DECATUR — Julie Moore Wolfe made history Tuesday by becoming the first woman in Decatur's 188-year history to be elected mayor.
Her win was after an intense campaign with challenger John Phillips in which her leadership abilities and policies were called into question. Nearly $40,000 was contributed to the two candidates during the course of the contest.
With all precincts reporting, Moore Wolfe captured 6,111 votes to Phillips' 5,326, or 53 to 47 percent.
Moore Wolfe, a former television reporter and city council member, said it was a thrill to have won and set an example for young girls in the community.
“It is a big deal,” she said during a celebration at Doherty's in downtown Decatur as she was greeting and thanking supporters. “I feel with my background, I have the communication skills to bring people together.”
Moore Wolfe’s victory came the same day St. Louis elected its first female mayor, Lyda Krewson, and nine months after Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee for president of a major political party.
Moore Wolfe was appointed mayor following the sudden death of Mike McElroy in 2015. On Tuesday, she said it was some of the most difficult circumstances to become mayor and she had a lot to learn. Despite the difficulties, it has been a role she has come to enjoy and she is looking forward to continuing to serve the community, she said.
Her win Tuesday was to fill the remaining two years of McElroy’s term.
Phillips, a local businessman, was critical of Moore Wolfe's support of City Manager Tim Gleason. Phillips said the city manager needed to be guided and coached, and was especially critical of how Gleason handled the firing of former police Chief Brad Sweeney.
Sweeney has said Gleason fired him in retaliation in part because he objected to Gleason’s use of a police car and driver for a personal trip in May 2015. Sweeney later sued.
Sweeney serves as treasurer for Phillips’ campaign fundraising committee.
Gleason and Phillips were also at odds for a time over the future of the Decatur Public Library building. Phillips serves on the library board.
Phillips on Tuesday said he was encouraged by the close results of the race, but it wasn't quite enough as he was pushing to make changes for the city.
“I believe the city needed a significant change,” Phillips said. “They aren't ready for it.”
Moore Wolfe said the city manager's job performance became a big part of the campaign, but Gleason continues to have her support.
“This solidifies his position in the community going forward,” Moore Wolfe said. “It's too bad it wasn't more about the issues and it became about a personnel issue.”
Phillips, a local businessman who went to most council sessions over the past decade, said he plans to continue attending meetings and being a supporter of the decisions that are being made along with being a critic as necessary.
He hopes some of Moore Wolfe's initiatives that require grant funding will come through. He wants to see the city be aggressive in bringing new business to Decatur, as he aggressively questioned in recent weeks the decision that kept U-Haul from moving forward with its plans to open a store in the mostly vacant Northgate Mall shopping center.
Phillips had read a letter from the company during the March 20 council meeting as it tried to encourage the council to revisit the issue. Phillips was part of efforts to organize a cookout Saturday in an attempt to gather more support for the company's plans.
Despite the outcome of the election, Phillips hoped he raised issues for the council and mayor to consider.
“I have no regrets,” Phillips said. “I tried to appeal to voters.”
Phillips plans to continue serving in his role as Decatur Public Library board president. The board and city council are trying to come to an agreement on the terms of a labor contract, which Phillips said would be a good long term deal.
Moore Wolfe, who has lived in Decatur for about 30 years, said she wants what's best for the community now that the votes are in. She is married to Doug Wolfe and has three children. Moore Wolfe was previously elected twice to the city council, having served since 2009.
Moore Wolfe currently works as director of community and government relations for Decatur Memorial Hospital. She previously worked as regional manager of the "Opportunities Returns" program for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and prior to that had been the first female president for the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce.
Moore Wolfe plans to focus on infrastructure improvements, including advancing construction of the Macon County Beltway to the east of the city.
“We are going to do great things in the community,” Moore Wolfe said. “It's surreal at this point. It has been nerve-racking.”