Sam Cunningham flanked by his daughters Syerra, left, and Samantha. – Sam Cunningham photo
by Long Hwa-shu
Sam Cunningham, veteran Waukegan alderman, has won the Democratic nomination for mayor in Tuesday’s primary, beating incumbent Mayor Wayne Motley with a wide margin, according to results from Lake County Clerk’s Office.
He faces Lisa May, alderman of the 7th Ward, who is running as an independent in the April 4 election.
If elected, Cunningham, 49, will be Waukegan’s first African-American mayor. Waukegan, the largest Illinois lakefront city north of Chicago has a population of more than 90,000 – 20 percent black. He has served as an alderman of the 1st ward which includes downtown for 18 years. He is on his 5th term.
“I was not overly surprised about winning. We were confident and optimistic,” he said, noting, “But I was shocked by the wide margin with which I won.”
Out of 47 precincts, Cunningham won by 2,541 votes or 61.8 percent. Motley reaped 1,572 votes of 38.2.
In any event, he said diplomatically, “I salute him for his many years in public service as mayor, and before that as city clerk and 20 years as a police officer. We are indebted to him.”
Lisa May congratulated Cunningham on “his primary election victory over Mayor Motley.”
In a written statement, she said, in part: “Voters have made their voices very clear, and demonstrated their desire for a change in leadership at city hall. The stakes are simply too high to continue moving in the wrong direction.”
About her opponent’s campaign during the primarily, she stated, “Voters are tired of the same stale, cynical tactics, and we hope to be able to keep this election focused on the issues most important to voters. They deserve nothing less.
“We believe that in this new direction, voters will demand real change and honest leadership. We look forward to tirelessly making the case to all people in the city of Waukegan that we are ready and willing to deliver it.”
We’re going to roll up our sleeves and work hard at it again.” – Sam Cunningham, 1st ward alderman and mayoral candidate
In his campaign, Cunningham said he would redevelop the lakefront modeled after Chicago’s Navy Pier, though on a much smaller scale, to turn what he called a wasteland with empty buildings into a tourist attraction with stores, restaurants and housing. He has criticized past redevelopment plans as unrealistic.
He also pointed to the need to rebuild the city’s infrastructure including resurfacing the main arteries and a sidewalk from Sheridan Road to the lakefront. He said he will name a deputy mayor or a chief of staff to run the day-to-day operations, thus freeing the mayor to handle external matters such as seeking funds for the city and to lobby for legislation in Washington and Springfield that will benefit the city.
Cunningham said hard work during his campaign has paid off. “We campaigned door to door, block to block, and from grocery store to malls. We listened to what people had to say about Waukegan.”
“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and work hard at it again,” he said of his continuing campaign.