VERMILION — The 2013 Vermilion mayoral race has been colored by a lawsuit, a close election and almost seven years of political divide.
In November, residents of the city will choose between former mayor Jean Anderson and incumbent Eileen Bulan.
The women have a history dating back to 2006 when Anderson first took office, defeating then-mayor Jim Davis who at the time, Bulan worked for as a clerk of council and director of public service.
In 2009, Bulan defeated Anderson for the position of mayor. Adding fuel to the fire in 2010, Anderson sued Bulan’s administration for failing to release public documents.
Despite the somewhat antagonistic history, Anderson said that she and her opponent are not so different in their goals for Vermilion.
“It’s just about how we get there,” Anderson said.
Bulan views Vermilion’s development and preservation as two of the most pertinent goals for the next four years.
“I love developing Vermilion,” Bulan said, adding that the city has been her home for more than 40 years and, if she wins reelection she hopes to continue to preserve the lake front, write grants for city beautification and continue work to fix Vermilion roads.
For one of her supporters, Bulan’s efforts to develop the city are clear.
“If you could turn the clock back four years from now, there’s no comparison to what (Bulan) has done,” Vermilion resident Nan Gregory said, speaking about the difference between Bulan’s and Anderson’s leadership.
Anderson however, has a different approach for the city’s development.
If she wins in November, Anderson said she hopes to change what she perceives as a lack of communication between Vermilion residents and the government.
“There’s a feeling (in Vermilion) that there’s a limited group of people who control decision making and leadership in the city,” Anderson said, adding that she believes areas like Vermilion-on-the-Lake and parts of the city which are not in downtown Vermilion are forgotten, and even ignored.
Over time this mentality has started to tear the city apart, she said.
“When you have people who aren’t part of downtown feeling excluded, they aren’t going to patronize there,” Anderson said.
For one Valley View subdivision resident, this argument is the main reason she is supporting Anderson.
“(Anderson) is honest and takes care of both sides of the tracks,” said Linda Hadaway, a Vermilion resident who lives away from the center of town. Hadaway added that Anderson would be a nice contrast to Bulan who, she said, cares more about downtown than the rest of the city.
Bulan said the idea that her administration has ignored other parts of Vermilion is absurd.
Bulan’s government is currently utilizing a $298,000 grant they received last year to revitalize Vermilion-on-the-Lake around the area of Showsey Park.
While heated, this debate about the connectedness of Vermilion’s government to their residents is not a new one for Anderson and Bulan. It has been a topic of debate and discussion in Vermilion since Anderson took office in 2006.
Anderson said she first noticed a lack of communication between government and residents during Davis’s term as mayor when Anderson was working with the Vermilion-on-the-Lake Historic Community Center. It was then that Anderson said she realized that Vermilion-on-the-Lake was considered the “slums of Vermilion.”
“There was a divide between Vermilion-on-the-Lake and the town,” Anderson said.
Anderson said this was one of the reasons she decided to run for mayor in 2005. Yet, she said when she took the position, she was met with a “brick wall,” keeping her from being able to fully join downtown Vermilion with the rest of the city.
“I was met with one obstacle after another,” Anderson said.
In the next election, Bulan – who had worked under Davis’ term as mayor – ran against Anderson, defeating her by 3 percent of the votes.
“(Anderson’s term) was a pretty traumatic era for the city,” said Bulan, adding that Anderson had not enacted much change in Vermilion. As Mayor, Bulan made it her goal for four years to write grants, get money for the community, support small businesses, revitalized the city and fix many cracked and worn roads around Vermilion.
Yet midway through Bulan’s term in 2010, the debate about the relationship between the government, downtown Vermilion and the residents of Vermilion as a whole resurfaced.
In September of 2010 Anderson filed a lawsuit against the city of Vermilion, claiming Bulan’s administration was withholding public records, including itemized billing statements. The Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege act.
“It was horrible,” Bulan said about waking up to hear the news that her administration was being sued.
The lawsuit, which is on-going, is a constant reminder of the debate between Bulan and Anderson.
However, for many Vermilion residents, the focus for the upcoming election is centered on the city’s financial state rather than a nearly decade-long feud.
Vermilion resident, Tina Swineheart expects the next mayor to continue focusing attention on creating a solid Vermilion school system, while bringing more families to the town.
“I want (Vermilion) to stay vital. I hope we can attract and retain (more residents),” Swineheart said.
Jim Lowder, who grew up in Vermilion-on-the-Lake and owns a small business in the downtown district, wants to see the city and its administration find ways to attract more tourists, as well as new residents.
“We need to utilize our resources like beaches and parks,” he said.