Bloomington to elect new mayor April 6

Samira Kassem

The candidates for mayor of Bloomington (from L to R) Mboka Mwilambwe, Jackie Gunderson and Mike Straza.
Illustration: Samira Kassem

If you are unaware, there is an election coming up on April 6 and IWU students are eligible to vote in Bloomington. As a student you are able to use your on or off campus address to register and participate in local elections. The process for same day voter registration and locations to vote are the same as discussed in this article from the November elections. For a sample ballot and more information on other local elections beyond mayoral you should visit the City of Bloomington elections website.

As reported in The Argus previously, eight-year incumbent Tari Renner is not seeking reelection for Mayor of Bloomington. This is the first time that current IWU students will see a shift in executive leadership in Bloomington since they have been here. 

On the ballot, there are three candidates vying for the mayoral office. Since the race is nonpartisan, voters should know the major policy proposals and platforms of each candidate before going to the polls. The Argus spoke with each of the candidates. In alphabetical order, here is what they had to say. 

Photo courtesy of Jackie Gunderson via Facebook

Jackie Gunderson 

 

Gunderson is an alum of ISU who chose to stay in the community after taking a job as Procurement Manager where she is responsible for construction and facilities purchases, public bidding and solicitation processes, evaluating proposals, securing contracts and reporting to the State of Illinois. On top of her professional involvement within Bloomington, she serves as director of the Penguin Project of McLean County helping to provide children and young adults with developmental disabilities gain unrestricted access to the performing arts. Gunderson also is involved with Hope United Methodist Church, Healing Rides Ministry, Friends Like Us youth group, PRIDE Health Center and Special Olympics.

Before I ever considered running for office, my personal mission has always been to contribute positively to my community, to roll up my sleeves to build it up, and to leave it better than I found it for future generations. I have lived out this mission in my personal and professional life, and now I want to lead with this mission from City Hall” Gunderson said. “I have had the opportunity to be involved in many great organizations in this community over the last 10 years that have helped me grow and develop, and I consider it my duty to pour my energy back into the community that has blessed me.” 

Gunderson’s campaign messages focus on accessibility, equality and uplifting vulnerable populations. She says that her focus is making Bloomington a community for everyone and hopes to turn it into the type of place that students may choose to stay in after graduation. 

“My focus is reaching out to people who have traditionally been on the margins of our community and making sure that they are included, they are celebrated and they are represented. As a former college student, turned townie, that now works in Higher Ed, I have seen firsthand the ways that our communities leave college students out of many of the important decisions that would impact their time in Bloomington-Normal, and I want to shift our focus to connect with the bright young minds that choose to spend a few years here to encourage them to set their roots here too,” Gunderson said. 

Gunderson says that her commitment to Bloomington includes a commitment to IWU students too.  

“I would love to see more college students involved in the boards and commissions that assist the City in so many decisions that would absolutely affect college students directly, and I am interested in how the City of Bloomington can connect IWU to Downtown better. I am committed to giving college students a seat at the table to hear their vision for Bloomington,” she said. 

Gunderson says that her progressive values and focus on putting people first sets her apart from the other candidates. She believes that her ability to challenge the status quo and think outside the box is what pushes her to never accept the bare minimum.

IWU scene shop supervisor Karla Bailey-Smith agrees with Gunderson’s self-assessment so strongly that she has canvassed over 400 homes around Bloomington in support of her campaign. 

“Jackie is thoughtful, empathetic to the needs and circumstances of others and she is already looking at ways to address the affordable housing crisis already facing many of Bloomington’s residents. Jackie is a creative problem solver,” Bailey-Smith said. 

John Barrett, a 2020 IWU grad who currently works in the Bloomington community, expressed his excitement for what he sees as a true progressive running for mayor. 

“Jackie is refreshingly people-focused and she clearly has a strong record of doing humanitarian work in the community,” Barrett said. 

Gunderson has also received endorsements from the American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations, One People’s Campaign, ISU College Democrats, Black Lives Matter Bloomington, People’s Action, Run for Something, Equality Illinois, Victory Fund and Our Revolution Downstate Illinois. 

“While IWU students are usually only here temporarily, they are valuable members of our community while they are here, and local elections really do matter. The decisions made at the local level affect our day-to-day lives more than we often realize,” Gunderson said. “This is your home for now, use your voice to make it better, and set the tone for continuing to leave it a little better than we found it, for future generations.”

More information on Gunderson’s campaign can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Mboka Mwilambwe via Facebook

Mboka Mwilambwe

Mwilambwe has been a resident of Bloomington since he enrolled at Illinois State University as an international student in 1990. Mwilambwe, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that he fell in love with the community and decided to stay after finishing school. He and his wife now have four children who have all attended Bloomington public schools. Along with his employment at ISU’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, he has served on the Bloomington City Council since 2011. 

I have a long list of accomplishments on the Council that students may not realize they have benefited from over the years. I came here as an international student and fell in love with the community. Leaders before my time had the vision to make Bloomington an attractive place to live, work and play for people of all ages and I would like to do the same thing for people in the future,” Mwilambwe said. 

