Upsets and surprises in excess

analysis by Mike Kroll

Upsets and surprises were the order of the day in Tuesday's local elections. Galesburg will begin May with three new City Council members and, in perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, the referendum to build a new Knox County Jail funded by a quarter-cent sales tax passed with a 280 vote margin.

Rollie Paulsgrove, three-term Alderman from Ward 1, lost to newcomer and political neophyte Michael Spah by a mere eight votes (369-361) with former school superintendent William Abel nipping at their heels with 343 votes. This was the closest race of the day and it is possible that Paulsgrove will request a recount. Abel easily spent the most money in this ward, apparently going door-to-door through the entire ward at least twice before election day. Spah focused his election efforts on a grassroots campaign conducted almost exclusively by him and his wife.

In Ward 3, longtime incumbent Monte Gifford easily fought off two challengers, Jim Lindrothe and Susanne Roberts. Gifford snatched up 53 percent of the vote (331) beating Lindrothe (227) by better than 100 votes and Roberts was a distant third with 64 votes.

Ward 5 was the only one with a head-to-head contest pitting first-term Alderman Bill Hayes against challenger Karen Lafferty. Lafferty beat him by 69 votes, 409-340. She had a lot of help in her race from local union members and took advantage of the widespread perception that Hayes had become an ''insider'' after being elected as an ''outsider'' four years ago.

Ward 7 was the site of a three-way race between incumbent Gene Rude and challengers Mike Kroll (yours truly) and Rick Sundberg. Sundberg sure surprised me-- dominating this race with 44 percent of the vote (486). I came in a distant second (310) and Rude trailed 13 votes back (297). I worked this race hard, walking the ward for weeks preceding the election where voter disapproval of Rude became apparent. Sundberg campaigned quietly with a targeted direct mail effort and mass literature distribution until the final weekend before the election.

Four interesting observations can be made from these City Council races:

First, getting endorsed by the Register-Mail is no campaign asset; some candidates even labelled such an endorsement ''the kiss of death.'' The paper was 0 for 4 with every one of that paper's endorsed candidates losing.

Second, yard signs do not vote. The two candidates with the highest number of yard signs and the earliest placement (Hayes and Rude) both lost. Successful challengers Spah and Lafferty both put up a respectable number of signs themselves but both credited their success to their personal contacts with voters in their wards. Wind, rain and vandals were hard on yard signs this season but none of the candidates were overheard saying, ''if only I'd put up a few more yard signs?''

Third, the burning proponents successfully changed the make-up of the City Council. The strongest supporters of the total burn ban were all defeated. All of the winning candidates support some form of open burning.

Fourth, the residents of Galesburg will have a very different City Council come May. Paulsgrove and Rude were among the most verbally combative members of the City Council and, with Hayes, seldom passed on an opportunity to take a jab at Mayor Bob Sheehan. The Mayor was ecstatic Tuesday evening with the election news and the expectation that his appointments and agenda now have a chance to see the light of day. The soft-spoken Spah and a reflective Lafferty are more likely to seek consensus with their colleagues than to provoke the verbal sparring matches that have characterized the City Council over recent years.

The biggest surprise was the victory of the jail sales tax referendum. Many, including myself, figured that it would lose even more resoundingly than it did last November. We were wrong. Countywide, the referendum passed 4,483 to 4,203, that's nearly 52 percent. In the City of Galesburg, the margin was even wider 2,817-2,415, a 54 percent favorable vote.

Knox County Sheriff Jim Thompson was elated by this result. In an interview with the Galesburg Post last week, Thompson had predicted success with a ten percent margin, a view I thought wildly optimistic. The well-documented problems at the existing jail were key to the defeat of former Sheriff Ken Harding and Thompson clearly understood the importance of solving this dilemma.

''When I made the initial prediction of a ten-point win that was before the opposition began pumping a lot of money into their campaign against the jail referendum,'' stated Thompson. ''I think that given our lack of both time and funds in this campaign and the need to remain informational rather than directly advocating passage we accomplished quite a lot over the last few weeks. The most important point to remember is that the people had their say on this important issue and I'm grateful that they decided to trust us to solve the jail problem.''

Others view the victory as voter resignation that the new jail was necessary and it will probably cost less to build it now, rather than later. A yes vote was also seen as a way to stop the perpetual bickering that surrounded the issue.

Opponents had focused on embarrassing past behavior by the Knox County Board as sufficient reason to vote ''no.'' Thompson is confident that with the funds he and the board can pull a new jail out of their collective hats. ''I think that with the working relationship we have established between my office and the County Board as well as the Galesburg City Council and with the positive leadership of [County Board Chair] Lomac Payton we will not abuse the trust of the voters of Knox County. We will build a new jail that will be a source of pride throughout the community. The voters can rest assured that we will do this job right.''

''Now we need to get our planning committee established and bring the construction experts back in to work out the details of this project. We need to go well beyond the general site plan we have right now and work to address some of the nagging questions regarding the jail site, its proximity to Cedar Street and its relationship with the existing Public Safety Building.''

''Knox County is not wedded to any of the existing firms that have advised us so far in the process,'' added Thompson. ''We will be inviting participation by other architects, construction managers and contractors and I suspect that many more will be interested now that project funding is clearly available. I'm sure that the contributions made by the people and firms that have helped us get this far will be a consideration in our final choice of project partners.''

He further reassured voters in a press release issued Tuesday evening: ''I would like to assure all Knox County Citizens that this Knox County Jail project will be overseen properly by my staff and myself.''

An obviously delighted and relieved Payton joined the Sheriff's upbeat appraisal of the referendum result. ''I think the Jail Information Committee has done a superb job of getting our story told. The Sheriff took a leading role in this effort and we convinced the public that this new jail was needed. I think this passed because we answered most or all of the voter's questions about the referendum and I'm very happy about that.''

Payton admits he hasn't ''fully planned our next steps in this process but I can say the Sheriff will play the major role in getting this new jail designed and built. I hope the County Board will stick together and work toward accomplishing the project with the Sheriff. Now we will get down to the real nitty-gritty work of building a new Knox County Jail and that project is going to involve a lot of people. I'm seeking the best people available to get this job done right.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr website April 15, 1999

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