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Tuesday, April 2, 2019 11:53 pm

Langfelder rolls in mayor's race

GOP loses majority on city council

In what seemed a foregone conclusion, Jim Langfelder was easily re-elected Tuesday to a second term as Springfield’s mayor.

Meanwhile, political newcomer Shawn Gregory led by just one vote over Gail Simpson in the Ward 2 aldermanic race, with incumbent Herman Senor finishing a distant third. Gregory noted that there are provisional ballots yet to be counted, but said he thinks he’ll win. Simpson said she plans to ask for a recount. Regardless of the result, Democrats now hold a 6-4 majority on the officially nonpartisan council which previously had been held by Republicans by a like majority.

Frank Edwards, challenger in the mayor’s race, didn’t bother with an election night party at a hotel or bar or restaurant. Instead, a group of about 30 supporters gathered at his house on South Second Street as returns came in. From the start, the outcome was obvious, with Langfelder finishing with 58 percent of the vote.

“It’s not looking good, boys,” Edwards said as the first numbers came in shortly after 7 p.m. He conceded the race shortly after 8 p.m., noting that he wasn’t the only Republican to lose on Tuesday in races that are officially nonpartisan.

“Republicans lost the school board, the park district and the city council,” Edwards said. “What this comes down to is people staying home.  … We as a party need to look at something different from what we’re doing.”

In Ward 8, where incumbent Kris Theilen was barred by term limits from running again, Erin Conley hammered Dean Graven, winning nearly 58 percent of the vote. With the exception of Senor, every incumbent on the city council easily won, and with the result in Ward 2 and Conley’s victory, Democrats now control the council.

City Clerk Frank Lesko and Treasurer Misty Buscher won reelection by comfortable margins. Turnout was light, with fewer than 26 percent of registered voters casting ballots in the mayoral race.

Edwards ran his campaign based on contentions that crime and taxes are high and economic development is lagging. He had told voters he got in the race to save Springfield. Is this a death knell for the city, a reporter asked.

“I don’t think so,” Edwards answered.

Edwards outspent Langfelder, raising nearly $160,000, with large contributions pouring in, particularly from Republicans and organized labor, during the campaign’s final weeks. Langfelder didn’t make it to the six-figure mark, raising $87,500. The totals don't include contributions of less than $1,000 made since Jan. 1 -- such contributions will be included in quarterly disclosure reports that haven't yet been filed.

The mayor, who was endorsed by former Mayor Mike Houston and Inner City Older Neighborhoods, was abandoned by organized labor and the Democratic Party after winning their support four years ago. Besides endorsements the Republican Party, former Mayor Karen Hasara, former Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson and labor unions that typically pick sides, Edwards won an endorsement from the city’s police union, the first time in memory that police officers had endorsed a municipal candidate.

During his victory speech at the Hilton Garden Inn on South Dirksen Parkway, Langfelder called the election historic. “We talk about party support, but, really, it’s down to the grassroots,” the mayor told supporters. “It speaks volumes to the educated voters.”

Whether she ultimately wins or loses, Simpson, a former alderman who skipped running for a third term four years in favor of a run for mayor, staged a political comeback for the ages in Ward 2. Some of her yard signs were homemade. She reported no contributions after Jan. 1, when records at the Illinois State Board of Elections show she had just $100. Donations smaller than $1,000 don’t have to be reported until after the election. On Tuesday night, she was upbeat despite being behind by just one vote, receiving 463 votes to Gregory’s 464 in a ward that has traditionally had the lowest turnout in the city.

 "I’m still blessed,” Simpson said. “I’m going to ask for a recount and see what happens.”

Gregory and his political mentor, former Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, said some provisional ballots haven’t yet been counted. Endorsed by the Democratic Party, Gregory reported raising $2,000, but the true total won’t be known until he files a quarterly report with state board of elections. Senor raised slightly more than $8,000, according to election board reports, and was badly beaten. He could not be reached for comment.

“People didn’t hear from him,” Simpson said. “People don’t feel like was representing him when that happens.”

Gregory acknowledged surprise by Simpson’s strong showing.

“I thought me and (Senor) would be in for a dogfight,” Gregory said. “Obviously, the people in our community wanted something different. I think people really, really want to see a change.”

Simpson sounded as if she were still in campaign mode on Tuesday night. Gregory, she said, lacks experience and isn’t prepared to represent the ward. “If Shawn Gregory is the winner, I’ll try to make sure his issues are his own, not Frank McNeil’s,” she said.

The criticism drew a slight chuckle from Gregory.

“Any of my elders in the community who have been in politics, I will seek advice from,” Gregory said. “I’m always going to make my own decisions. … I’ll lean heavily on Ms. Turner (Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner, who also heads the county Democratic Party). I’ve got a learning curve, but I’m definitely a fast learner.”

 

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