O’FALLON — The other day, a young man turned to O’Fallon mayor Gary Graham and said, “You are the only mayor I have ever known.”
“It touched my heart,” Graham told the Madison County Record.
With more than 26 years of public service under his belt, Graham, a Republican, is stepping down as mayor, a role he has held for 20 years. His term ends next month.
“The population has increased by 17,000 because of top schools, world-class parks and the safety provided by our police," Graham said. "I get the most pride out of knowing that I am leaving a city which history will show the next 20 years will be greater than the past 20."
In next Tuesday's election, Graham supports fellow Republican, City Clerk Phil Goodwin, over Alderman Herb Roach, a Democrat.
Campaign finance records show that Goodwin has received more than $52,000 from 48 individual contributors, including $5,000 from Graham's campaign committee.
Roach's campaign committee has raised $6,500 from seven contributors, including $1,000 from a local steamfitters labor organization.
Since taking office in 1997, Graham has been instrumental in turning the town into a city. In addition to using hotel room taxes to expand the town’s park system to more than 400 acres, Graham and council members have overseen the construction of a new city hall and provided space for a veterans monument park, public safety and park storage buildings, a new skate park and two new fire stations.
Under his leadership, new sidewalks were built around the city’s schools and along the downtown park.
“We have done all these things, keeping our debt ratio to assets lower than when I was first elected,” Graham said.
"Destination O’Fallon," which includes a state-of-the-art sports park and a new downtown pavilion, is something Graham considers “another huge economic machine for our city.” The new businesses on I-64 and the sports park have created millions of dollars a year in sales taxes to the city.
“Sales tax has grown from $2 million to approximately $9 million a year," Graham said. "We estimate with the opening of the world-class soccer and baseball facility our sales tax will grow to $15 million a year."
The only regret the mayor has is the time he had to give up with his wife, Lucia, and their grandchildren.
“She has been the reason for my success as mayor, husband and father,” Graham said. “I have attended over 500 city council meetings, thousands of public meetings and more chicken dinners than I care to count. It has been a labor of love, and I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience nor three million for another term.”
As far as the upcoming election between Goodwin and Roach, Graham hopes the city picks a business-friendly, positive, forward-looking mayor.
“Not someone looking back at the glass half-empty instead of half-full," Graham said. "If a city doesn’t move forward, it will fail to meet its destiny for its citizens."
On a final note, Graham thanked his constituents.
“I want to thank all the people that supported me and those who didn’t because they all made me a better person," he said. "I love you one and all and forgive me for all the things I wasn’t able to accomplish because you deserve only the best."