Sheila Simon Campaigns for Mayor
Sheila Simon, a member of the city council in Carbondale, is running for mayor against the incumbent Brad Cole. Sheila is the daughter of former U. S. Senator Paul Simon and former State Representative Jeanne Hurley Simon.
Sheila’s biography is one of public service – from volunteerism in childhood to professionalism in adulthood. As a teenager, she even ran errands at the Democratic Convention. She has a record of prosecutions when she was an assistant in the state’s attorney office and provided legal services to low income clients as a staff attorney at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance. She also developed and supervised a domestic violence clinic.
In one of her legal cases, she prosecuted a man charged with driving under the influence. He was a hard-working farmer that just drank too much at a local bar in Murphysboro. This was his second strike so the sentence had to be community service or jail time. He could afford neither so Sheila gave him a third option with a little more common sense: donate two butchered hogs to the women’s center. He benefits. A non-profit for women benefits. Taxpayers obviously benefit when they do not pay for someone’s room and board. Her solution worked for everyone.
Her experience as a prosecutor also provided her with some insights on the Three Strikes Law. She feels hesitant to support such legislation because the requirements it places on judges sometimes do not fit the crime. The intent for mandatory minimums is a good one. The actual language has cruel and unusual punishment issues under the Eighth Amendment.
Now she is passing her knowledge and experience on to law students as an associate professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. Her passion for domestic abuse issues is obvious. She was the first person to develop and supervise a domestic violence clinic.
Fans of Sheila’s opponent continue to question her accomplishments. They fail to look beyond her three years on the city council. To some, her opponent appears decisive. To others, he micromanages while trying to circumvent the city’s council-manager form of government (i.e., an elected city council is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances, voting appropriations, and having overall supervisory authority in the city government). No one on the city council decides anything individually. It is a democratic group effort providing an opportunity for everyone to weigh in on the issues.
In that respect, Sheila’s more highly qualified than anyone – especially her incumbent opponent. She has the types of accomplishment that provide direct benefits to the quality of life, and no one talks about them in cordial afternoons in a town square gathering: consumer and housing problems for low-income families, restraining orders for domestic abuse victims, protection in child advocacy, economic independency and other women’s issues, and inadequate housing. The laws of the state always attract attention in a place like Chicago, Sheila said. Rural communities like Carbondale make them work.
In contrast, her opponent, a protégé of former Governor George Ryan, has provided four years of housekeeping – citywide janitorial services on his mayor’s salary (which is a job almost all women know only too well gratis and pays significantly less than most janitors ever see). City aesthetics are good for long-term benefits to quality of life. They offer nothing for the immediate needs of the citizens.
There are numerous state and federal programs and tax benefits available for the economic development of rural communities. The trick is to find them. Individual business owners usually have themselves and no one else to travel to informational seminars. They cannot arbitrarily close shop for the day. They need someone like Sheila. She seeks out the information and brings it back to Carbondale. She is familiar with the many Rural Economic Development programs available to the Carbondale community. Many of them would benefit the area’s urban and greenspace development while sustaining the area’s renewable natural resources. The Healthy Communities Water Supply Act is an example. Among other advantages, it will help fund the cost of treating wastewater for industrial and agricultural use. Another program is the Rural Empowerment Zone (EZ). Sheila voted against a one-time expansion because she felt that the council needed to know more about who benefited, the land in question, etc.
Local businesses have a long-term, personal investment in their communities. Yes, there has been a failure or two. There are no quick or easy solutions for the American Tap property and the Varsity Theater. A local community theater group looked at the old theater so there is local interest. Restoration costs were too high for them. The problem is typically outside owners worrying more about their bottom line than their community impact. Shiela suggests making them pay a maintenance fee of sorts. Those funds would offset the vacant building’s maintenance cost to the community and future restoration efforts. Combined with the Vacant Commercial Building Rehabilitation Credit For Enterprise Zones and other sources, the total restoration costs of vacant buildings would be nominal.
Her other ideas for single-proprietor businesses include a proposal for energy programs that save the owners money. Hometown awards and heritage preservation recognition are wonderful options for greater economic growth. The Hotel Occupancy Tax already provides funding for tourism promotions and information on the local vineyards and favored scenic drives. She would like to expand on that. Finally, college towns like Carbondale are the 21st Century destinations for retirement living. It is something of a no-brainer for educated professional baby boomers and a welcome idea.
A common economic answer is Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Used properly, Sheila feels it is an effective development tool. Her opponent, while against property tax, fully supports TIF districts. Yet, proponents have become too loose with the definition of blighted and the rules governing TIF. Instead of preserving local Main Street businesses, communities use it to underwrite sprawling development for big-box stores and shopping malls. In addition to favoring greenspace development of the state’s rich fertile soil over infill in low-income neighborhoods, these subsidies disadvantage independent businesses. Not only do local retailers rarely benefit from TIF, but they must shoulder a higher tax burden in areas where part of the city's property tax revenue is being diverted from city services and used instead to pay off bonds that financed competing shopping centers. Obviously, they are not the panacea to any community’s economic health. On the contrary, many are more destructive to the uniqueness and quality of life of rural America.
