Mr. Smith seeks reelection


by Mike Kroll


In a somewhat surprising move Galesburg mayor Gary Smith says that he plans to seek reelection in the April election. Smith is the CEO of NAIER and was first elected mayor in 2005 when he soundly defeated Bob Sheehan, then an incumbent seeking his third term. Smith ran a unabashedly single issue campaign, "jobs are my number one priority," at a time when Galesburg was reeling from the closure of major local employers Maytag and Butler. Jobs were undoubtedly the major concern for most citizens and Smith told everyone who would listen that he would dedicate himself to bringing jobs back to Galesburg while Sheehan's low-key campaign had no single overriding theme.

It is nearly four years later and Smith has learned that economic development is very, very hard but he is undaunted in his desire to help deliver on his promise but he has also learned that there is much more to being mayor than just economic development. Smith was a key player in the hiring of city manager Dane Bragg and together the two of them have worked to chart a broad new direction for the city with economic development just one key component.

Smith is now dedicating himself toward leading the way on completing the three planned grade separations in central Galesburg (Seminary Street plus East and West Main Street) as part of an effort to implement quiet zones in Galesburg. "The BNSF is a critical member of the Galesburg community and together we must find a way to minimize the train horn noise while maintaining safety. I believe we can make real progress here during my next four years as mayor. It is a project I want to see completed."

Galesburg has begun the long overdue project to repair and maintain our aging and ill-maintained water system with what amounts to the largest single public works project in the city's history. Before improvements are completed at the new Oquawka plant and the pipeline connecting that plant to Galesburg the city will spend some $25 million. And here in town plans call for replacement of key water mains and valves along with storage tanks and towers totaling many millions more. Smith doesn't want anything to derail either the plans or funding for those plans.

"Although we are currently facing tough economic times it is important that we work to restore Galesburg's vitality and to that end I want to continue work on neighborhood revitalization and begin work downtown. We cannot do everything we want all at once but we must continue the process and seize opportunities when they arise. As mayor I want to help prioritize our commitments and maintain the momentum without overextending the city."

A political outsider who had never been directly involved in local government before becoming mayor, these last three and one-half years have been trying on Smith, his family and his family business. He admits now that he drastically underestimated the time commitment to being mayor and that he really didn't appreciate the unique challenges of being a political leader as compared to his experience as a businessman. While Smith makes a comfortable living from NAIER his business has faced the changing national and local economy in much the same way as many others, and that had him concerned about the time commitment of continuing as mayor.

Throughout the summer Smith had privately been contemplating stepping down from the mayor's position come next May so he could devote more time to his family and business. Lots of politicians say that, however Smith seemed genuine in his concerns. "I would not have made this decision if my wife Stephanie or my kids were not supportive of my continuing. In this troubling economy I also have to consider my own business but, like my family, the employees and managers of NAIER encouraged me to seek reelection."

"After much thought and deliberation I have decided to seek reelection although I came very close to not running for a second term," explained Smith. "I didn't fully understand all that was involved in being mayor four years ago but I am older and wiser now and I want to take advantage of all that I have learned during my first term to accomplish more during the next four years. I want to thank the citizens of Galesburg, my employees at NAIER and especially my wife Stephanie for encouraging me to finish the job I started as mayor."