McLean County Democrats’ Chair Patrick Cortesi introduced 11 new Democratic candidates running for McLean County Board (MCB) as well as six incumbents Monday at the McLean County Democratic Headquarters.
Since the event was held on Pi Day, participants and guests were able to choose from a wide assortment of homemade pies including savory options of potpies and pizza pies.
“This is our kickoff, we’ve been doing this for the last couple of election cycles, and I think it’s important to mark this point in time and show what we’re doing as a party,” Cortesi said.
He emphasized the impact Illinois State University students have on the county, saying students make large contributions to taxes, social aspects and overall culture.
“We want to make sure that they know that we see them, and we want to work with them in creating a McLean County for everybody,” Cortesi said.
One of the new candidates introduced, Jack Henry Abraham, currently attends ISU as a sophomore political science major. Abraham said a significant influence in his decision to run was to prove that students are not just the “other” people in McLean County.
“I want to destroy this bias that a lot of McLean County residents have against students that come in for four years and then go away,” Abraham said. “I’m hoping to bring some inclusivity together within the community between the students and the residents here.”
As both a McLean County native and a student, Abraham believes he can bring a unique perspective to issues such as renter and worker rights. He explained that he has personally been a victim of the neglect of both and wants to help other residents familiarize themselves with their rights.
Attendee Wayon Smith Jr. joined the event to show support for his wife, District 3 candidate Faye Freeman-Smith. He explained that as a mental health counselor and a creator of Heartland Community College’s Counseling Center, Freeman-Smith hopes to improve mental health across the county.
Smith believes the Pi Day event can help McLean County residents receive help with improving the community.
“It’s an educational opportunity to get to understand that we can do things on our own, but if we can get the government to take a more helpful view to solve people’s problems then maybe we’ll spread a little more happiness around rather than so much sadness,” Smith said.
Attendee Sharon Hellman worked at ISU for 22 years as a clinical laboratory scientist in Health Services. She said she has always been an active participant when it comes to advocating for her political beliefs and that she became even more involved after the 2016 election.
Sharon Hellman believes McLean County residents should not dismiss any of the candidates based on their political party.
“Take time to listen to them, they are not all that liberal,” Sharon Hellman said. “They just have the betterment of people’s lives at their core. That’s what they care about.”
Sharon Hellman said all ISU students should get involved politically to help maintain the democracy in the United States.
“We’re on a slippery slope,” Sharon Hellman said.
Sharon Hellman’s husband, Roger Hellman, agreed that young people are an essential component of political change.
“We need good leadership, and it starts here right at the county level. These are challenging times, but don’t be discouraged with the mistakes that my generation has made and that we continue to make. Get involved, don’t stand by and watch things happen, go out and make things happen,” Roger Hellman said.
Current MCB member and District 8 representative Lea Cline works as an art history professor at ISU. She serves on the Land Use and Transportation Committee, the Property Committee and the Legislative Sub-Committee. She has a background in historic architecture and a passion for green energy.
“I’ve had a chance to work on at least one full wind farm project, and it’s important for us to approach these wind farms in a way that preserves our county’s choice about how those go, but also remain welcoming,” Cline said.
Cline explained that since McLean County is a large landmass county, there is a great deal of wind that can be converted to energy.
“The best thing we can do as board members is make sure that there is a lot of investment in the county, that there are options of all sorts, everything from retail, to wind energy projects, to Rivian to help inspire people to want to stay here,” Cline said. “All of us have a stake in this and all of us have to work toward that.”
District 5 representative Elizabeth Johnston has worked with Cline in the past in sustaining green energy resources like wind farms.
“Tonight was our chance to talk about who we have, who is running, and what our vision is for the county. Part of why I wanted to run was to step up and provide accurate representation for the community and to really fight for the things we love,” Johnston said.
Johnston mentioned she wants to make McLean County more accessible and responsive to its residents, including students. Johnston works in the mental health profession and is employed as a behavioral health provider at OSF, as well as an instructor at ISU.
Johnston hopes to make mental health options more attainable for residents by leveraging money already being spent to increase resources throughout the county. She wants students to know that their voices deserve to be heard when it comes to county decisions.
“One of the things that we see is that every time there’s an election, there’s a whole new set of students that need to be educated. This is our chance to focus in on getting the next generation of voters engaged and find out how their voice matters,” Johnston said.
March 20, 2022 at 10:43PM