Out of the largest candidate pool in Galesburg’s history, Mayor-Elect Sal Garza clinched a victory Tuesday over his eight opponents. For him, it is the culmination of a lifetime of working for Galesburg.
“I think the biggest contribution has been a lifelong résumé of community work, of volunteerism,” Garza said. “So in terms of me just popping up, it wasn’t that at all. It’s actually been a greater part of my life. I’ve been involved with one facet of the community or another. I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to work with so many good people in this community over the years, and I think that really was the overall strategy – being able to revisit those networks and relationships.”
Former mayor Bob Sheehan came in second with 20 percent, and Rollie Paulsgrove third with around 14 percent. Knox professor Marilyn Webb received 10 percent of the vote to come in fourth place.
“Sal Garza campaigned hard, and he campaigned well,” Webb said, “and he is a person who is from this city, who has a very compelling story, and he ran a good race. He’s obviously in a very good position now, because he has a consensus. I was very worried that whoever won would win by too narrow a margin to have a real consensus. He could pull the city together with that kind of vote.”
Garza plans to put that consensus to work quickly. He already has projects in mind.
“There’s actually half a dozen,” Garza said. “I’ll mention one, and that is to move to the next stage when it comes to the community visioning sessions that have been taking place in the community for the last month and a half, and those have to do with economic development. So we want to move very quickly to formulate the comprehensive plan for the economic development in this community.”
As to what he has in store for Knox, Garza plans to work with the college to strengthen the ties between Knox and the community.
“There are already a couple of opportunities that have been identified,” Garza said. “What I’d like to do is sit down with the president of the college, along with some of the other trusted individuals that have been key in this campaign, and to clearly understand where these breakthrough opportunities are, both for the college and for the overall community. I want to move very assertively in that direction, in terms of integrating more of what the college does very well and trying to overlay that with the community.”
In terms of what Knox contributed to the election itself, some of the candidates were less than pleased.
“I was very disappointed more Knox students didn’t vote, but I was not surprised,” Webb said, “None of the candidates were allowed to campaign on campus, so that [the students] had no sense of really what was happening, what the issues were and how to differentiate the candidates. So there was no buy-in for them to feel part of the city and to feel that they had a say in the future of Galesburg.”
Former Mayor Bob Sheehan, also a Knox alum, was disappointed by the way the college handled pre-election activities.
“The thing was that Knox was going to be this big voting block for Mrs. Webb, and it really didn’t happen,” Sheehan said. “If you looked at the crowd [at the forum] at Knox, there weren’t more than one hundred people, and half of those were folks from town. Under half were students.”
Going beyond the lack of Knox student mobilization, the college’s actions were also not up to par in the minds of some.
“I think that in a way the whole Knox forum, etc., and everything after that was more of a ‘CYA’ program for Knox,” Sheehan said. “Being a Knox alum, I was a little disappointed. I thought that it was just not done real well, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t think it would have affected the election one way or the other, and I don’t think it was a good exercise for Knox to be involved this way.”
While arguably more optimistic, Webb also thinks things could change for the college.
“I think it would also have made a difference if they could have invited the candidates one by one so that they could have a conversation so people could actually … each candidate could actually hear the concerns of Knox students, which never really happened because the only time that people came to campus was in one big forum which was very superficial,” Webb said. “Very sparsely attended. But why would they go? They didn’t really have any reason to think that the issues of the city concern them.”
Overall, though, Mayor-Elect Garza sees a future full of opportunities for Knox and the city as a whole.
“I want to thank everyone out there,” Garza said, “to Knox College as well as the community, old friends and new friends that have been made through this process. So, again, I’m looking forward to working with Knox College, I’m looking forward to working with The Center, I’m looking forward to working with all the students.”