When the candidates for the 2017 Galesburg mayoral election were announced, Post-Bacc Emily Roberts ‘16 knew she was going vote. At the time, Roberts assumed her participation would start and end with fulfilling her civic duty as a registered voter in Galesburg.
Then Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
“It was a really painful experience to me, but it has forced me to reevaluate what citizenship means to me and what good citizenship requires,” Roberts said. “A lot of the stuff that has been going on in the news has left me feeling very powerless and heartbroken and at a complete loss of what to do.”
Supporting a local candidate that represents her ideals as well as voting in the upcoming mayoral race is a way for Roberts to influence the political climate around her.
“I feel like local politics is an area where I have the potential to have the most influence as an individual,” Roberts said. “It’s like a pyramid, you can’t have anything happen at the top without having things happening at the bottom.”
In the current Galesburg mayoral race Walter McAllister, owner of Q’s Cafe, will be running against incumbent John Pritchard.
In an article published in The Knox Student on Oct. 12, 2016, McAllister stated that he first became interested in running against incumbent Mayor Pritchard after a series of negative events and attitudes toward the citizens of Galesburg accumulated over the years. One of the first incidences he remembered was the mistreatment of the local Boys and Girls Club by city leaders when they asked City Council for help with their heater.
“The way the city treated them was shameful and I was ashamed of my town,” McAllister said. “That just stuck with me.”
Since then, McAllister has had to fulfill a number of requirements to get on the ballot, such as collecting signatures.
“Right now we’re mostly trying to get feedback from the community. We’re meeting with people and trying to get a sense of what we would like to prioritize and what the people would like to see. We want to be truly representative,” McAllister said.
Incumbent Mayor Pritchard was first elected into office in 2013 and is seeking a reelection to expand upon five key areas that he focused on during his first term.
“My priorities for a second term will be to continue to provide quality services and balance our budget, increase job growth and investment in the city, maintain public safety and improve our overall quality of life,” Pritchard stated in his press release.
“We’ve put some vital pieces in place during my first term and I want to help build on them to make Galesburg an even better place for the future,” Pritchard said.
In March, both candidates will meet to discuss their main areas of focus with the public.
During his campaign, McAllister has outlined one of the main issues he wants to focus on if elected: Galesburg’s declining population.
“The issue that is the most important is the declining population, which seems systematic of the other issues,” McAllister said. “When our tax bases get lower, we don’t have the revenue to properly fund the schools and a lot of that relates to jobs and pay scale and general incomes.”
There are a few ways McAllister plans on addressing the decreasing population, including building upon the assets Galesburg already has and reaching out to Knox College.
“Galesburg already has so many things we can build upon,” McAllister said. A few of the areas he listed off include reasonably priced buildings, historical sites such as the Orpheum Theatre, as well as thriving art and jazz scenes, which can all be used to bring in families.
According to McAllister, one way to build upon these assets is advertising events such as the Knox-Rootabaga Festival, a free jazz festival during April. By advertising these events, McAllister predicts more people would be staying in Galesburg hotels, whose taxes fund the the Galesburg Promise, a program implemented by Mayor Pritchard that helps provide scholarships for Galesburg students to attend Carl Sandburg College.
McAllister explained that building upon assets such as the Knox-Rootabaga Festival will eventually bring in artists and younger families to Galesburg. In his vision, these families are more likely to stay due to low housing prices, which would then build the tax base and improve schools.
McAllister also mentioned how he would like to work with President Teresa Amott to reach out to Knox students. “I think our biggest asset is Knox College. Now, there’s this bubble, or a wall that should not exist. This town needs to reach out to Knox.”
One way McAllister plans on reaching out to Knox students is called “Passport to Galesburg,” which will provide a voucher to any incoming Knox or Carl Sandburg student that provides a number of free activities and two months of free bus rides. McAllister hopes these activities and events will bring students into the Galesburg community to bridge the gap between residents and students.
Pritchard, on the other hand, will be focusing on issues such as the lead abatement issues and the Equalized Assessed Value.
According to Pritchard, Knox County has some of the highest lead levels in the state of Illinois. As a result of that, Galesburg has received a $4 million, 100 percent forgivable loan from the Environmental Protection Agency of Illinois. Beginning in May, Galesburg will begin to replace the service line replacement. They hope to replace 2,000 of the 3,000 residential water service lines contaminated with lead.
“Lead water is probably a minor contributor to the high levels of lead in our children,” Pritchard said, defining children as those under the age of six. “I’m hoping to find resources to begin to remediate the lead contamination in homes where children are or might be living in the future. That’s a public health issue.”
Pritchard also mentioned that the Equalized Assessed Value for Galesburg has grown.
“The property value of Galesburg is finally increasing, and of course that’s because we’ve had some new retail development and we will be starting to build some new homes,” Pritchard said.
By building new homes and increasing retail development, Pritchard hopes to increase the property values even further.
“This is important because the City of Galesburg budget has a structural deficit problem. Our expenses rise a certain amount every year and our revenues don’t rise,” Pritchard said. Increasing the Equalized Assessed Value, which is a based on the taxable value of properties, is a way to relieve some of the deficit problems.
“If we can make the revenues rise naturally as opposed to taxing, we’ll be in a better position to deal with the deficit and city services to our citizens,” Pritchard explained.
Since the inauguration of President Trump, politics at a national level has been at the forefront of most conversations. Though it may seem to be where students should first begin their involvement, Roberts encourages them to look into local politics in their hometown or even Galesburg.
According to Roberts, local politics is a place where students and residents of Galesburg can have the loudest voice and see the impact of their efforts.
“With local politics, it doesn’t feel like I have to jump in the middle [of the issues], I can be what helps initiate conversation,” Roberts said. “Because it’s closer to you, you see the impact of your actions more.”
Although she is a registered voter in Galesburg, Roberts encourages all Knox students to get involved in local politics, whether they are registered to vote in Galesburg or not.
“If we [Knox students] were to come out for a progressive candidate like Walt, we have the ability with just our voting block to swing things.” Roberts said. “If we were able to swing the election toward Walt, after such a disheartening election on a national level, [that] would empower students to recognize the strength of their own democratic power.”
Knox students’ involvement does not have to stop after the mayoral election, either. According to Roberts, there are a number of ways for students to get involved in community politics.
Roberts mentioned one way students can be involved in the community and local politics is through the Knox County Democratic Party, who meets every other Tuesday at Fat Fish Pub. Their meet-ups are known as “Drinking Liberally,” and are informal conversational based meetings to discuss politics on a local and federal level.
“Local government is going to be even more important in the upcoming years,” Roberts said. “If we are in a political climate where we cannot trust the executive branch of our government or the legislative branch, I think that places even more of a pressure [on] local and state governments.”