Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.

Deborah Frank Feinen currently serves as the Mayor of Champaign. She was elected in 2015. 

Smile Politely: In your own words, what is the role of the mayor in the community? 

Deborah Frank Feinen: The Mayor is often the public face of the City and the person to whom the citizens bring their concerns and suggestions. The Mayor convenes the meetings and talks regularly with Council Members about issues before the City. The Mayor provides leadership and an interface with the City staff. In the City Manager form of Government, it is important for the Mayor to have a good working relationship with the City Manager and City staff as well as with the other Council Members. 

SP: What successes can you point to in your tenure as mayor? What do you hope to improve upon? Why should voters choose to keep you in office? 

DFF: I am proud of many things we have worked on as a Council in the last four years. Here are a few examples:

  • The creation of the CU-Fresh Start Program
  • The Goal Getters program
  • The Downtown Plaza Plan and Neil Street Corridor Plans
  • I along with our Council who took a hard vote and raised the storm water utility fee so that we could move the Garden Hills Drainage Project more quickly than originally projected
  • Continued the progress on the Bristol Place Re-Development
  • The CDAP program
  • The local hiring preference ordinance
  • The transparency portal for City finance
  • The small business development incentive program.    

I want to continue to work on reaching kids and young adults in meaningful ways to stop the gun violence in our community. I will support continuing the Goal Getters program and initiatives like TRUCE along with work force development programs, youth employment services, CU-Fresh Start, Community Coalition, Moms Demand Action, the reading mentor program (in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce), and new or additional programs with similar goals. I support the City engaging with the school district in meaningful ways to make a difference for our at-risk kids and focusing on trauma informed care. This goal has a long horizon but is important to the ultimate success of our community. It also includes the needs for safety and economic stability for all citizens of our City. I am committed to the City being actively engaged in the success of our kids and their families and to programs that will make a difference.

People should vote for me because I am willing to listen even to the opposition. My experience as a lawyer helps me to see solutions and to negotiate with people to reach resolution. I am not afraid to take hard votes or to work to get votes for issues of importance. I am also not afraid to change my mind when convinced after talking with others.       

SP: The Community Coalition has been a good first step in beginning to discuss community violence. Now, beyond conversations and collecting data, what specific actions can be taken to address the issue of gun violence in the community? 

DFF: We should continue to support and adequately fund our police, while continuing to improve their communication and relationships with the community through the efforts of our Community Coalition and training. We also need to financially support local service providers by paying them for the work that they do on behalf of the City particularly in the areas of youth development and work on anti-violence initiatives. We should help to fund programs with our school district, and outside programs that are directed at trauma informed care. We need to continue to work with youth through programs such as the Youth Employment Services Program and Goal Getters, while also providing social and economic opportunities for adults in our community. We need to continue to support job training and mentoring through our membership at the Regional Planning Commission (RPC). As a community we have to work to preserve funding for mental health services and substance abuse programs and work on creating healthy families not just healthy children.

SP: What sort of developments should be prioritized for Downtown Champaign? 

DFF: At this point our downtown TIFF has expired and development in Downtown is market driven. To the extent the City has a hand in development in Downtown I would love to see a grocery store, affordable and low-income housing, continued development by local investors and local businesses finding their home in Downtown.

SP: An area of Champaign that is sorely lacking in a healthy economic and recreational infrastructure is North Champaign. What ideas do you have for stimulating that region? 

DFF: I think it is important to note the work that Council has been doing on this issue over the last four years. To begin with, we have approved the Neil Street Corridor Plan. This plan includes a more attractive, unique entryway into Champaign and the North Side. The planned improvements will upgrade the route for walkers, bikers and bus riders and make the corridor more attractive to business and residential investment. Additionally, the Council has approved the Bristol Park re-development plan (which includes goals for minority contractors). This re-development will impact this area as will the Park District’s Martens Center that will be located at 1501 N Market Street. We also have approved a TIFF District that over time should help with re-development in North Champaign. Finally, Council has approved a plan to begin acquiring properties for the Garden Hills drainage project. This project includes a detention basin, storm sewer, street and lighting improvements which are all designed to address flooding problems in the Garden Hills neighborhood. The approved plan includes landscaping amenities and provides for a park like green space in the neighborhood. Thus, the drainage improvements are really a full scale neighborhood improvement project.    

SP: The City of Champaign currently does not have any funding mechanisms for the arts in the community. What responsibility does the city have to the arts community? Do you see it as an essential service in the same way as new construction and infrastructure improvements? Why or why not? 

DFF: It is not true that we do not fund the arts in our community. For example, we provide 40 North $30,000.00 in funding as well as approximately $25,000.00 of in-kind services for Friday Night Live. We have provided $40,000.00 in funding for Pygmalion. We provide the infrastructure work for placing artwork owned/leased by the Public Art League in the public right of way as an in-kind contribution to PAL by the City. We have an agreement where 40 North places artwork in the Council Chambers and rotates this art giving local artists exposure. Our new Downtown Plaza Plan includes space for art and performances. We also partner with the Park District on streetfests.

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