Don Gerard is my friend.
That’s first and foremost, if I am being honest. We’ve known each other for twenty three years, and as a child I looked up to him and the band he performed with, The Moon Seven Times.
When he worked at Record Service in Lincoln Square, he recommended albums to me. I bought them, and devoured them. Walt Mink, in particular. I wrote all about this in 2011, a month before he challenged then-incumbent Jerry Schweighart and won the Mayor’s office in Champaign.
But I didn’t just vote for him blindly because he was someone I liked to talk to, or because I liked the band he played in. He got my vote then because I know Don to believe in this community, and believe in what it’s capable of.
And that’s the reason that, in the end, after vacillating a few times, I ended up filling in that little oval on Tuesday and allowed the volunteers to deliver it to Gordy Hulten, the only Republican I’ve ever voted for.
Don losing on Tuesday isn’t a total surprise to me, or shouldn’t be to anyone who has been paying attention. Don does things his way. He can’t really be talked into doing something if he doesn’t want to do it. And over the past four years, that ideology — that way of behaving and interacting — was put on public display, time and time again.
Part of it can be blamed on Don, I think. His messy break-up with his girlfriend went to court. His fight with a local drummer during a clean-up-the-park day where he ended up calling the police to the scene was the stuff of bad fiction. His Twitter fight with Dan Dakich, a known college basketball personality, displayed a certain amount of histrionics that some folks just aren’t comfortable with. And then just this past weekend, a weird situation arises with a “campaign volunteer” working with his campaign manager, and the amount of speculation and potential abuse of power, though all purely conjecture, hits social media — and boom:
The one liberal in a non-partisan election loses against three right-leaning to right-winged challengers.
But let’s be clear here: Deb Frank Feinen won this election, moreso than Don lost. She ran the best campaign. And yes, while she raised the most campaign money, this community trusts her as a leader and as a steward of our best interests. She ran a clean campaign. Never went negative — not once — and focused on what she can bring to the office, and how she planned to address the important issues within the parameters of the job she was running for.
Listen: I am no fan of the GOP, for the most part. We fundamentally disagree in many areas. And while I have a number of people dear to me that identify as a Republican, there’s a division that exists between us. That’s just politics at play. A woman as smart and perceptive as Mayor Feinen knew that she wasn’t ever going to get a vote from a person like me. Still though, in every situation I saw, she was honest, polished, and on message with those willing to listen. She was so impressive that there were times where I felt inclined to vote for her simply based on the sheer level of professionalism that she exhibited.
But then, of course, there’s the issue of taxation, and what not.
It’s true that she will not likely vote the way I want her to every time. I am OK with that because I have to be, in some ways. She’s my Mayor, just as she’s yours, if you live in Champaign, and she’s proven herself to be moderate enough at times that she won’t alienate the liberal set to the point of anger. At least, not always.
I am going to not wish failure upon her, but rather, wish success.
I hate to admit it, because I am kind of a partisan hack, but I believe she is going to do a really good job.
But you know who else did a good job?
He did. A damn good job. And for a guy like me, who is admittedly his friend, a great job.
Look around. For all its flaws, and issues surrounding race relations and gun violence, Champaign is in an incredible position. Every city of any size is dealing with the same thing. But at least we are really starting to talk about it, accept it, and find ways to deal with it.
And while it’s true that by comparison to the do-nothing Mayor that Schweighart was, he probably couldn’t have done much worse, Don simply went above and beyond his pay grade. He gave it his all.
Having a publication like the News-Gazette and their dangerous editorial board develop a bloodlust for him and exploit his every misstep, didn’t help. And yes, Don is his own worst enemy, as he’d likely tell you himself. But is there anyone among us that can’t say the same?
Perhaps, but we’re not all the Mayor of one of the most important cities in an important state that is currently in a criminally dire situation, between idiotic leadership of the past, and the current idiotic Governor, who is literally trying to balance the budget by ripping into working class salaries and bargaining rights.
So, this is why I voted for him. I voted for Don. He did a great job. Had he not done a great job, I’d have voted for Joe Petry.
He’s my friend, too.
Long before I knew him as Park Board President, or Mayoral candidate, I knew him as the friendliest dude on the courts at the ARC on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays for the lunchtime pick-up games. He is a tireless defender — scrappy as hell — and can knock down an open jumper from the baseline. If he’s being honest, it’s kind of the only shot he has on lockdown, but that’s the thing: he hustles so much harder than most folks, he always found ways to get open.
In a community like this — where we’re fortunate enough to be able to actually get to know your councilperson, or your county board rep, or your Mayor for that matter — you tend to vote for who you know and like above who might do the best job.
Will Deb do a “better” job than Don would have done in his second term? No telling right now.
But I wouldn’t bet against it.
Regardless, I loved my “rock 'n' roll” Mayor. Always will. As my friend Darwin put it earlier today on Facebook, “A Champaign without Don Gerard is like Van Halen without Diamond Dave. Welcome to the Van Hagar era.”
And to that I responded: “Don's not going anywhere. If anything, in whatever new role he chooses, he might even be a more effective. He's a boss. We all know that.”
I am looking forward to whatever he decides to do next, because no matter what he chooses to do — it will be a good thing.
And entertaining as hell.