What had been a four-way race for Ward 7 alderman in O’Fallon is now down to two.
The race officially narrowed at Thursday night’s candidates forum, with one candidate pulling out prior to the event and another using his closing statement to announce he too was withdrawing from the campaign — and he was endorsing one of his remaining two opponents.
Robert Murray informed the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the forum in conjunction with the O’Fallon Progress and O’Fallon Weekly newspapers, prior to Thursday that he would not be participating in the forum, because he was dropping out of the race in Ward 7. Murray, who was present at the event, made his withdrawal public during the forum via a one-sentence announcement read by the moderator.
But it was Jon Burgmann’s statement that he would also be departing the race that came as a bolt from the blue. Burgmann participated in the forum just like all the rest of the City Council hopefuls, giving an opening statement and answering questions. But during his closing statement — which happened by random draw to be the last word heard from any candidate for the evening — he dropped his bombshell.
“I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while, based off the capacity that I have to perform the job, I think that actually one of the best people for our ward is gonna be Dan Witt. I know that may seem kind of strange, but I believe that Dan and I have similar goals and the same desire to improve our city,” said Burgmann, an insurance broker and small business owner who had never run for public office before. “To me, it makes sense for me to bow out rather than be a conflict in this thing at this point, and work with him (Witt) rather than against him in the election, and I would encourage anyone who truly wants to see change in our local government to vote for Dan in the upcoming election. I appreciate your consideration, and if you want to vote for me, be my guest. But I think we need to simplify the process.”
Witt, a pathologist’s assistant at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, said afterward he was surprised by the endorsement.
“If you saw the look on my face, it was kind of dumbfounded and struck. I totally appreciate what he did. He went out on a limb,” Witt said.
Burgmann said he had been thinking about withdrawing for a while.
“I had been considering it, yeah,” he said.
But it was not a decision he came to lightly.
“The reason that I ran is because I was told on several difference occasions that there wasn’t going to be anyone else running. And if nobody else is gonna step up, I’m gonna step up. But when I found out there were other people running, and I found out there probably are people out there with extremely similar platforms to me, before I had ever even announced my platform, I looked at the capacity of what could be done,” he said.
I’ve been struggling with this for quite a while, based off the capacity that I have to perform the job, I think that actually one of the best people for our ward is gonna be Dan Witt. I know that may seem kind of strange, but I believe that Dan and I have similar goals and the same desire to improve our city.
Tom Mitchell, the other candidate in Ward 7, said he respected both Burgmann and Witt, but did not care for the way Burgmann made his announcement.
“I’m still glad that Jon and Dan have interest in change and the future of our city,” said Mitchell, the director of human resources and administration at Veteran Corps of America. “I just think that the tactic that Jon used tonight — and I don’t know that it was necessarily Jon’s desire to do that — but when both Jon and Dan talk about open government, open communication, it makes me wonder as well, not as an opponent for this seat, but also as a taxpayer, is this the tactics that we are trying to get to and bring into this city?
“There’s a lot of people complaining about things that are going on in this city, and if this is the type of change we are moving to, I think we are in the wrong direction.”
As people milled about the council chambers after the forum, Burgmann said he was already taking heat for his decision and the way he went about making it public.
“Quite candidly, from walking inside the room to walking outside here, I’ve had a couple people tell me that I made a mistake by publicly endorsing him (Witt). And if that’s the way some people want to think, that’s fine. But I felt it was important for people to know why I started to run and how I came to the decision, rather than not just say anything at all and looking like I gave up on the citizens of my ward,” Burgmann said. “I believe very strongly in supporting and making sure that my ward gets a voice. I just personally think that, in this situation, at this particular point in time, that Dan has more capacity and a better ability to serve their needs than I do. Had I known that before I ever started the process for the election, I may not have even run.”
Witt said he will work with his former opponent over the next month, because they share similar visions.
“He took a lot of abuse walking out of that council chamber tonight. But I hope that I can meet his expectations and do a good job. I understand what his platform is, being a small businessman. I’m for the small businessman, as you can hear from my comments. I think to make this city better, if we keep the small business in town, we will grow, and we will also keep our tax dollars in town instead of outsourcing them to St. Louis, Belleville and other communities,” he said. “I thank Jon very much for his endorsement, and I will work hard to earn his trust, and I will communicate with him.”
In his opening statement at the forum, Burgmann had called Mitchell “a friend” with whom he had become acquainted with during their mutual involvement in the O’Fallon Township High School lacrosse program. However, talking to a reporter afterward, Burgmann said he and Mitchell had different views on city government.
“I respect Tom completely, OK. I respect him as a business professional and as a person. But I believe that there needs to be a change, and it was my understanding that Tom is more affiliated with the established city council and alderman that has already been there, which means there may not be a whole lot of change there from him. And maybe there will be. I can’t speak for him and what his decisions are,” Burgmann said. “I do know he knows the other alderman in the ward, who was one of the people who came up and announced I made a mistake by announcing my support (for Witt). So clearly, there’s an atmosphere of the old versus the new, and clearly the old apparently feels threatened.”
Mitchell said he thought Burgmann stepping aside did little to alter the dynamics of the race.
“Dan and I have really been the only two campaigning up in Ward 7. He is well entrenched with Herb Roach and trying to be elected mayor. I’m combined with Phil Goodwin, and it’s really been just the two of us,” said Mitchell, also a first-time candidate. “I known Jon, and I’ve known him for quite a few years. There’s no literature. He hasn’t been out walking doors. Same thing with Rob (Murray). I’ve met with him twice in the last week. Neither one of them have been campaigning. Neither one of them have been out talking to folks, so I really don’t believe it changes anything.”
Curt Libbra: 618-654-2366, ext 21