Goal-oriented

By Gus Bode

The giant, maroon sign emblazoned with the words “Our Mayor” across from Lewis Park Apartments makes the message clear – Brad Cole is running for re-election.

Four years ago, many people were wary of having a 31-year-old mayor, but now Cole said he has a firm record and unfinished projects he’d like to see completed during a second term.

“I think at 31 I was a little untested,” Cole said, “and I have proven myself and I don’t think that youth is an issue anymore.”

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In 2003, Cole was sworn in as the city’s youngest mayor, after narrowly beating former City Councilwoman Maggie Flanagan by 21 votes.

Today Cole faces twice as many opponents as he did four years ago – fellow council member Sheila Simon, SIUC law student development director Jessica Davis and local personality Pepper Holder.

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Carbondale’s face has seen some changes over the past four years.

New businesses have come and some have gone. Enrollment, and in turn population, has dropped. Old buildings were demolished and new ones were built.

In his platform, Cole said he wants to increase the work being done in the city’s first-ever tax-increment financing district in downtown Carbondale. The area gives tax breaks to businesses to attract them downtown.

He stated that he also wants to continue emphasizing retail and outlet stores as a regional attraction as well as “unique specialty shops that provide customers with products that they would normally only find in major metropolitan areas.”

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However, some owners of those specialty stores are seeing the big-box retailers as more of a threat than a pleasant co-existence.

Richard Reeve, owner of Shawnee Trails, said the recent announcement that Dick’s Sporting Goods would move into the empty K-Mart store on the east side of town shows that the city is more interested in the big retailers than preserving Carbondale’s small businesses.

“While they are bringing in business, it’s at the expense of existing businesses,” Reeve said. “We don’t seem to be important in the big game plan anymore.”

Carbondale residents have also taken a more active role in public safety and neighborhood appearance. Jane Adams, treasurer of the Arbor District Neighborhood Association, said the city has been very flexible in working with the group’s problems.

She said cars speeding down Rt. 13, crime and housing appearances were some of the problems. The group saw the city quickly responded to their questions and issues.

“I think he sets the tone for the policing,” she said.

For this campaign, Cole is using social networking sites such as MySpace to broaden his reach, but even for a 35-year-old, the newfangled tool can be difficult.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing. I’m still learning it,” he said.

Aside from his campaign site, Cole’s presence can also been found on a site devoted to helping him fulfill his New Year’s resolution – to get married.

Marrythemayor.com site manager Dave More said the committee, which consists of local businesses, has received applications but has not yet selected finalists. The deadline is Feb. 14.

During Cole’s tenure as mayor, he has become president of the Southern Illinois Mayor’s Association and has worked closely with many small-town leaders.

Marion Mayor Bob Butler said he was impressed with his young colleague, who has led Carbondale to work more closely with neighboring communities.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air in that respect, and I’m sure that is mainly due to Mayor Cole,” he said. “We don’t always agree on everything, but on fundamental principles we see eye to eye.”

Along with spreading Carbondale’s reach throughout the region, Cole has become a world traveler. The city is a part of the a program that connects communities worldwide as sister cities. Cole’s office is decorated with pictures and tokens such as a hat from India from these visits.

He has also been dubbed “Colonel Cole” by the state of Kentucky through his work in the Mississippi Delta region.

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“Colonel” Cole was nearly “Doctor” Cole when he was a student at SIUC more than a decade ago.

But his dislike of school steered him away from medicine and toward a degree that shaved a few years from his time as a college student – political science.

“I don’t like school, period,” Cole said. It would be difficult for SIU President Glenn Poshard to forget his goals for the university.

They stare him in the face every time he looks up from his Stone Center desk.

A dry-erase board detailing the monthly progress of the president’s 16 goals for the future of the university system takes up more than half of one of his office walls.

Poshard said he is visually inclined, and the board serves as a constant reminder of his progress as president.

“I’m a very goal-oriented person,” he said. “I really keep a close eye on those, because that’s the only thing that tells me we’re getting the job done or we’re not getting it done.”

Poshard said the SIU Board of Trustees presented him with the goals in May, but he has been working towards similar objectives since taking office in January 2006.

Each goal has a list of objectives and tasks to be completed in a specific time frame. Poshard said he determines each objective and its scheduled date for completion.

He said the objectives serve as a more specific roadmap to achieve goals that are often long-term and ongoing.

The goals encompass all of the major issues facing the university system, he said, including “probably the number one issue that we face,” – student enrollment.

The goal to improve student enrollment at SIUC is one of five goals that did not carry a specific percentage of progress in a mid-year progress report submitted to the BOT in December.

Poshard said these goals are ongoing, and do not have a specific ending date.

“Student retention and enrollment, that’s just something that we’ll never stop paying attention to,” he said. “It’s constant. We’ll have maybe something go short one year and maybe we’ll fix that, and next year it will be something else, but it’s always going to be there. We are developing specific strategies right now to try to combat a decline in both of those.”

BOT member Samuel Goldman said the presidential goal statement has been successful in gauging progress.

“For many of them it will take some time to see the results, but overall I’m sure the board is quite happy with what has been going on in respect to his goals,” he said.

Even State Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican who said he worried the former politician would make the office too political, said Poshard has a positive vision for the future of the university.

Poshard, a Democrat, served in the Illinois State Senate from 1984 to 1988 and represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1988 to 1998.

Bost said Poshard’s Democratic ties may present problems for the university.

“It gives an opportunity for other universities to claim, even if it’s not true, that some kind of political influence was used to gain an upper hand,” Bost said.

He said less politics come into play when lobbying for funding at the state level if the university’s leader is not affiliated with a specific party, and politics should be left to the politicians.

“What you have quite often in academia, most times your presidents have spent their whole life in that field,” he said. “That’s not to say he’s not doing a good job. I think that he’s done very well. He’s got a vision and he believes in Southern Illinois University.”

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