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NORMAL — Joel Studebaker insists he isn't running a partisan race for a nonpartisan office.

"A lot of people will (see it in a partisan way), and that's not going to be because of the candidates who are running; that'll be because of where we are as a nation. ... Many of these issues, particularly when it comes to the economic and racial justice, people have taken sides on partisan lines," he said.

"All we can do is interact with one another, deal head-on with issues and be honest that we see the world, our problems and solutions very differently."

Studebaker, a Normal Public Library board member and Democratic activist, said he wants to represent residents of all stripes as he runs for Normal City Council.

His top concern: making sure no one is left behind as Normal continues to invest in uptown, often to the benefit of wealthy residents and large out-of-town developers who receive cheap or free land and tax breaks.

"That's why property taxes are going up for homeowners, because of these abatements, because of these deals," he said, referring specifically to tax increment financing benefits for Tartan Realty Group of Chicago and Iowa-based Bush Construction. "They're not paying their fair share, and residents are left to pick up the tab."

Studebaker said he'd like to not only cut down on deals like those but also make future similar developments include affordable housing options — unlike the pricey apartments in Tartan's One Uptown on the Circle building.

"The absolute, first thing (to address the problem) is the town should not subsidize any housing development unless there's affordable housing," he said. "Bringing people at different levels of income together creates better outcomes for everybody."

Studebaker, who's served on the library board since July 2017 and works as an online training associate for the National Democratic Training Committee, said he also supports more historic preservation, lower fines for marijuana possession — people caught in Normal with up to 10 grams of marijuana face fines higher than the state-mandated fines — and a tougher welcoming-city ordinance.

Incumbent council members Kathleen Lorenz and R.C. McBride and Normal Planning Commission member Dave Shields also announced runs. Three seats are open in the April 2 election.

Unlike Bloomington's ward-based system, Normal's council members are elected at large.

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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