As I have stated in a previous post, Historic Preservation has been politicized as never before by current representatives on the Peoria City Council. This has forced preservationists to step up to the political plate in the current election.
The vast majority of our city's structural treasures exist in the first three council districts, which encompass the oldest areas of the city.
I believe that the most committed citizen preservationists live in the second district, and traditionally the second district councilperson has been the leader in representing this ideal.
There has also been some history of preservation leadership in the third district seat (particularly under Bob Manning's tenure). A commitment to Historic Preservation by the first district representative has always been lacking, although, fortunately, there exists in the near north neighborhoods, a committed group of citizen activists .
In the second district, Barbara Van Auken has been largely responsible for the politicization of the issue and she long ago abandoned representation of her constituents on this issue. Her actions in destroying the Roanoke apartments led to the eventual evisceration of the Peoria's Historic Preservation ordinance.
Tim Riggenbach, in the third district exhibits little commitment to, or understanding of the broad advantages of Historic Preservation.
First district representative Clyde Gulley also shows little interest or respect of the city's rich history.
With this 'dereliction of duty' by the representatives in the first three council districts, leadership on preservation issues from the at-large councilmen has become increasingly important. Of the current five at-large reps, the first three districts can claim only one as an actual resident (Gary Sandberg in the second district).
The recent actions taken in regards the Historic Preservation Ordinance give great importance to this at-large election.
The good news is this: The slate of ten candidates vying for the five at-large seats is one of the best slates in recent memory. It seems that a lot of good people are stepping up to serve.
As a "capital HP" Historic Preservationist, I am comfortable in endorsing four of these people.
First and foremost is Gary Sandberg. While Gary can come across as combative and confrontational, he is and always has been a dependable friend of Historic Preservation. As an architect and historian, he realizes the true value in preserving the unique identity of the city through her important structures. In speaking with others, the most frequent criticism I hear is this: "I know what Gary is against, but what is he FOR?" Well, I can emphatically answer: He is FOR Historic Preservation!
Councilman Sandberg MUST be retained.
The other three (in no particular order) are as follows:
Beth Akeson is a self-defined preservationist. As an alumna of the Heart of Peoria Commission, she has developed a true understanding of what it takes to make heritage neighborhoods viable and desirable. Her commitment to Historic Preservation is unquestioned.
CJ Summers served alongside Beth on the Heart of Peoria Commission, and the experience also left him with the same respect for true New Urbanism. As a resident of the Uplands, he understands what it takes to build and maintain a neighborhood, and the role that Historic Preservation plays in that equation.
Chuck Grayeb has given his personal pledge to restoring the Historic Preservation Ordinance and to seeing that true preservationists are appointed to the HPC. While there are some within the preservationist community who question Chuck's true dedication to the issue, I remind them of his role in the preservation and restoration of Historic Springdale Cemetery. Also, of the ten candidates, he is the ONLY one who actually lives in an Historic District. His home on High Street is beautifully maintained and reflects his respect for its history. Additionally, he owns rental buildings on the northside that also are well maintained with respect to their period architecture.
Please consider lending your support and your votes to these candidates.
To have ALL FOUR of these sent to the council would be an Historic Preservationist's dream!
What then about the other six candidates?
Briefly, here is my evaluation:
Andre Williams comes across as a good and likable man. He is intelligent and well-spoken. I am not sure that he has a good understanding of preservation issues yet, but I would not at all be disappointed with his election. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I hope he will continue and expand his public service profile.
Chuck Weaver also is a likable man. However, his comment of taking six months to evaluate the Historic Preservation Ordinance is off-putting. How many buildings can be bulldozed in the time it takes him to DECIDE if he wants to support preservation or not. Also, I have never seen the labels "preservationist" and "developer" reside comfortably in the same body.
George Azouri is a nice kid. He is, to put it nicely as possible, simply out of his league. While I admire his desire to serve, he exhibits little understanding not only of preservation, but other major issues as well. The city is at too critical a juncture to entrust important decisions to one so green.
Ryan Spain has a record that speaks for itself. He has voted against designation of worthy and obviously historic buildings like the Spurck House (Family House) and the Duroc Building (Amvets). He also supported the destruction of the Roanoke Apartments. He has been no friend of Historic Preservation.
A not-so-nice-guy, Jim Stowell has exhibited a meanness in online posts and on the 150 BOE that is not needed at the horseshoe. He has supported ownership veto power for historic designation, and has no other qualities to recommend his election.
Last and certainly least is Eric Turner. His recent decimation of the ordinance was not only devastating to Historic Preservation, but a classic example of bad legislating. Writing an ordinance on the fly as he did is simply sloppy and opens a whole can of worms that is already bearing fruit in a lawsuit from Westminster Church. His bad decision will end up costing the city a bunch in litigation fees. Mr. Turner has a history of knee-jerk responses and flip-flopping, with little vision to larger issues. Enough is simply enough.
Councilman Turner MUST be defeated.
Whether or not you agree with these personal evaluations and recommendations, please do your civic duty and get out and vote on April 5th!
The future (and history!) of your city depends on it.