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Bloomington mayoral candidates discuss economic challenges, debate Welcoming City proposal

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Jackie Gunderson (From WGLT Facebook page)
Mboka Mwilambwe (From WGLT Facebook page)
Mike Straza (From WGLT Facebook page)

MCLEAN COUNTY (WEEK) - Two of the three candidates for Bloomington mayor believe economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic pose the most serious challenge for leaders in the Twin-Cities, while the other mayoral hopeful sees political polarization as the most difficult problem.

Mike Straza, Jackie Gunderson, and Mboka Mwilambwe participated in a debate Tuesday night ahead of the April 6 election.

Straza envisions Bloomington as the "entrepreneurial capital of the Midwest." He says business development will help take care of other problems.

"Business development is going to help keep taxes at bay, it's going to help repair the roads, it's going to help bring new people to this community, and help the people currently here," said Straza.

Gunderson believes the pandemic's economic fallout will be felt for years, lifting issues like affordable housing to the forefront.

"Access to safe and affordable housing continues to be a challenge in Bloomington, and in Normal, and many of our representatives have taken a 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' approach," said Gunderson.

Mwilambwe, a ten-year city council veteran, said uniting polarized residents is harder task than repairing infrastructure or boosting economic development.

Mwilambwe wants to create events like the upcoming Juneteenth observance to celebrate the city's diverse cultures.

"Once people have an opportunity to talk with one another and spend time with one another, we're no longer strangers," Mwilambwe said.

The three candidates differ on a proposed Welcoming City ordinance that aims to prevent local police from helping federal authorities find and possibly deport undocumented immigrants.

Gunderson favors the resolution, saying all neighbors should feel safe and comfortable in the community.

Straza wants clarification how agencies communicate with each other when dealing with immigrants, and suggested the Illinois Trust Act, already on the books, provides protection to immigrants.

Mwilambwe said he has "strong reservations" about tying the hands of police officers from doing their jobs.

Tuesday night's debate was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of McLean County, the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, Illinois State University's Center for Civic Engagement, and public radio station WGLT.

Howard Packowitz

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