Champaign voters will have three candidates to choose from on the April Fourth ballot for mayor: 2019 mayoral candidate Azark David Cobbs, incumbent mayor Deborah Frank Feinen and former mayor Don Gerard. This report focuses on Feinen, who is running for a third term.
Feinen says one lesson from her second term as mayor, is that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of taking care of people throughout the community.
Progress at Garden Hills Cited
As an example of community care, Feinen points to the city of Champaign’s use of federal funds to shorten the timetable for addressing flooding in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
The north side neighborhood has long suffered from flooding, and a lack of sidewalks and streetlights. And it was not a top priority on Champaign’s schedule of infrastructure projects.
But Mayor Feinen says the city has been able to change that by drawing on federal American Rescue Plan money allowed the city to change that.
“So, we were actually already started on the work,” said Feinen, in an interview for Illinois Newsroom. “The problem was that it was just going to take more than ten years, really, to do the phase one and two of the project. And we’ve now reduced that down to probably about five years.”
Feinen says construction will begin this summer on a detention basin that will prevent flooding in Garden Hills.
A new homeless shelter in downtown Champaign
She notes another example of community care: Strides, the new low-barrier homeless shelter launched in December by the City of Champaign Township (the Champaign City Council also serves as the township board, with the mayor as board chairperson). Strides is meant to fill a gap in local assistance for homeless men and women, by offering minimal requirements — for instance, a drug test is not required to receive shelter.
Responding to crime and gun violence
Mayor Feinen defends the city’s efforts to respond to a surge in gun violence, occurring during a shortage of police officers. The officer shortage led the Champaign Police to stop providing school resource officers at Champaign schools, use unarmed private security to patrol downtown parking lots at night, and to have University of Illinois police officers patrol the Campustown area.
Gun violence and homicides surged in Champaign in 2021, but levels of both were down in 2022 by roughly half, compared to the year before. Feinen credits the Champaign Police Department, and its new police chief, Timothy Tyler who joined the CPD last June.
“Our new police chief is dynamic, and cares about our officers and is actively involved in what is going on,” said Feinen. “I am stopped frequently by people telling me that they’ve met our chief, that he’s given them his personal cell phone number, that he is actively involved in the community and getting to know people. And that has made a difference for our officers. I believe that they feel supported, and like they have a voice in what’s going on.”
Under Champaign’s council-manager form of government, the mayor leads the city council and helps set policy, while a council-hired city manager administrates municipal government. Feinen says that to be an effective mayor under this system requires the ability to work well with other council members, as well as with city staff.
“I think going forward, what I can offer is consistency, and good relationships that will allow us to continue with the work that we’ve started,” said Feinen.