Moline-Coal Valley School Board President Sangeetha Rayapati handily unseated incumbent Stephanie Acri in a contentious contest for Moline mayor in Tuesday's Illinois municipal elections.
Rayapati upset Acri, taking roughly 61% of the vote, according to unofficial results. Rayapati received 3,868 votes to Acri's 2,451 in the race for the part-time job that pays $20,000 a year and provides a monthly vehicle allowance.
"Now, the work of putting people, possibilities and progress at the center of our vision for this city begins," Rayapati said in a statement Tuesday night.
She thanked her family, supporters and current city leaders, without naming Acri, "for their service, and assure the public that we will step in and work for each and every individual, business and institution."
"With wins across the board tonight, I plan to work with incoming and existing aldermen to build a path forward," Rayapati said.
Voters on Tuesday ousted every incumbent Moline City Council member on the ballot in a change election signalling increasing frustration with city leadership over city budget cuts, high senior staff turnover and the outsourcing of some city services to private contractors.
"I will use the teamwork I’m known for to tackle the challenges and opportunities we have in front of us in terms of economic development, growth and making Moline a place where more people choose to live, play and stay," Rayapati said.
Acri said she congratulated Rayapati on her win, and thanked voters, the community and her supporters "for the amazing opportunity" to serve the city "and be part of all of the exciting things that have happened over the last four years."
"I'm really grateful for having the honor of being able to serve the last four years," Acri said. "I came into the election knowing that it would be a challenge to be re-elected, and I'm really proud of my team for all the effort we put in connecting with voters. ... I think this community is united in looking in a new direction, and I think that is a really healthy thing and something good will come of it."
The race in recent weeks has grown somewhat heated over campaign fliers that accused Rayapati of covering up an incident at Moline High School that allegedly involved a teacher who posted a sex video on social media.
Rayapati is president of the school board and has said she's bound by laws and policies that prevent her from disclosing details.
The political mailers sent to Moline residents were paid for by the Committee for Better City Government, which donated $15,000 to Acri's campaign.
Those listed on campaign finance documents as officers of the group, however, have said they're no longer affiliated with the committee and did not know where the mailers came from.
Acri has denied responsibility for the fliers but echoed their criticism.
Acri's was elected as the city's first female mayor in 2017, and previously served six years on the Moline City Council as Alderman at-large.
She owns Evans Premium Manufacturing in Rock Island.
During her first term as mayor, Acri said she has worked to bring down the city's debt, lower property taxes, increase transparency and help small businesses during the pandemic with loan and grant application assistance.
She has pursued the possibility of bringing a University of Illinois school of engineering to the riverfront land, the Quad-City Times and Moline Dispatch-Argus previously reported.
The city already has a college of engineering just a mile away — at Western Illinois University’s Quad-Cities riverfront campus. Acri recently accused WIU officials of "broken promises," including low enrollment numbers that "have hurt Moline’s economy," the Times and Dispatch-Argus previously reported.
Her tenure has also been marked by prolonged, high turnover among city staff and the outsourcing of some city services.
At least 15 high-level city employees have resigned, been terminated or taken early retirement in the last two years.
Rayapati, who moved to the Quad-Cities in 2001 and has been a Moline resident since 2005, has served on the Moline-Coal Valley school board for the last five years. She is a music professor at Augustana College, where she has taught for nearly 20 years.
Rayapati has pledged to repair the city's reputation, which she said has taken a hit from ongoing stalled economic development, a decrease in city services and "constant turnover of (city) staff."
She has said she disagrees with the city's recent decisions to outsource some services, such as hiring private contractors for leaf collection and snow removal and the hiring of corporate counsel to handle legal issues. She claims outsourcing is costing the city more money.
Rayapati has also criticized the city's recent decision to terminate its relationship with Western Illinois University and instead seek another university to take its place as short sighted, and that picking "public fights" also has hurt the city's image.