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Mboka Mwilambwe emerges in 3-way Bloomington mayor race

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Bloomington mayoral candidate Mboka Mwilambwe, left, gets a handshake from Chuck Erickson during a watch party at Hacienda Leon in Bloomington on Tuesday. 

BLOOMINGTON — Mboka Mwilambwe may need to move three seats to his left when he returns to the Bloomington City Council dais, after being on track Tuesday to securing his first term as the city's mayor. 

If the lead holds, Mwilambwe, 50, will become the city's first Black mayor. He since 2011 has held the Ward 3 seat on the council and since 2019 has served as mayor pro tem. 

In the unofficial tally of all 52 precincts reporting, Mwilambwe collected 4,455 votes, or 38.71%.

Mike Straza garnered 4,248 votes, or 36.91%, and Jackie Gunderson received 2,780 votes, or 24.16%. Misty Metroz, the only certified write-in candidate, received 25 votes, or 0.22%. 

Voters cast 11,421 ballots, representing 21.5% of the 53,108 registered voters.

As of Tuesday morning there were still around 200 mail-in ballots to be returned, Bloomington Board of Election Commissioners Executive Director Tim Mitchell said. 

Eric Swanson, an election official at Bloomington’s 6th and 9th precinct’s polling station at Wesley United Methodist Church, 502 E. Front St., explains why turnout was a bit lower than expected at their location.

Straza, a local entrepreneur and business owner, championed a campaign centered on stimulating economic growth, while Gunderson, a procurement manger at Illinois State University, pledged to focus on equity and accessibility.

Gunderson in a statement congratulated Mwilambwe and tipped her hat to Straza, adding that running for mayor was "among the great honors of my life."

She thanked those involved in her campaign and the three candidates running for city council under the People First Coalition banner, which Gunderson was also part of. 

"Even though we weren't successful in our races, together we effectively challenged the status quo and ran authentic, principled campaigns that honored our values and uplifted the people in our communities," Gunderson said.

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Neither Gunderson or Straza have held previous elected experience, a characteristic that may have turned off some voters in Tuesday's election.

At the core of Mwilambwe's campaign was a focus on providing core services like infrastructure and recreation while also prioritizing practical leadership.

Mwilambwe, an assistant director in Illinois State University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, has said he would lobby the City Council to keep funding repairs to roads and other infrastructure while also looking for areas of financial efficiency. 

To execute those promises, Mwilambwe will need support from the council, which still consists of two members — Ward 1 Ald. Jamie Mathy and Ward 7 Ald. Mary "Mollie" Ward were reelected Tuesday night — that he has worked with during his time on council.

Mwilambwe in a previous interview with The Pantagraph had said he wouldn't be shy about having difficult conversations or exercising his mayor's veto on the annual budget. 

"Just like anything you do, you have a number of tools at your disposal," Mwilambwe has said. "But generally when you use the veto you're getting to the point where people can't agree." 

Under his leadership, Mwilambwe also said there won't be "a point of no return" on the City Council. But there will be a tone of portraying the city in a positive light and a push for collective discussion.

"If I'm in the mayor seat I'm going to bring the same calm, cool, level-headedness to the job (as an alderman)," Mwilambwe said. "I really hope to get people away from polarization, especially at the local level."

PHOTOS: Former Bloomington Mayor Judy Markowitz

Contact Timothy Eggert at (309) 820-3276. Follow him on Twitter: @TimothyMEggert


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"I think it's important for people to realize how inspirational this is, not only people here, in this community, but abroad it says America is a country of hope and Bloomington is a place where this can happen," Mwilambwe said, adding how his projected victory was broadcast on local news stations in his native country.

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