Mwilambwe’s platform focuses on three major priorities: repairing infrastructure, growing our local economy in order to decrease the tax burden on citizens and building community to decrease polarization. 

“I chose to run for Mayor because I became concerned about the polarization, social unrest, that I had seen develop in the country over the past year as well as the impact of the pandemic on our public health and economy,” Mwilambwe said.  “In addition to our celebrations of various cultures, I plan on asking our Human Relations Commission to hold conversations around the issues that brought about the polarization that I’ve seen. I would love for students to take part in those conversations because they can provide a fresh perspective.”

Mwilambwe is confident that his experience in higher education through his work at ISU will help him to embrace the high student population in the community. His platform involves a formal internship program that would allow IWU students to gain experience in local government. 

“I believe if we give students these opportunities, more will be involved in local government in the future, not only by seeking employment but also volunteering and voting,” he said. He hopes to get as many students involved as local government as possible to provide them with perspective on the work that the city does. 

He also has plans to make the community a more fun and lively place for students to live. “I plan on establishing cultural celebrations that will allow us to various cultures we have present in Bloomington. My goal is for these to take place in the form of outdoor festivals with live music that we can hold in our downtown area,” he said. “I can anticipate that students can be involved in the planning and execution of these events (for example, students who have a musical talent could participate in this event). I have planned similar events at ISU and routinely involved students based on the skills they had to offer.”

He also hopes to resume greater use of Bloomington’s entertainment venues as the community recovers from the pandemic. 

 Mwilambwe urges all students to vote on April 6. “ WU is an attractive institution not only because of its excellent academic programs but also because the city provides excellent core services. It is therefore important to elect leaders who have the experience and understand the importance of providing those core services,” he said. 

Former IWU librarian and Bloomington City Council member Karen Schmidt speaks highly of Mwilambwe. 

Mboka brings experience, integrity, and an open mind and heart to the position of Mayor. Our community will benefit from his knowledge and education, his professional work, and his life experience,” Schmidt said. 

Mwilambwe has an endorsement from the Mid Illinois Realtors Association. 

“I believe that my experience of 10 years on the City Council as well as Mayor Pro Tem since 2019, gives me the know-how and level-headedness required to steer the community in the right direction,” Mwilambwe said. 

Information about Mwilambwe’s campaign can be found here

Photo courtesy of Mike Straza via Facebook

Mike Straza 

 

Straza is a nearly 40-year resident of Bloomington who earned his high school diploma from Bloomington High School and then his undergraduate degree in economics from ISU. He has experience as an entrepreneur running six of his own businesses as well as experience in consulting, management and marketing. Outside of his professional career he has served on the boards for the American Red Cross and the Illinois Small Business Development Center of McLean County as well as on the Bloomington Zoning Board of Appeals. 

“I have a strong desire to improve the lives of all Bloomington residents. I want to see our city grow and thrive and to make Bloomington an even better place to call home,” Straza said. 

Straza’s platform focuses on three key points: acceleration of economic growth, investment in infrastructure and balanced leadership for Bloomington’s diverse community. 

Straza chose to run because he believes that his unique experiences in business and community service can guide him through the rebuilding of Bloomington’s economy post-COVID. He cites the service sector specifically as struggling due to COVID-19. 

“My vision is to make Bloomington the Entrepreneurial Capital of the Midwest. I’ve always seen business as an avenue to help people. We all need good jobs, where we can contribute to the well-being of others. We all want a vibrant community, with an excellent quality of life” Straza said. 

In his role as mayor, Straza pledges not to leave IWU students out of the discussion. 

“I would need to meet with student representatives from IWU to hear what’s on your mind. One thing I try to do is to first ask about the current challenges and what solutions would work best. The best change comes when people are heard and then empowered, rather than having an outsider presume to know what’s needed,” he said.  

Straza’s approach to leadership is rooted in the understanding that no single individual has all the answers so we must all work and move forward together. 

“Since IWU students call Bloomington home, your influence is needed. You bring a

perspective that is important. Your vote shapes the community for future IWU students and residents, and I encourage you to participate as a member of our community,” Straza said. 

He also said that it is important for everyone in a community to feel safe noting that this includes protection from injustices. “This sense of safety includes our first responders, our fellow citizens who work hard to provide much-needed services to the good women and men of our entire community,” he said.  

Responsible Cities praises Straza for his business experience. 

“Mike expresses a common-sense approach to economic development and strong support for small businesses” and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce has labeled him the most pro-business candidate.  

Straza has endorsements from Responsible Cities, Local 362, McLean County Chamber of Commerce, the McLean County Republican Party and North America’s Building Trades Union. 

“Although voting is a right of every citizen, it is also a great privilege. Each of us has the opportunity to make our voices heard by putting our vote behind city leaders we agree with most,” Straza said. 

For more information on Straza’s campaign go to this site.