These are tough times to be politicians, but elected officials must focus on building consensus, not rifts.
That was one of the key messages Elgin Councilwoman Tish Powell said she got from the 2nd annual Edgar Fellows Program last week at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Powell was among 40 or so fellows selected from more than 160 nominees.
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Politics in the U.S., from the local to the national, has become more divisive and contentious, she said.
"Compromise is not a dirty word," she said. "Compromise is really the essence of democracy. You have to find common ground."
"Twenty years ago politicians could agree to disagree and it wouldn't be taken personally," she said. "Now, I'm not sure what has changed, but it's getting more personal. The ugliness is getting more personal, and all of that is taking away from the job that we do."
The four-day executive leadership program is geared to elected and appointed officials, and business and community leaders across Illinois.
Other fellows included Kristi Lafleur, executive director of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, Jeffery Pruyn, mayor of Itasca, and state Rep. Barbara Wheeler of Crystal Lake.
Speakers included former Gov. Jim Edgar, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, U.S. House Republican Leader Tom Cross, and Bill Daley, former chief of staff for President Barack Obama.
In Elgin, discussions have at times become heated among city council members. Having different ideas, Powell said, is good, but what matters is how one presents those ideas, along with the willingness to compromise.
Powell also said she liked different speakers' messages of "get out of your comfort zone" and "balance the personal and the professional."
One speaker talked about the importance of having sound infrastructure to retain and attract business, an area in which Elgin is well-positioned, Powell said. "We've made major investments in infrastructure over past 10 to 15 years, due in part to revenues of the (Grand Victoria) Casino," she said.
Meeting people from downstate Illinois was especially eye-opening, Powell said.
"When you get a chance to sit down and talk to people, you find that you have a whole lot more in common than I think people realize."