Green Eco-Socialist elected mayor of Galesburg, IL

Perhaps no one was more surprised than Peter Schwartzman when he won the April 6 mayoral election:

https://www.ci.galesburg.il.us/government/mayor/

He’s featured on Page 2 of the latest Green Horizon:

https://green-horizon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/GHM42_web.pdf

He’s on the Steering Committee of the Green Eco-Socialist Network:

https://eco-socialism.org/steering-committee/

Now he’s got to figure out how to balance his mayoral duties along with his writing, steering, and full-time professoring at Knox College:

https://www.knox.edu/academics/faculty/schwartzman-peter

https://www.galesburg.com/story/news/local/2021/04/11/mayor-elect-talks-his-focus-galesburg/7162906002/

(the news story linked above is hidden behind a paywall, so below is the text of the article)

Galesburg Mayor-elect Peter Schwartzman: ‘I am not a change maker. I’m a catalyst for change’

GALESBURG — John Leonard Conger was sworn in as Galesburg’s 28th mayor back in 1916, becoming the first Galesburg mayor to also be a professor at Knox College, where he taught from 1907 through 1945.

Today, Mayor Elect and Knox Environmental Studies Professor Peter Schwartzman is following in Conger’s footsteps.

The Ward 5 alderman was elected to be Galesburg’s 46th mayor Tuesday, edging out incumbent John Pritchard and challenger Kristine Crow. He says looking back at Conger, he sees parallels with today.

Schwartzman, 53, said he was not actually aware of Conger’s tenure as mayor until after the election he read a 2013 Register-Mail article by the late Galesburg historian Tom Wilson.

“(Wilson) talks about Conger (and) the things he set out to accomplish,” Schwartzman said.

One of these was the accounting system of the city, something Schwartzman says he has interest in. Another was about the maintenance of the city’s dirt streets, the reorganization of water and electricity, changing the interval at which utility payments were metered, and the resolution of a well digging issue by the water superintendent.

“Some of the same issues basically a hundred years later are still on peoples’ dockets,” Schwartzman said.

Galesburg’s mayor-elect is still a bit surprised by the results of Tuesday’s municipal election, which he won even as turnout dropped from about 24% in 2017’s election to 20.8% in 2021’s unofficial results.

“If you had told me we’d win with lower turnout, I’d say that’s impossible,” Schwartzman said.

He hopes in coming city elections, such as the next elections for city council in two years from now, turnout will improve.

“Hopefully in two years, we’ll be able to show that who you vote for matters,” he said.

On how Schwartzman won

Schwartzman says he can attribute his victory in part to the extensive canvassing he engaged in while campaigning. For 38 days, he said he walked for five hours campaigning, knocking on every door to ask people for their vote. His team walked another hundred or more.

Schwartzman says some of the people he met canvassing did not know who Mayor Pritchard was and had never interacted with him. Schwartzman said he listened to people.

He says that accessibility he sought to project will be something he will continue to emphasize, taking every phone call he receives himself if possible.

While he teaches at Knox College, Schwartzman said student voters didn’t propel him to victory. He estimates about 50 Knox students voted, while his win was by more than 200 votes.

Schwartzman said he had limited contact with students during the campaign and has been teaching his own courses remotely during this school year.

Almost all communication with students was made through an assistant, and while students engaged in phone banking and canvassing for the campaign, they did so alongside community members.

Out of 110 hours spent canvassing by volunteers, he said 20 of those were by students.

Change on the way

Schwartzman will be seated as mayor at the May 3rd City Council meeting, alongside the two new council members Dwight White and Sarah Davis. He will take on new responsibilities, and has plans for some changes that will begin in the near future.

Some of his agenda will pull from plans that have already been formulated in the community and city government in previous years. One of the first steps he will take is to make an Implementation Committee to fulfill some of the promises of the 2018 Galesburg Comprehensive Plan.

Transparency was a rallying point for many of those who won in Tuesday’s election, and Schwartzman is no exception. He says that the city website will be redone with transparency as a priority. Documents will be created so people can read them and understand them, with more frequent reports and press releases about city projects and plans.

Another immediate push of Schwartzman’s will be to provide more things for the city’s youth to do, especially for the underprivileged.

“We need to make sure youth of all persuasions have things to do, and the city can provide those things,” he said.

In the long term, he wants the city to to add a youth center downtown.

Finally, Schwartzman says that the city needs to address perceptions that it is becoming unsafe, whether through violent crimes or shots fired incidents. Schwartzman notes that in his door-to-door campaigning, he saw many Ring Doorbells.

“More people are installing (doorbell) cameras. I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said.

He says people are doing so just want to protect themselves and their families, but the city has to make every effort to create a reality, and not just a perception, of a safe community.

