At-Large Peoria City Councilwoman Rita Ali is running for mayor.
"I'm ready to show little girls and young women, the fathers of daughters, and all residents of this city, that a woman can lead Peoria, and that a person of color can lift Peoria," she said.
Ali would be the first woman and first person of color to lead the city of Peoria, if elected.
"In a total of 185 years, almost two centuries, the 52 village presidents and mayors of Peoria have all been white men," Ali said. "Some have been great leaders who did great things. And some have been...well, not so great."
Ali rolled out a five-point campaign platform at a campaign kickoff Tuesday at her North Peoria home, focusing on jobs, population growth, neighborhood safety, education, and equity.
"I think that we have to grow Peoria against raising property taxes," she said. "So the way to really grow property taxes is to grow population. And we're seeing a lot of exodus. People that are leaving Peoria for one reason or another. It may be crime. It may be jobs. But we have to find a way to reverse that, and increase our population."
Ali believes that will begin to resolve some of Peoria's other problems. One way to do that may be to spark more economic growth by getting more people credentialed to fill workforce gaps, she said.
"We have the people, but many of them don't have the skills that are needed for even the existing jobs we have," she said.
Ali said population growth also would help the city avoid more service cuts to balance its budget, like the layoffs of two dozen firefighters and the decommissioning of two fire engines that is on the council's plate again on Tuesday.
"This city is super lean right now, in terms of staffing, to the point that we're denying the citizens who pay taxes the basic services that they deserve," Ali said. "When we start cutting police, fire, public works, we're not delivering what people are paying for."
Ali, who voted with the slim council majority that rejected fire department cuts last Tuesday, said she would address the city's debt issues by borrowing and convening some of the "greatest minds" in local business and the community to put their heads together to brainstorm innovative solutions.
If elected, Ali said she would retire early as the vice president of Workforce and Diversity at Illinois Central College to dedicate her time to the city as a full-time mayor.
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, attended Ali's campaign kickoff. She said she's supporting Ali's bid for mayor, noting Peoria is divided and needs someone who can bring people together. She also said Ali is "like a mom" to her.
Ali is the fifth person to formally declare their candidacy in what is shaping up to be one of the most crowded mayoral fields in decades. Community organizer Chama St. Louis, entrepreneur and Caterpillar employee Andres Diaz, Peoria Area Food Bank warehouse manager Couri Thomas, and the Rev. Chuck Brown of Victory Christian Church also are running.
Mayor Jim Ardis hasn't definitively said if he plans to run again for a fifth term. He's held the office since 2005.
Ali said she decided to run six weeks ago, adding she gave the mayor a courtesy call to let him know of her intentions before officially announcing.
The primary election is next February.
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