignored) with a preference to encouraging businesses to locate downtown Urbana. What would you do to help encourage businesses to open or redevelopment to happen in that area of Urbana? *note: I’m specifically talking about the Sunnycrest area of Philo Road – not “The Pines” (at Windsor/Philo)*

8. As mayor, what policies or practices will you implement to make Urbana a more attractive options to families who move to our community?

9. Since Urbana has approved the use of tasers by the city’s police department, have you found any problematic issues with their usage and would support reevaluating their implementation or can you present a defense of their usage?

Mayor Laurel Prussing

Mayor Prussing appeared calm and collected as this was obviously not her first time in the debate seat. She answered the questions clearly and made certain that the question was answered in full every time. I do not remember a moment where she did not have an answer to the questions be asked and out of all three she seemed the most prepared.

When asked about the controversial issue of Carle Hospital, she simply laughed and said that most people thank her for the work she accomplished with that issue, which was met with the applause of the crowd. To make her stance firm she then provided the next step she was preparing on this issue which is to change the term property tax for Carle Hospital into a facility fee.

The question of Philo Road came up and this was probably one of Prussing’s weaker moments.  She claimed there was quite an effort to unify but it was obvious that there was much more still to be done. She gave vague answers on what she wanted to do moving forward and it seemed unclear of what she wanted to see happen.

Diane Marlin

Marlin seemed at ease with her competition and this debate.  Out of all three, she seemed the most passionate when it came to the topics she really cared about. I grew eager every time it was her turn to answer because I knew it would be a good one.  She used the fact that she is not a career politician to her advantage by saying that she did not need to be a politician to make a difference in her community when she saw fit.

She seemed very firm on her views and did not falter when asked the question of her commitment to the Democratic Party. In my opinion this is something that could easily have gone wrong for Marlin, but she did not hesitate or become defensive. She stated what happened and that at the end of the day, she is a Democrat.

She faltered when asked about the nursing home and had no stance on the topic yet. She did mention however that the care and well-being of our senior citizens is vital.

Dr. Evelyn Burnett Underwood

Dr. Underwood was definitely the most interesting of the candidates in the sense that you never knew what she was going to say. Literally. There were more than a handful of times that when asked a question she would either not answer fully or at all. While Dr. Underwood was very passionate about her stances, she did not seem to have that many. This is clearly a woman who loves her community but I’m not sure if she is ready to lead it.

When asked about the nursing home, she gave her most direct answer of the night. Absolutely she stood with the Champaign County Nursing home and that we should continually support it. She made personal connections to the establishment and stated what she wanted to see happen with the facility, with an emphasis on community involvement.

Coming from outside the world of politics, Dr. Underwood was asked to share what assets she has and what challenges she may face if she were to be elected. When she answered, she spoke of no challenges and her list of assets, being fresh and not owing anybody, were hardly convincing to me.


After the debate ended, I sat there for a few moments and really thought about what each candidate said, and what I would like to see change for Urbana. All three candidates seem to really care for the well-being of Urbana and its citizens, but what they wanted to change is what really caught my eye. In the end, I believe Diane Marlin got the upper hand in the debate because to me, she did not want to take no for an answer. She stood by what she said in the past, was fighting for the present, and had beautiful goals for the future. A main point I took from her is that she wanted to see Urbana revamped and freshened up, something that I always think is a good thing. Urbana is home to one of the best universities in the country, something that Marlin is aware of and wants to use to the city’s advantage. She wants to address the poverty and crime levels, create more business, and overall encourage the perception of safety within the community.

To be blunt, I know who I will be voting for on February 28th.

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