Ali Identifies Priorities, Envisions Bright Future For Peoria
After four weeks in office, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali says she has determined her appropriate response when asked what it’s like to be the city’s first woman and first person of color with the role.
“I've answered in different ways. I've said, ‘It feels good,’ or ‘I'm not sure yet.’ I've said, ‘It feels a little bit overwhelming,’” Ali said. “But I finally settled on one answer that feels most correct, and that answer is: ‘It feels right. It feels just right.’”
Ali delivered the keynote address at the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Future of Peoria” event Wednesday afternoon under a sunny sky at Dozer Park. She noted that she grew up not far from the stadium and has spent a majority of her life in the city.
“I've had no reason to leave Peoria for good,” she said. “I've gotten all my education here: A high school diploma, a bachelor's degree, two master's degrees, and a Ph.D., without having to move out of Peoria. It can be all right here.”
Ali identified her four top priorities as: fostering job creation to generate population growth, developing revenue growth with the help of “collaborative grant acquisitions,” transforming distressed areas of the city such as the 61605 ZIP code, and putting Peoria on a path to becoming a “smart city.”
“To grow our job base, I envision a future where we grow our economy around our core strengths in manufacturing and medical and bio sciences, where we attract new investments in the emerging biomedical space with research, development and production,” she said.
Chamber president Joshua Gunn said Ali’s election sends a message of hope and possibility to the city’s women and minority communities.
"They now know that Peoria is a place where anything is possible,” said Gunn. “All people of Peoria can believe that if we just give them a chance to find their wings, they too might be able to fly.”
Ali cited a Move.org report ranking Peoria as the sixth-best city in the U.S. for retirees and minimum wage employees as an indicator of the city’s potential.
“We need to revitalize and re-energize many parts of our city,” she said. “The warehouse district around this ballpark is a great example of how government and private business can combine to create opportunities and collaborate for the benefit of all of our citizens. We need to go from Peoria being labeled as one of the worst places for African Americans to live to one of the best places for anyone of any color, any gender, religious belief to live.”
Ali said Peoria has a lot to offer and she’s excited about the city’s future, adding she wants citizens to provide input and have a strong voice in shaping the city’s direction.
“I'm so honored to serve ... Peoria as mayor. But I don't want history to remember me just because I'm a woman or just because I'm a person of color,” she said. “I want to be part of a rebirth of this great city, a rebirth that provides opportunities for a good life for all our citizens.”