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     April 5, 2017      #52-94 a2z

Chasity wins in mayoral upset: 'This is a movement'

Lee Provost

Hugs, shouts and tears ushered in a new political era in Kankakee as the city elected its first black mayor on Tuesday.

Chasity Wells-Armstrong, a first-term 5th Ward alderwoman, shocked the city's foundation by defeating two-term Republican Mayor Nina Epstein by 215 votes in a three-way race.

The 47-year-old Wells-Armstrong collected 47 percent of the vote and defeated Epstein by a 1,918-1,703 margin. Kankakee firefighter and former 2nd Ward alderman Jim Stokes, running as an Independent candidate, took in 455 votes.

"This is a movement," Wells-Armstrong told her supporters. "We are tired of the status quo. This is our win. This does not stop tonight."

When Wells-Armstrong is sworn into office on May 1, she will be Kankakee's first Democratic mayor since Russell Johnson, 1985-93.

A council member only since May 2015, Wells-Armstrong took on Epstein, who served eight years as a 6th Ward alderwoman before running and winning two mayoral elections. Epstein was the city's first woman mayor.

"You don't take anything for granted," said Wells Armstrong, a lifelong resident. "I was nervous. We worked so hard."

Asked about the significance of becoming the first African-American mayor in Kankakee, Wells-Armstrong, a deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, said her win gives hope to anyone who wants to rise to levels never reached before.

"I never saw a black mayor when I was a little kid. But I did see other people who have hope. I ran as the mayor for everyone," she said.

Epstein conceded to Wells-Armstrong just before 8:30 p.m. after poll watchers returned with news that the turnout wasn't going her way.

"Obviously people want change and they are going to get it," she said moments after making her concession speech to her supporters. "I'm proud of what I did for the city for these past eight years. I'm leaving the city on a upward trend. It's my hope that trend continues."

Much of Epstein's campaign was based on economic development and eight years of balanced budgets.

"People don't value what it takes to keep something financial stable," she said. "This is the process we live under. Some people win, some lose. I knew all along it would be a tight race. I'm not stunned. But I'm not happy. It is what it is."

A half mile south, former longtime 1st Ward Alderwoman Joann Ford-Box, 78, said this was a night she had long hoped for, but was never sure she would live to see it.

"What a day," she exclaimed. "What a day."​

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