City council candidates face campaign setbacks

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City council candidates Mike Kobel and Jaya Kolisetty are running to represent Urbana’s Ward 4

By Farrah Anderson, Assistant Longform Editor

Masked with pens in hand, a city council candidate approached local porches in Urbana’s fourth ward to gather signatures to get on the ballot. 

As a Republican candidate in a heavily Democratic county, Mike Kobel said he’s getting used to being greeted with a door slam and some choice words instead of a handshake.

“I’m behind the 8-ball from the get-go,” Kobel said.

Kobel is now faced with a daunting fact: every single alderman for the Urbana City Council is a registered Democrat. 

Last November, after losing the race to represent District 10 for the Champaign City Council with 27% of the votes, Kobel said his eyes opened to the difficulties of running for office. Especially with an ‘R’ next to his name. 

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Kobel said. “But you stick your neck out when you’re running for any office.”

Whatever the challenge, Kobel said he thinks a Democrat might get the same treatment on a local Republican’s porch as well. 

“If the roles were reversed and a Democrat was standing on a Republican’s porch, they would have likely been treated the same way,” Kobel said. 

Republican Mike Kobel poses for a professional headshot. Kobel is running against Jaya Kolisetty for Urbana City Council. (Photo Courtesy of Mike Kobel)

The Democratic candidate for Ward 4, Jaya Kolisetty, said she had challenges canvassing for Urbana as well. However, her main challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite masking, keeping physical distance and sanitizing pens, Kolisetty said she understood people’s discomfort with answering the door.

“Interacting with anyone right now feels super weird,” Kolisetty said.

Although this is her first time running for office, Kolisetty has been a member of the Champaign-Urbana community since she came to the University to start her Bachelor’s in Gender and Women’s Studies. As the associate director of the Women’s Resource Center, Kolisetty said the discussions she’s had with students pushed her to advocate for diversity in the community she calls home. 

After seeing the impact of the last year on racial justice, Kolisetty said she’s committed to maintaining that momentum.

“There’s a particular commitment to social justice issues and a desire for equity that I see in Urbana,” Kolisetty said. “I think we are positioned to make a truly more equitable city.”

With several spots on the Urbana City Council being contested, Kolisetty said she sees the potential for real change.

“We’re at a place where there’s enough political will in Urbana to really push things forward with some of the new folks who are joining the council,” Kolisetty said.

Democrat Jaya Kolisetty poses for a professional headshot. (Photo Courtesy of Jaya Kolisetty)

Bill Brown, the current alderman for Ward 4, decided to step down after serving two, four-year terms on the council. In his mind, it’s best to get new candidates involved in local government as much as possible.

“It’s good to have a variety of people come through,” Brown said. “They see how the government works and get fresh ideas.” 

Once Brown announced that he wouldn’t be running again, he said he was able to talk to both of the candidates running for his spot. And although he said they’d both make great candidates as they both live in the ward, he said he told Kobel that a win wasn’t going to be easy.

“It’d be pretty unusual to have a Republican elected,” Brown said. “But he wanted to get the issues out there.” 

Although registered as Democrats and Republicans, both Kolisetty and Kobel have similar issues prioritized in their campaign including policing, infrastructure and roads.

Kobel said he witnessed the “riot” during the Black Lives Matter movement in Champaign-Urbana over the summer and he saw a group of people breaking into a Hardee’s in his neighborhood. As an avid supporter of local law enforcement, he couldn’t imagine being a police officer today. 

“I would rather walk into a burning building than do their job,” Kobel said.

With the election scheduled for April 6, Kolisetty said that there’s a lot of great ideas on the table. If elected, she said the challenge is getting things done.

“We have these great ideals in Urbana,” Kolisetty said. “But how do we push to make sure that they’re actually being implemented?”

As a retired firefighter, Kobel said he approaches many issues like he would a triage. Although morbid, Kobel said the basic idea still applies. 

“Doing the best for the most,” Kobel said. 

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