Peoria's Fourth District will soon have a new city council representative, with three candidates on the ballot for the upcoming primary election.
Andre Allen, Steve Kouri and Patricia Melaik are vying for the seat that has been held by Jim Montelongo since 2013. Montelongo opted to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election, opening the seat to a council newcomer.
Allen is dean of students at Methodist College and chairs Peoria's Advisory Committee on Police-Community relations, in addition to serving on the boards for the Peoria Public Schools Foundation, the Peoria Promise Foundation and the Tri-County Urban League. He is making his second bid to join the council after falling just short of election to an at-large seat in 2019.
“I’m someone that has been putting in the work organically before, and I'm someone that's going to continue putting in the work afterwards,” he said. “I feel that I have a great pulse on our city and the constituents of District 4 specifically. I think I have the innovation, the commitment, and the ability to take this district and the city to the next level.”
Kouri is a 32-year-old lawyer and lifelong District 4 resident who, like Allen, graduated from Richwoods High School. He is chairman of the Peoria Liquor Commission and also serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Born with cerebral palsy, Kouri hopes to bring his determination and experience breaking boundaries to the city council. He believes his accomplishments are a testament to his dedication to Peoria and his potential constituents.
“I know the ins and outs of this district, and I know a lot of people in this district,” said Kouri. “I know what they want, I know what they don't want, and I will be able to advocate for them on the city council.”
Melaik is a former social worker and retired special education teacher, and an avid gardener and naturalist. She also is president of the Metro West Neighborhood association, which she started in 2018 to focus on the importance of community safety.
“That has kind of empowered me to get people organized, get people thinking about safety and that feeling at home is a right, and one we shouldn't take for granted,” she said. “So we have to do things to support each other, and it's been a revelation, I think, for a lot of people in the neighborhood.”
Allen said his campaign is built on four pillars: neighborhoods and infrastructure, business development, public safety, and quality of life. He said the only way for Peoria to emerge from its current budget woes is to encourage economic growth.
“We've got to make sure that we have the businesses here in District 4 and in the city of Peoria that are providing those head of household jobs, where our median household incomes increase, and where we can address issues of unemployment so that way our tax base can increase,” he said.
Kouri said economic development is among his top priorities as well, along with assuring public safety. He stressed that his No. 1 priority is making sure the burden of the city’s financial issues does not fall on the shoulders of its residents.
“I am not going to raise taxes or implement any new fees. The city has done that for years now, and all it has done is drive people away and talk negatively about Peoria,” said Kouri.
He said his suggestion to generate more revenue for the city would be to work with venues such as the Peoria Civic Center, Dozer Park and the Louisville Slugger complex to schedule youth sports tournaments every weekend as a way to boost tourism and increase hotel bookings.
Melaik said she would like to see more residents take active roles in helping make Peoria a better place.
“We need people to get more involved,” she said. “I think there's lots of apathy in our city, and so one of the big things for me is citizen engagement. Get people interested in their community. We can all contribute so much, but a lot of people just sit back and let things go by.”
Allen said he will continue working to improve racial equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the city.
“As an African American man, someone who grew up in this city and who had returned in 2016 and now raising my own family here, Peoria is personal to me,” he said. “I don't want our city to be depicted as a place where African Americans and minorities in general cannot achieve success.”
Kouri admitted more work must be done in the areas of diversity, inclusion and racial equity, while also stressing support for police and disapproval of rioting and mob action.
“I was born with a physical disability, so I am in a minority group and I would never support any type of discrimination toward any minority group,” said Kouri. “That being said, I will not support any kind of violence. Right now with public safety cut to the bone, we need police officers in the city of Peoria.”
Melaik said the city needs to take aggressive steps to create momentum encouraging new businesses, such as re-examining the current code structure and zoning laws.
“There needs to be a dramatic effort to find new revenue streams in Peoria,” she said. “We don't seem to be able to do that very well, and so I think that's something the city council members and the mayor and the city manager and the community needs to discuss.”
The primary election is Feb. 23, with the top two candidates moving on to the April 6th consolidated election.
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