Pekin mayor Luft isn't running for re-election. He'll support Burress in her bid to 'stop the infighting'
Believing the time is right for him to step away from office, Pekin Mayor Mark Luft has opted against running for re-election in favor of supporting a bid by outgoing Tazewell County Treasurer Mary Burress.
Luft admitted last month's move by the council to fire city manager Mark Rothert was among several factors in his decision not to seek a second term.
“My family has been through a lot the last eight years, and have been a great support for me — but they're tired like I am,” said Luft, who was elected in 2019 after four years as a council member. “And I have been very blessed to be offered some opportunities to where I can help things in a larger capacity. So, taking those things into consideration, I think it's the right time to bring that balance into my life and move forward with that decision.”
Luft declined to elaborate on what opportunities he has been offered, but said he intends to stay visible in the Pekin community.
“I will still be here in some aspects,” he said. “I will always be the biggest cheerleader for Pekin and I will still be very active in ensuring that the good people in this community get the best out of City Hall, and that we continue to increase the quality of life for them here in their community.”
Burress said seeing how Rothert’s dismissal transpired played a part in her decision to run for mayor.
“I think that more transparency should have been brought out. I think that it was awful the way it came down,” said Burress. “One thing that I have said to many people is we've got to stop the infighting that is going on within our own city council, bring back harmony and get to work and do what's right. The people deserve that.”
Burress will square off against current council members Becky Cloyd and Dave Nutter, both of whom previously announced their candidacies. All three filed their nomination papers for the 2023 election on Monday.
Burress said she wants to make sure the city is heading in the right direction.
“I want to bring physical accountability back to Pekin,” said Burress. “We have to have an infrastructure plan — and I think that I do have one — and good business development. We've got to stop taxing our way out of debt.
“In Tazewell County, we've always been very fiscally responsible and we need to bring that to the city of Pekin. We're the largest city in Tazewell County and we need to be a leader. So I think with new leadership, we'll go in a different direction that we desperately need.”
Luft, who also represents the 91st District in the Illinois House, but lost a Republican primary to remain in the General Assembly this summer, said he felt undermined by the group of council members, including Cloyd and Nutter, who pushed for Rothert’s removal.
“Unfortunately, we have four council members who are bound and determined to make a statement,” said Luft. “There was an attempt to remove me before and that was not successful. So they, in my eyes and in my opinion, knowing the value of our city manager and what he and I were able to accomplish together, they decided to remove him to make things more difficult for me.”
Burress said she didn’t commit to her mayoral bid until she knew Luft would not run again because she didn’t want to challenge a sitting city leader out of respect. Luft said he will back Burress in her campaign, and her willingness to run contributed to his decision to step aside.
“I wanted to make sure that if things went in that direction and I was not going to be (running), that I wanted to ensure we were going to continue to move in the right direction,” said Luft. “The more I looked and the more people I talked to, I firmly believe that Mary was that right direction and I'm happy that she made that decision.
“I appreciated the fact that she was not going to run if I was going to (and) that she felt confident with me in that position and where we were going and what we've accomplished. So, it's really a win-win situation. I'm very pleased and at peace with how things worked out.”
Burress passed on another term as treasurer this year, instead choosing to run for the 87th District seat in the Illinois House. She lost the Republican primary to Bill Hauter, two years after falling short in a bid to unseat Democratic State Sen. Dave Koehler.
“This one, it is certainly local, certainly centralized. I think that I have a better feel for the people of the city of Pekin,” said Burress. “I don’t want to say it would be easier connecting, but I’ve lived here for 50 years. I know the community and I just think I would be well served to be in this position and be the leader.”
Luft said Burress is very involved in the community and has the ability to tap into assets that will produce improvements for the city.
“She showed that with the county (and) she will continue to show that with this community. Her business sense, her communication skills — everything she brings to the table and her willingness to work with the right team and the right people to make the right decisions to keep moving us forward,” said Luft.
“And with Mary, it's not a self-fulfilling agenda. It is all about community, and that's what that position is for; it's a very responsible position to be in and it needs to be treated that way. It’s not about individual goals; it's about the goals of your community and that really has to be the focus.”
Six people filed their Pekin City Council nomination papers on Monday, with incumbents John Abel, Rick Hilst and Karen Hohimer joined by Joshua Haflinger, Robert Jaskiewicz and Matthew Johnson.