Smile Politely

Voting for culture in Champaign

I met him for the first time while he was working at Record Service inside of Lincoln Square. I’d seen his band, The Moon Seven Times, perform by then, and I knew who he was, but I’d never spoken with him. I’d bought tickets to see Paul Westerberg a few days back, for a show at Foellinger Auditorium on October 16, 1993, and I had walked to the shop after a day at Urbana High to pick up a new album — any album — when I noticed that the new Walt Mink CD was prominently on display at the counter, next to him. I recognized them as the opening act for the Westerberg show and so I felt like I had an “in” to start a conversation. I asked him if he knew anything about them, and what they sounded like, and he straight looked at me and asked, “Do you like Smashing Pumpkins?” What with Siamese Dream tearing up the charts, I told him, Yes, of course! And he said, “Buy this album.” He handed me the record, Bareback Ride. “If you like the Pumpkins, you’ll love this. Billy Corgan is totally ripping them off anyway, amongst others.”

And you know what? He was right. Not only was the album great, but as it happens, there is a lot of evidence that points to his assertion being correct. Billy is known in more than a few communities for having lifted a few power chords and vocal phrasings throughout the late eighties and early nineties. including our very own Poster Children, right here in C-U.

I still love Bareback Ride. And I always think of him when I hear it. In fact, the song “Shine” is so good, you should hear it now. Interesting fact: this video was directed by Sofia Coppola.

Sounds familiar, eh? Maybe a bit like ol’ Billy boy?

But I digress.

The “him” to which I refer is current Champaign mayoral candidate Don Gerard. And not that it means much to you by now, but I’d like to simply throw my hat into the ring as yet another resident of Champaign that is behind him in his campaign to become our civic leader.

This election, if you’ve been listening, is starting to really heat up. I won’t rehash it all here, since you can click here, and here, and here, and here to do some research and make up your mind for yourself as to whether or not you want to vote for him.

So, while there are a bunch of different reasons that you might see fit to cast your vote in his favor come April 5, I’d like to offer another — one that is rarely used on the campaign trail in trying to sway those who might still be leaning toward the Jerry camp, or worse, couldn’t give a shit about who is mayor of our city — and here it is:

Don truly and genuinely cares about this city’s growing culture, and most importantly, he cares about how it will work for you.

You see, Don wants to grow our economy, and cut spending, and save jobs, and wrangle in criminals, and provide solutions for our lower income neighborhoods, and do all the things that you’d expect that a mayoral candidate might want to do or say on the trail. Oh sure, he wants to do that. And good. I want that from a mayor.

But he also wants to grow our culture. He wants to embrace what we are and what we have to offer, and promote it as a way to further reinvent the City of Champaign. He wants to see people get excited about the events and festivals and artists and people and restaurants and cafés and galleries that make up the whole of Champaign.

When Don first told me that he was considering a run for mayor, I was intrigued. When I asked him what his platform would be, he asked me to lunch. When we sat down for lunch, he told me straight up, he wants to make sure that the people living and working in Champaign felt really good about living and working in Champaign. He knows, as well as anyone paying attention, that this is a fairly transient community. We hemorrhage good and talented people all the time. His rhetorical question to me was this: How do we stop the bleeding? How do we keep people here, excited and motivated, and proud to be here?

His answer was simple: We provide them with enough of a culture so that they don’t even question why they are here. The answer is in front of them every day.

The passion in that answer convinced me that this is a man who will wake up every day and actively pursue what he believes to be the best decision for our city.

All truth be told, I think that Don and I don’t see eye to eye on every political issue. For me, that’s perfectly fine. He’s signing up to be the Mayor, not my wife or my brother-in-law. I’d rather disagree with my mayor on some issues and watch him put in some actual effort than have a mindless drone — under-educated and an embarrassment to most everyone with a set of frontal lobes — drink coffee at Taffies, and pretend to put an ounce of effort into what the future looks like for this city and its residents. That was meant as an insult, because honestly, I think that Mayor Schweighart has done plenty enough insulting to all of us to keep us offended for years to come.

It seems fitting to me that I’ve decided to publish this today, seeing as how it’s Unofficial out there. Right now, just as this column goes live, 10,000+ college students are going to have an experience. What kind, well, I guess that remains to be seen and will be determined by the individual. But they will have an experience nonetheless and it will have happened in Champaign, Ill. Love it or hate it, Unofficial is simply part of our culture here in C-U. It’s uniquely Champaign, like Papa Del’s, or The Chief debate, or Roger Ebert’s Film Festival — it can only be found HERE.

During that lunch with Don, he’d jokingly — and I stress jokingly — suggested that the city of Champaign stop trying to be the big, bad parent and actually embrace this thing; close off the streets, charge a cover, and let the party-goers pay for the cost of cleaning up their own vomit, as opposed to the taxpayers. As if they’d bat an eye at paying $5 to cross the metal fencing… they’d likely hand it over without thinking. They aren’t thinking anyway. That’s the point. Of course, I don’t want to get into a logistical debate about whether or not it’s even possible to do something like that, but to me, it was simply the notion that I liked. Not only would it show the kids who is the fucking boss around here, but it would go a long way towards tempering some of the more unappealing elements of it.

Of course, that isn’t part of his platform, and I am doubting that we see the day where the Champaign County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau list it as part of their annual Champaign County events (though they should, if what they want is to be inclusive, as well as promote events that draw in thousands of people each year).

The fact that Don Gerard is willing to even suggest ideas like this (not endorse them, or promote them, mind you) reminds me that he is a man made up of a vast array of principles. He’s thinking, you see. He is actually waking up in the morning, and thinking about what kind of city this is, and what kind of city this could be. He is thinking. And that gives him a leg up right away on his competition.

He is a man for whom you should feel proud to have the option to vote.

I know I am.

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