In order to do so, he says he will bring together stakeholders who work on every aspect of the issue: police, fire fighters, mental health coordinators, youth supervisors and the school district.

“If people perceive Galesburg as a dangerous city, they will not come to Galesburg. They will go elsewhere,” Schwartzman said. He thinks this could have impacts on the economy by limiting incoming travel, and mental health impacts from people feeling unsafe in town.

As a council member, Schwartzman has been one of the more cautious regarding the pandemic, often not attending meetings in person last year. He says we are not yet out of the woods now.

“Although many people are getting vaccinated, our children are participating in more and more social and recreational events,” he said.

One thing Schwartzman says he will likely do differently than his predecessor will be regarding governor’s orders. He says Galesburg needs to respect the authority of the governor and his decisions.

“I think it was a mistake on our part to say we somehow don’t have to enforce state law,” Schwartzman said. “That’s something that, if we ever do it, is an extremely powerful statement to make.

Accomplishing an agenda

While Schwartzman will be the new mayor, Galesburg is not a mayor-run city in the sense some might think, with the city manager in many ways driving the city’s goings on.

“I am not a change maker. I’m a catalyst for change,” he said. “The change comes from bringing people together and having the community ask and potentially demand change, or reprioritization of things we are doing.”

He will have to work alongside the city manager and city’s department heads, as well as along the city council. While the mayor is able to more easily bring things up for votes at city council meetings, a lot of what is accomplished will be dependent on a winning vote in the council chambers.

Since being elected to the city council back in 2011, Schwartzman has found himself at times to be a dissenting voice in recent years, often questioning the rationale behind votes that he would say were being made with too little discussion.

Just last year, he spent much of the year arguing against the way things were being carried out, supporting demonstrations to end water utility disconnects during the pandemic and asking for action from the city on a resolution drafted by the NAACP to denounce and address systemic racism. In the mayoral race, the majority of city aldermen endorsed Pritchard.

Endorsing Pritchard, First Ward alderman Bradley Hix published a letter to the editor of The Register-Mail on behalf of another four aldermen — Ward 2’s Wayne Dennis, Ward 3’s Lindsay Hillery, Ward 3’s Wayne Allen and Ward 6’s Larry Cox. While Allen has lost his seat to challenger Sarah Davis, he was a harsh critic of Schwartzman as well on other occasions.

Schwartzman says he does not want to build divisiveness in the council, and tried to keep his language diplomatic in cases where he did disagree with others. He hopes the culture around the council can become more deliberative, with more public conversations than there have been in recent years.

“I believe the diversity of opinion is good,” he said. “I don’t want a council that is lock and step with me. I don’t think that’s healthy.”

Schwartzman will try to build more regular communication between the different parts of the city and make that a more regular thing. He wants the council to report to him weekly, and he will report to them weekly as well.

“I think the mayor, I don’t know what he was doing day to day because his communication with me was pretty limited,” Schwartzman said, referring to Pritchard.

He says he has also become aware since the election that the mayor is privy to information the council does not know, and he intends to let the council know that information and keep them informed about it.

In a move to help create more accountability toward the young in Galesburg, Schwartzman intends to add a youth representative to the council. This person will not be a voting member, but a liaison to youth entities in the community.

A green mayor

As a council member and environmental studies professor, Schwartzman has been no stranger to environmental issues. Sustainability will remain a focus of his.

Schwartzman is an advocate for urban agriculture, renewable energy and sustainability. He says beyond being good for the environment, it will be good for the city’s bottom line.

He pointed to weatherizing homes as an example. By insulating a home from cold weather, county residents can reduce their expenses in a way that pays off in the first few months. He pointed to that as one thing he wants to incentivize in the city.

He said the same can be said for water, arguing that residents should know that Galesburg water is safe to drink and the highest quality water available in town, even when compared to bottled water.

“We need to do everything in our power as a city to guarantee we have the best water available,” Schwartzman said.

Schwartzman says the city’s lead water line abatement program has done a good job of addressing issues of lead contamination that got Galesburg into national news years ago. The work that needs to be expanded, he says, is the lead paint abatement program.

“We need to let people know that when paint chips in your home, that is likely contaminating the bodies of your children,’’ Schwartzman said.

He said this is because much of Galesburg’s housing is old, and has been painted at some point with lead paint.

Balancing the full-time work of a campaign and his work as a professor was difficult for Schwartzman. Moving forward, he expects to adjust or alter his teaching commitments to Knox so that the many duties of being mayor can be a higher priority.

https://www.theburg.news/post/local-q-and-a-mayor-peter-schwartzman

A co-editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a Green movement activist for almost thirty years.