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'A virtuous cycle:' Galesburg Mayor Peter Schwartzman reflects on first year in office

 Peter Schwartzman was sworn in as Galesburg's mayor in May of last year, after serving on the city council. He has taught environmental science at Knox College since 1998.
Courtesy photo
Peter Schwartzman was sworn in as Galesburg's mayor in May of last year, after serving on the city council. He has taught environmental science at Knox College since 1998.

Mayor Peter Schwartzman believes Galesburg is at the beginning of a “virtuous cycle.”

He said progress is happening, and that will inspire more progress.

“If we can get more people to believe in an optimistic-collective mind set, there’s nothing stopping this community,” he said.

Schwartzman has long been active in the Galesburg community. He has taught environmental science at Knox College since 1998 and was first elected Ward 5 council member in 2011.

He was sworn in to his first mayoral term on May 3, 2021, after running a campaign based on government transparency, environmental and economic sustainability, and community engagement.

Schwartzman quickly established the type of mayor he intended to be.

Following through on his campaign promise of transparency, he made his personal phone number available to all in the community.

“I think Galesburg can be the best city if more and more people are engaged and more and more people see that they could play a role in the future of Galesburg,” he said. “And that means that I have to be more accessible.”

A year into the job, Schwartzman said he and the new city council have accomplished much – and have even more plans for the future.

Bringing the council together

Schwartzman won 47% of the vote in last year’s election, defeating the incumbent John Pritchard and challenger Kristine Crow.

There was also a significant turnover of the council. Two longtime council members lost reelection to political newcomers with progressive leanings.

“There is an acknowledgement that the voters want change,” said Schwartzman.

Schwartzman then nominated Jaclyn Smith-Esters to replace himself as the Ward 5 representative and picked Kevin Wallace for the Ward 3 representative after the resignation of Lindsay Hillery.

So the council was fully seated with four new members several months into his term.

Schwartzman’s goal for the first few months was to bring a sense of unity to the council.

Despite their differences, Schwartzman believes there is a lot that the council members can come together on.

“We want the city to thrive, we want the people in Galesburg to thrive, we want the economy to thrive, we want our downtown to improve, we want the city to look better… we want everyone to be fed, we want everyone to be housed, I mean the list goes on,” he said.

Schwartzman’s next steps were to take those shared hopes and turn them into detailed, achievable goals in the Strategic Plan – something that hadn’t been done in Galesburg in eight years.

“It was a priority of mine to have the priorities of the council solidified in the strategic planning document,” said Schwartzman.

The council made 23 goals under five categories ranging from Community and Youth Engagement to Economic Growth and Strength, two goals that are very important to the mayor.

Engaging the community 

The council has already dug into several projects relating to the Strategic Plan.

Schwartzman considers them accomplishments of the whole council, not just himself.

“I see myself as kind of a connector or catalyst,” Schwartzman said. “I tend to try to float lots of ideas and see what sticks.”

One such idea was the Youth Commission, one of the first projects the council took on. Schwartzman’s original idea was to add a nonvoting youth member to the council – but the Council took it further, revamping the existing commission.

“They are the future, investments in them is what is going to keep Galesburg afloat and thriving,” Schwartzman said.

Schwartzman wants even more for the community though – for both youth and adults. He is determined to deliver Galesburg a community center and expressed his discontent with the closure of the previous one nine years ago.

“I voted in favor of selling it, but I made it very clear at the meeting that I was doing so with the expectation that we would have another community center in the next year,” he said.

Schwartzman is encouraged by the council’s recent vote to approve the transfer of Churchill Junior High from Galesburg District 205 to the city. He sees it as a potential location for such a community center.

“That was a huge decision and I think it does set us up for a very promising project in the near future,” Schwartzman said.

More projects, more success

Other initiatives in the mayor’s first year include partnering with the Salvation Army to start a warming center in Galesburg to help the homeless population, and addressing a rise in crime by adding several new police positions.

Schwartzman is particularly proud of the city’s new website.

One of his campaign goals was to improve transparency and communication between the public and the government. He feels this website makes it significantly easier for citizens to communicate with the council or file complaints.

“We put numbers and dates on many of the goals so that we’re accountable, which I think government is often not,” Schwartzman said of the Strategic Plan. “I think we still have some work to do.”

Other projects approved this past year include economic incentives for minority-owned businesses, an initiative to plant 400 trees, and the demolition or refurbishment of dilapidated buildings.

In his campaign, Schwartzman focused on environmental sustainability, and the council has several projects in the works on that front.

The city is planning to perform an energy audit and increase the use of solar energy.

The council has also requested funds for a study on Galesburg’s public transportation system with the hope of improving its sustainability and usability.

All of this, and more, is included in the Strategic Plan.

“It’s exciting to be part of that process, and to feel like you put your penny into that, and there is success that came out,” Schwartzman said.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from  readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Eleanor Lindenmayer is a journalism major at Knox College.