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MADAM MAYOR: Rita Ali Makes History As Peoria's First Female, Black Mayor

For the first time in Peoria's history, a woman and person of color is serving as the city's mayor.

Dr. Rita Ali is the city's 55th mayor. She was sworn into office Tuesday during a special city council meeting.

It was a night of optimism for the city in council chambers, with outgoing and incoming officials alike talking of better days ahead even amid ongoing city challenges. Among them are COVID-19, tightening budget challenges, economic revitalization efforts, and reckoning with racial inequity in a community once labeled the worst in the country for African Americans by an online news outlet.

"I have confidence that we will be united, that we will work as a team, that we will work our relationships to move Peoria forward. I believe that sincerely with all my heart," Ali told the council on Tuesday. "I plan to govern harder than I campaigned, because it's just that important."Ali said she is retiring from her career as vice president of workforce, diversity, and career development at Illinois Central College on June 30 to work as a full-time mayor.

"We know we have a lot of problems to solve, right? But we know these problems are also opportunities," Ali said. "And I know we will turn them into opportunities."

Outgoing Mayor Jim Ardis opted not to run for a fifth consecutive term after 22 years around the horseshoe. He said he believes the city is in good hands under Mayor Ali.

"I know that, and everybody knows, that we have a lot of obstacles that we're looking at, as does every other community in the state," Ardis said. "But I am more than confident that Dr. Ali's leadership skills, her knowledge of our community, and her desire to take this city to the next level will be achieved."

Ali said electing her as mayor will begin to break down the status inequalities which serve as the roots of prejudice in this community.

"By putting a woman and a person of color in a leadership role, it begins to break down those perceptions. It begins to tap into those stereotypes. And it begins to actually make people have more comfort and confidence in women and people of color in leadership," she said. "So I do want to raise that status. And I do believe my being in this role helps to do that. So I'm grateful for that."

3rd District Councilmember Tim Riggenbach quipped when addressing Ali, a former at-large councilmember, as "Madam Mayor" for the first time.

"Wow, does that have a nice ring to it," he said.

Newly elected City Clerk Stefanie Tarr, City Treasurer Stephen Morris, Peoria Township Supervisor LaTrina Leary, 1st District Councilmember Denise Jackson, and 4th District Councilmember Andre Allen were also among those sworn in on Tuesday night.

Ali's council vacancy will be replaced by an appointed at-large member in the next 60 days. Ali said the council plans to open it up for applications as with previous vacancies, but she hopes to find someone like-minded to herself to fill the seat, which she won with the most votes by far of any candidate running for the at-large positions in 2019.

Former 4th District Councilman Jim Montelongo lost the race by 43 votes. He has requested a discovery recount, now rescheduled for May 10 after his representatives requested additional paperwork from the Peoria County Election Commission. Montelongo is weighing a challenge to the election's results in court following that recount.

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