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ELECTION 2021

Watch now: Equity, accessibility rank high in Gunderson's Bloomington mayoral bid

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The Pantagraph is profiling the three candidates running for Bloomington mayor on April 6. See more in our series at pantagraph.com. 

BLOOMINGTON — Standing in the yard of a house near Miller Park on a recent Saturday afternoon, Jackie Gunderson explains why she's running for Bloomington mayor. 

"I'm a west-sider who understands the needs of the west side, that it gets treated differently. I want to uplift voices in the neighborhood," Gunderson says as she hands campaign literature to Scott, the owner of the house. 

"We need someone on the west side," Scott responds, adding that he has to snake his sewer twice a year. "If you're gonna help fix that, then you've got my vote."

Gunderson, 33, is banking on residents across Bloomington agreeing with her campaign platform's focus on equity and accessibility — both points she says underpin issues like infrastructure, public safety and economic development. 

"We need to address the disparities and understand that each neighborhood has different problems that require different solutions," Gunderson told The Pantagraph, which was invited to shadow her canvassing efforts. "And recognize that in the middle of all of that are people, who don't fit a one-size-fits-all approach." 

That philosophy was unsuccessful for Gunderson's November bid for McLean County Board, when she challenged incumbent Republican Susan Schafer in District 9 and lost by 503 votes.

A week later, Gunderson announced she would reset and launch a campaign for Bloomington mayor if she collected by Nov. 23 the 850 petition signatures necessary to get on the ballot. 

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Bloomington mayoral candidate Jackie Gunderson, right, speaks with west side resident Scott, left, on March 13. Gunderson is campaigning on a platform of equity and accessibility. 

"I had all this support and momentum ... they reached out and said we think you have a good chance, so I thought about it and then said, 'OK, let's go for it,'" Gunderson said, explaining how the People First Coalition, a four-candidate, progressive-leaning alliance approached her about pivoting and trying her luck in the mayoral race. 

Now, weeks before the April 6 election, Gunderson is confident her double-down will pay off and that her agenda will resonate with enough voters to put her past opponents Mboka Mwilambwe and Mike Straza.

Public conversations between the candidates to this point haven't crossed a policy-only line. Mayor Tari Renner, who is not running for a third term, has declined to endorse a candidate. 

"I think they (Straza and Mwilambwe) have the best interests of the city in mind," Gunderson said. "I want to be proud of what I bring to the table on April 6, and part of that is not being disrespectful." 

Watch now: In first debate, Bloomington mayoral candidates present divergent visions for city's future

If elected mayor, Gunderson said she would push the City Council to approve targeted funding for roads and sewer infrastructure, and support direct aid to local businesses. She would also advocate for affordable housing solutions and an increased priority on social services.

"There's a housing crisis here. We especially saw it this last winter when PATH (Crisis Center) said they ran out of beds," Gunderson said, adding that she's seen other limitations up-close in her role as creative director of the nonprofit Penguin Project of McLean County.

"There's a lack of resources here for mental health," Gunderson said. "We have some youth experiencing some pretty serious mental health issues ... we don't have any long-term resources for them."

While she hasn't held public office before, Gunderson said she knows the value of collaboration and making unpopular decisions through her position as a procurement manager at Illinois State University. 

And as a member of the LGBTQ community who also belongs to Hope Methodist Church, Gunderson said she's familiar with the intersection of exclusion and acceptance. 

As mayor, Gunderson said she would emphasize expanding accessibility to technology, to facilities for people with disabilities, to community services and to city government. She also backs a Welcoming City ordinance.  

"We all have different experiences," Gunderson said. "Inclusion includes peoples who don't agree with me, people who don't look like me.

My campaign is an opportunity to represent voices that are not the squeaky wheel, that don't have a voice at the table, even if that means the minority viewpoints," Gunderson said. "My responsibility (as mayor) is to invite those views in and listen."


FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Castle Theatre renovations

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

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