Eighteen years as mayor of the Town of Normal is not the end for Chris Koos.
Koos declared victory late Tuesday, as preliminary results showed him leading two-time challenger Marc Tiritilli with 52.4% of the vote. Koos led by 406 votes, compared to the 11-vote defeat Tiritilli registered in 2017. Koos trailed late, but as he predicted earlier in the day, he carried more mail-in ballots that were counted at the end of the night.
Turnout in Normal was at an historic high, said Koos. He said the previous high vote total was about 6,336 votes four years ago. This time the total in the race topped 8,480.
Tiritilli said Tuesday night he was "thrilled" at that tally.
"That was one of my main goals last time was to increase voter turnout. We were able to do it. And this time even more so. That’s fantastic. The more people we have coming out to vote and be engaged, that’s great," said Tiritilli.
Koos acknowledged Tiritilli had significant support.
"There is a group of people out there that we need to talk to, there’s no question of that. This is not a winner-take-all environment," said Koos.
Koos said he would engage those people with "respectful mutual conversation," though he denied the validity of Tiritilli’s charge that Koos and the incumbent council members did not accept divergent opinions.
“That was a made-up campaign issue,” said Koos. “We’ll listen to them. We do listen to them, but we listen to everybody.”
Tiritilli said he did not expect Koos to change.
“He didn’t deviate two years ago (when Tiritilli ally Stan Nord won a council seat) and I don’t expect him to deviate this time either. I hope he will, but I don’t,” said Tiritilli.
“We ran very different campaigns. I have no regrets about that. The theme of my campaign was getting your voice heard. I felt like we did that. I felt that what I wanted to say was out there and it’s up to the people to decide. I’d like to see our government run the same way,” said Tiritilli.
In his next term, Koos said the town will continue with its regular exercises to chart the future.
“We’ll have a strategic planning process this fall with the council. We’ll likely have another citizens’ summit when we can safely do that,” said Koos.
The campaign was marked by strong criticism of the candidates by their opponents. Koos said Tiritilli lacked "strategic vision" about what was best for the town and was "transactional" in his approach to governance. Tiritilli asserted he wanted the town to reduce debt. Koos said the level of debt for the town was sustainable and justified by economic development and improvements made by the town.
Tiritilli said Koos was not inclusive in listening to all segments of the community and tried to “squash" divergent opinions. Koos contested that, pointing to more than 1,800 residents consulted during the town’s strategic planning process. Koos described himself as “collaborative and collegial.”
Tiritilli also complained about property tax rate increases during Koos’ tenure, though the rates and the increases for the town’s share of the total property tax burden remained far lower than for the Unit 5 school district. Tiritilli said the town had not done enough to take care of basic infrastructure like roads.
“No matter who wins this election, there will be thousands of people who want it the other way,” Tiritilli said during a public debate. “They are still residents. They still need representation. It can’t be this winner-take-all mentality we’ve been going with."
Tiritilli received 4,037 votes. Koos received 4,443 as of 11:14 p.m. Tuesday.
Tiritilli acknowledged the result in a phone interview with WGLT late Tuesday.
There is still time for some mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted.
Tiritilli said he will focus on his family and personal life after a long drawn out campaign and is not sure whether he will run for office again.
“I’ll have to decide once that comes up. When I ran the first time I figured two terms would be my limit. That would be four years from now, so at that point I will have to re-evaluate, and we’ll see what happens at that time,” said Tiritilli
He also thanked supporters for their "tremendous" help.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the people in this community. No regrets about that,” said Tiritilli.
Koos said he worked a lot harder at the campaign than he did last time. He admitted he took the effort four years ago for granted but not this time.
“We did a classic campaign. We touched all the bases,” said Koos. “Mail, beating on doors, social media, phone calling, beating on doors and beating on doors.”
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