Smile Politely

The Champaign mayoral race heats up

In January, I wrote about the local political outlook for 2014-2015. There are currently several interesting political topics and races worthy of discussion, but the 2015 Champaign mayoral race is definitely generating the most attention and excitement. As I mentioned previously, this summer is the time where candidates will be (or should be) working hard to attract support and generate momentum.   Let’s take a look at how things are progressing…

Leadership and Respect

At the Smile Politely Q&A, you probably noticed the not-so-subtle theme of leadership and respect. While Feinen, Foster, and Petry were focusing on themselves and what they bring to the table, they were clearly working to distinguish themselves from Gerard. I have questioned some of Don Gerard’s behavior throughout his time as Mayor, but I was shocked when he declined the invitation to participate in the Smile Politely Q&A. I believe that was an early campaign mistake. I thought it would be favorable for Don Gerard to attend a forum and take advantage of the opportunity to look like a leader and focus on the issues, where there is little to distinguish the politically-moderate challengers from the incumbent.  By not showing up and declining the opportunity, it only highlighted some major differences that have nothing to do with the issues. Leadership is not measured by the number of selfies you take and action certainly speaks louder than hashtags. The challengers will have to work hard to distinguish themselves from the incumbent and I’m surprised by the early campaign gift from Gerard. So what was the Gerard campaign afraid of? 


The ability to raise funds helps demonstrate campaign strength, community support, and organization. Both Petry and Feinen have been very effective at raising funds from a large number of people. Historically, Gerard has relied immensely on a single contributor to fund his campaign and it appears that he may need some serious help again this time around. Foster’s fundraising totals were not very impressive. I have provided links to campaign filings below. While Gerard had the big money contributor last election, it seems that Petry received significant seed money from multiple big money contributors. Of course, fundraising isn’t the only indicator of strength. If fundraising were a measure of likability and respect, Karen Foster would have $1,000,000 in her account. On the lighter side, Don Gerard turned heads after he wrote this well-written opinion piece.  Here he mentions that he is not going to focus on fundraising after Tom Kacich reported on Joe Petry’s head-turning campaign filings. Within days, Gerard was aggressively promoting his campaign fundraiser at Boltinis. 

Q2 Receipts
Joe Petry – $25,031.70
Deb Feinen – $9349
Don Gerard – $2,639.25
Karen Foster – $750

Full disclosure: Since the last election, I have contributed money to Don Gerard and have provided in-kind support to Deb Feinen. My in-kind donation has not had any direct impact on fundraising totals to date.

Elephant(s) in the Room

Joe Petry tells us that partisan politics has no place in municipal government.   Clearly, he is working to position himself as the Independent. Deb Feinen and Karen Foster are not promoting partisan politics, but aren’t hiding from their Republican affiliation. Don Gerard, who previously positioned himself as the independent candidate in the past election, appreciates the political benefit of coming out of the political closet and broadcasting his new affiliation with the democratic party. This maneuvering makes sense as conventional wisdom says that partisan politics has some place in municipal elections and that having three challengers might split the conservative vote. Joe Petry’s Campaign Manager, who also happens to be Don Gerard’s former Campaign Manager, is very active in local D politics is always reminding me that he is an independent and has generated support from both sides of the aisle. You may have also read the N-G article where Will Kyles and Alan Kurtz may be considering entering the race. These two names are particularly interesting because both would likely attract minority and/or D voters, who mostly sided with Gerard in the past election. Then again, if there are 5 or more candidates running for Mayor, it will trigger a primary to reduce the number of candidates back down to four. Things could get interesting.

Problems with the ladies?

If you are looking for help trying to understand women, I certainly can’t help you.  On the other hand, even I can notice that two women are running. Don Gerard’s former female campaign manager is now working for Joe Petry. The female officers of Gerard’s former leadership team are no longer working on the campaign. Given Gerard’s very public relationship drama, I think it would be a really good idea to highlight his female supporters and any female endorsements as we get closer to the election.

Riding the Coattails of the Improved Economy

This interview with WDWS is the type of the thing that Gerard needs to keep doing. He was able to get through and entire interview without taking a dig at someone.  The Gerard campaign got off to a rocky start by trying to suggest that campaign supporters of other candidates are part of the establishment and are trying to buy back the government. If Gerard can just be a positive cheerleader and avoid the constant feuds and negative headlines, he can use the famous Ronald Reagan approach and ask you to ask yourselves if you are better off than you were four years ago. It’s a good strategy. His opponents will want to focus on differences in leadership styles and articulate they can bring people together more effectively and accomplish just as much (or more) without anybody asking for an order of protection.

Gerard’s Race to Lose

Going back to that Smile Politely article that I wrote in January, I still believe that this race is Don Gerard’s to lose. He won the last election because the campaign team for Schweighart made a series of campaign blunders and opened the door to a challenger that few people had heard of. While the campaign team for Gerard may not be exceptional and are making some early mistakes, I think Gerard has the name recognition and will need to screw up big time to lose this election under the present set of circumstances. Joe Petry’s Campaign Manager Angie Patton and I were invited to Smile Politely Radio to discuss the mayoral race. She disagreed with me… I’ll let you check out the Smile Politely Radio show and listen for yourself here.

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