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Out Here: Small-town mayoral races draw voters

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Many governing bodies see no change from election to election. On the Rock Falls City Council, all the incumbents ran unopposed.

A win for the status quo?

Well, you’d think that until you saw the results of the mayoral race, where City Clerk Bill Wescott beat Mayor David Blanton with 75 percent of the vote. That’s a decisive victory.

In Morrison, over the last two elections, the City Council has seen a complete turnover, with incumbents declining to run for re-election.

They’ve given different reasons – usually some variation of “it’s time.” In Alderwoman Sarah Thorndike’s case, she gave up her seat to run for mayor.

In the last few years, many more residents have attended Morrison’s council meetings. They became upset when the council decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save a crumbling building downtown.

Did that increased opposition drive away council members? Some say yes – they were tired of an unappreciative public, or so the story goes.

In the Morrison mayoral race, voters chose Everett Pannier, the manager of the now-defunct local General Electric plant. Ever the diplomat, he was careful in what he said during his campaign, although he called for City Hall to open the lines of communication with residents.

He won with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The others lagged far behind, with Alderwoman Marti Wood, never shy to question the city administration, getting a fifth of the vote.

In that race, 26 percent of all Morrison residents took part. In Rock Falls, which is about twice the size of Morrison, only 14 percent of residents voted.

In small towns with competitive mayoral races, voter participation tends to be higher than in bigger cities. In Ashton, 35 percent showed up at the polls, producing the rarity of a write-in candidate, former Village President Don Ross, unseating the guy who beat him 4 years ago, Village President John Martinez.

In Franklin Grove, 28 percent voted, with longtime Village President Bob Logan losing to village Trustee David Atkinson.

And in Amboy, 24 percent participated. Alderman Tom Nauman beat Mayor Frank Mekeel.

Two towns had especially heated races – Lyndon and Mount Carroll – where organized groups opposed their local political establishments. In both cases, the incumbents prevailed amid extraordinarily high turnout – an eye-popping 41 percent of the population in Mount Carroll and 33 percent in Lyndon.

But in places where the mayoral race had no competition, turnout was abysmal.

In Fulton, only 6 percent showed up at the polls. Mayor Larry Russell ran unopposed, as did candidates in school, township and city council races – with one exception, the council’s Ward 3. There, Sue Van Kampen surged past Warren Juist with 18 votes to his 13.

In other words, the other 800 people in Ward 3 didn’t care.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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