Many proponents of insourcing feel it is an excellent answer to lower the unemployment numbers in Southern Illinois (numbers that are the highest in the state). The practice gave the state Cavel, the Belgian horse slaughtering operation in De Kalb. Also, there are no guarantees how long an insourced company will remain in the state. They have no inherent commitment to a community. The bottom line always rules: Another state makes them a better offer. Their contract is up. They are gone. For Sheila, insourcing is an option to consider under the right conditions. The long-term result cannot be another superfund site. A free market economy (i.e., individuals, rather than government, make the majority of decisions regarding economic activities and transactions) ultimately comes due and payable with a heavy price tag for someone.
Critics of campaign finance reform emphasize collecting as much money as possible since it has become necessary to getting the candidate’s messages out to a lot of voters fast. In some of the more recent Illinois elections, it appears to govern the outcome. Sheila has chosen to limit the contributions to $50. In a city of 24,000 people and an estimated 4,000 voters that will cast ballots on April 17, Sheila is not worried. She grew up in Makanda and has been active in the Carbondale community for so long that everyone feels they know her. She is their neighbor no matter where they live. Limiting campaign contributions is a natural choice for Sheila. Large contributions provide greater, faster access. For example: One constituent gives $1,000. Another gives $10. Both need a response from their elected official. The person providing the larger contribution gets the quickest return call. It is only human nature, she said. Limiting contributions limits influence.
In contrast, her opponent learned his fundraising technique well from his mentor. He welcomes business and individual contributions up to $2,000. He has even received $1,000 from U. S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville). He and his staff are well-trained fundraising professionals of the same mold.
In true Democratic fashion, Sheila encourages participation from all age groups in her campaign. College students walk door to door. Middle school children paint signs. All the volunteers are enthusiastic and active. She knows how important it is for the younger generations to become part of the political activities. The simple act of voting is an excellent way for young adults to become involved. Yes, every vote counts. Local elections like the Carbondale mayoral race emphasizes how important every vote becomes. Last time, 21 votes decided the winner.
Voting and volunteering are just small parts of it. She suggests that they campaign for an elected position on boards, commissions, etc. Joe Moore, a member of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale College Democrats, is on the ballot for city council. According to Sheila, he has a good chance of being elected. City government is always better when more people become involved in creating and changing policy. A small zoning change affects people’s lives. She feels that they should have a voice in those effects.
Like every other traveler along the cyber highway, Sheila understands the importance of the availability of internet services in 21st Century daily life. In 2006, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn provided Carbondale with a $17,875 state grant to help establish a downtown wireless Internet network. The city was one of 12 that applied for the funding in 2006. City Hall, Carbondale Public Library, the town square, Friendship Plaza, Veterans Plaza, and Memorial Hospital now have access. It is good for the future of the community. Sheila agrees with her opponent on in this one area. Net Neutrality is not a concern or her at this time. She is aware of the issue and keeps informed of the facts.
Many local candidates would take advantage of every imaginable resource such as the online blog. It is one alternative for a finite campaign treasury. Blogging works well for national and state political campaigns covering a large area, said Sheila. I decided that human contact is more important in a city of 24,000. Only a percentage is active online, and a small percentage of that number actually read blogs. In addition, the first rule for a good public speaker is know the audience, and she has known hers for years. Therefore, talking to people with personal touch is worth a lot more than daily blog posts and a month of television ad buys.
The progressive politics of her father gave Sheila a better understanding of the patience required in a democracy. Elected officials need persistence. They always have to be conscience of those less fortunate. She has both of those qualities. She recalled her father commenting on his friend, former U. S. Senator Paul Douglas. According to her father, Douglas entered politics to save the world. In the end, he was happy that he saved a small corner of it: the Indiana Dunes. I learned that we have a responsibility to others, said Sheila.
The Simon name certainly places Sheila under a very unenviablely large microscope. Yet, she is a woman who understands the nuances of real leadership skills that are inclusive by involving delegation of authority. With a city council and a weak mayor government, this is exactly what the people want – a government in which the mayor performs ceremonial duties or acts as a member and presiding officer of the council.
Few people are aware of the history and how the change was made to move to a more professional, less corrupt system. Even fewer people realize that the system of governance can only be changed by referendum. Our system fits our community so well, allowing to tap into the expertise and enthusiasm of so many, without making those folks give up jobs to be able to take part.Sheila believes in this democracy and preserving the integrity of a representative government. Her decisions on the city council are a testament to those values of government integrity, fiscal responsibility, and economic opportunity for Carbondale. This is completely opposite of those micromanaging characteristics that her incumbent opponent displays. For the voters, their choice in the Consolidated Election is clear.