40 Leaders: Batting 1.000!

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

The focus of this month’s iBi is “leadership,” which couldn’t be more appropriate, given that this is the 25th anniversary of the 40 Leaders Under Forty program. Since the 2018 World Series is now history, I’ll borrow a baseball term and say that iBi is batting 1.000 with this great award program. I dug out an old copy of the first-ever program, held in 1994, and reread David Wright’s editorial. David was the founder of the publication, and he certainly pulled no punches.

As a reminder, 1994 was consumed in many ways by the UAW action against Caterpillar. After detailing several low points during the year, David ended his editorial by announcing the first class of 40 Leaders Under Forty, commenting on how fortunate we are to have such strong, young leaders in the Peoria area. And so it is that with this year’s honorees, 1,000 remarkable men and women are fulfilling David’s original vision for the program. 

I took a few moments to review the list of past recipients. Nine current or previous City Council members have received the recognition; City Manager Patrick Urich was an honoree in 2005 when he was Peoria County administrator. Without offending any of the other outstanding past recipients, I’d like to mention two members of the original class of leaders: Bill Spears and Judge Steve Kouri. The leadership characteristics they demonstrated then—and continue to demonstrate today—embody what I feel constitute the essence of successful leaders. 

First and foremost, the best leaders I’ve had the privilege of observing and working with have a personal moral code founded on integrity, honesty, respect, decency, compassion, kindness, humility and patience. I know this is a pretty tall order, and being human, we all occasionally fall short of the mark. But the best leaders show a consistency of effort to adhere to these dimensions. In knowing these two fine men for decades, I can say they have never wavered from their sound and moral approach to leadership. 

Secondly, leaders—and this especially applies to elected officials—must possess emotional self-control. With midnight complaints about some neighbor’s barking dog, or ongoing criticism over infrastructure problems and other challenges, this isn’t easy. Serious law enforcement issues are always at our doorstep—it never lets up. Local elected leaders are above all else accessible, held to account by the ballot box, under the glare of an often-cynical media. But we know this going into office. The best local leaders, in my opinion, handle the reality of public service with poise, calmness, civilized engagement and a degree of humor.

A number of years ago, I presented a mayoral proclamation to former Peoria Mayor Bob Lehnhausen on the occasion of his 90th birthday. When asked to address the City Council, he thanked them for having the courage to run for local office. He pointed out that even with disagreements and debates among council members, we share a common obligation to do the best we can for our city. If the voters decide not to retain us in office, well, that is the essence of democracy. Representative self-government, especially at the local level, is closest to the people. It is indeed a privilege. And like everyone else in the community, we have to live with the results of our decisions. 

As I looked over the list of 960 past winners of the 40 Leaders Under Forty award, I was struck by the fact that the overwhelming majority are still active in our community. Effective economic development and community betterment requires consistency, predictability and good decisions based on experience and knowledge. The young men and women who were appropriately recognized in the early years of the program are now seasoned contributors to Peoria, setting an example for those who follow. And so it will be again with the class just announced in this issue. 

Thank you to iBi Publisher Jan Wright and Managing Editor Jonathan Wright for continuing to recognize the contributions of young leaders to Peoria’s strength and promise. I know David Wright must be very proud indeed! Thanks also to the original sponsors—WMBD Radio, Caterpillar, CILCO, RLI Corp. and Bremer Jewelry—for making the program possible in the first place. And finally, thanks to my colleagues serving in locally elected office for their courage and commitment to good governance and responsible leadership of our great community. iBi