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Inside Wayne Motley’s winning mayoral strategy in Waukegan

Newly elected Mayor Waukegan Wayne Motley gives his victory speech alongside his wife Carol. | Mark Ukena~For Sun-Times Media

Newly elected Mayor of Waukegan, Wayne Motley gives his victory speech alongside his wife, Carol. | Mark Ukena~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 12, 2013 2:04PM

During his victory speech late Tuesday, Waukegan mayor-elect Wayne Motley remembered the handful of supporters who first urged him to run.

“They had so much faith and trust in me that I actually believed it myself,” Motley said, drawing a laugh.

But anyone taking attendance at the victory rally could see evidence of how Motley unseated incumbent Robert Sabonjian with 48 percent of 6,400 ballots cast. For one thing, most of the City Council was in the house, including four of the six aldermen who backed his campaign. Motley’s strategy, however, was a mix of old-fashioned coalition building and an embrace of new media.

Motley launched a successful social media campaign with the “Wayne Motley for Waukegan Mayor” Facebook page in October. This week, the page had 1,165 followers— more than a third of his eventual election-day ballots. Sabonjian started his campaign’s Facebook page only last month and totalled 365 followers. Motley also employed a professional film crew to post video endorsements.

During the campaign season, Motley drew formal endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, state Rep. Rita Mayfield and state Sen. Terry Link, who was one of his two opponents in the Democratic primary.

Sabonjian said Wednesday that he knew the numbers were running against him long before the results hit computer screens.

“(Motley) ran a really good media campaign, he was on television, he ran a good social media campaign and he had a much stronger organization,” Sabonjian said. “We were running on a shoestring. (It) was about money, and I guess we didn’t get the response we were looking for.”

Sabonjian’s re-election bid wasn’t helped by a continuation of the city’s decline in voter participation. Tuesday’s vote total was more than 1,100 under what was seen in the 2009 race for mayor, when Sabonjian took office with 3,943 votes. Motley’s total of 3,130 would have placed him behind second-place finisher Richard Hyde four years ago.

But Tuesday night, Motley was looking to the future, not to the past. He credited the cross-section of the community represented at the Ramada with his campaign’s success.

“I want you to look around the room and see who’s here today,” Motley said. “Waukegan is a wonderful community. If you don’t think so, then you need to leave this room. ... I expect everyone in this room to get on board and help me. We’re going to change this city’s makeup.”

Other familiar faces at his victory party included former Police Chief William Biang, former 7th Ward Ald. Patrick Needham, Waukegan’s Lake County board delegation Mary Ross Cunningham and Bill Durkin, along with former County Board member Angelo Kyle. Motley was also joined at the rally by his Democratic running-mates, Artis Yancey and John Schwab, who won their races for clerk and treasurer, respectively.

Sabonjian called Motley to concede the race before 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, more than 10 minutes before the final vote totals were in. Sabonjian said that knew early in his administration, when budget deficits forced him to cut deeply into personnel rosters and services, that he would have an uphill climb this election season.

“I always said, from day one, that I was doing things that wouldn’t get me re-elected,” said Sabonjian, adding that critics also blamed his administration “for the perception of crime in Waukegan” and a lack of what he called “big-splash” business development.

Susana Figueroa, who finished third in her bid to become the city’s first woman and Mexican-American mayor, said she feels Motley ran a clean campaign that reached into different corners of the city, including her own Latino base.

“I just want to congratulate Wayne Motley. He really engaged the whole community with his campaign,” she said. “We, as a community, need to move forward. ... I wish him luck, and if anything I said in my campaign can help, I would like to help.”

Figueroa admitted to disappointment, saying she was “not satisfied with the result” of her effort, but she offered to return as the city’s community liaison if offered the chance.

“I took a leave of absence (for the campaign) and I don’t know what direction the new administration will go,” she said. “It would be unfortunate if they shut (the office) down or let me go, because the social needs of the community are so great.”

While Motley’s personnel decisions remain to be seen, he said during the primary season that he would dismiss Daniel Greathouse as police chief following statements Greathouse made in the aftermath of three suicides in his department. In a leaked email, Greathouse referred to the suicides as the result of “selfishness and weakness.”

As for his other plans after he takes office on May 6, Motley told his supporters that “we’re going to develop places that should have been developed years ago.”

“River Road will be developed. I can guarantee you that,” said Motley, referring to open land directly south of River Road and Route 120 on the far west side. “We will develop things that were unheard of. ... The lakefront is prime for development, and we will do that.”

As for the city’s prospects for a casino, which he has said should be on the lakefront, Motley said “Do we need a casino? I don’t think so.”

He added: “If we get it, it would be a blessing for us financially.”

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