Rita Ali becomes Peoria’s First Woman and First Black Mayor By Cassiette West-Williams

Madam Mayor Rita Ali is intently driven with plans, passion, and pride. She will dig in her polished black heels, roll up her sleeves, and ponder the hours it takes to push the city of Peoria to its highest pinnacle.

Madam Mayor Rita Ali

Peoria is celebrating its 185th year and the election of its first African American and woman mayor.

Ali is known for taking action and making programs, activities, and change happen.

When young men were the only ones given permission to take shop and mechanic classes at Manual High School, Ali and friends protested the rule and advocated for equity and change. The next quarter, Manual High School changed the boys-only policy! 

Ali was the only female in her mechanical drawing class, but the opportunity remained open for all females to register for the former male class curriculum. Ali earned an “A” and kept running in different races for many causes, still advocating for many people throughout her city.

Future Growth in Peoria

Mayor Ali intends to more effectively address issues of crime, racial justice and equity, and create more opportunities for economic prosperity throughout the city. Three goals she will start in the next 100 days include plans for transforming zip code 61605, one of the most distressed zip codes in the nation, including citizens in developing a comprehensive strategic plan and new vision for Peoria, and putting Peoria on a pathway to become a “Smart City” similar to Columbus, Ohio, the fastest growing midwestern city. 

“We need to have a 5, 10, 15, and 20-year plan. What do we want to look like? “We have to involve greater citizens’ input in creating a new vision for Peoria,” said Ali. “It’s time to move Peoria to a new level of growth and advancement. I want to be known for making a difference in people’s lives and creating opportunities,” Mayor Ali said.

Ali is known for being stern but having the capacity to show love to her constituents. At Bradley University, where Ali served as Director of Multicultural Student Services, and Illinois Central College, where Ali works as Vice President of Workforce and Diversity, she is known for creating programs and initiatives that support the success of students of color and poverty. She cared and listened to faculty and students. After about 17 years at ICC, Ali will retire early this year to work full-time as Peoria’s Mayor.

“Dr. Rita Ali is a born leader. Ever since I’ve known her, she has been a team player, leading in some capacity,” said Shar’Ron Washington-Ford, a building monitor for Peoria Public Schools. “She genuinely cares about the people of this city. She will do everything within her power to bring growth and prosperity to this city; she will be everybody’s mayor.”

Madam Mayor Rita Ali and mother, Nora Bryant

Paying Homage

Mayor Ali said that her road to city leader was inspired and paved by Traveler Weekly publisher Elise Ford Allen and the late Councilwoman Dorothy Boyd Sinclair. Both ran as candidates for Peoria mayor and created a pathway for Ali to travel to the mayor’s seat. When reflecting on her own mayoral quest, Ali pointed to Mrs. Allen’s campaign in 1973 and explained how she made a difference. Mrs. Allen was the first woman and African American to run for office and advocate for impoverished residents of Peoria.

Ali’s ultimate decision to run was generated from a call from members of the community.

“Mrs. Elise Allen ran for mayor when I was a little girl. It is an honor to be elected while she is still here,” said Ali. “I want to thank her for letting me stand on her shoulders.”

Some 30 years later, Ali said that she remembers her mother’s disappointment when Councilwoman Dorothy Sinclair lost her bid for mayor in 1989. Sinclair had been elected four times as a Peoria City Council member-at-large and had taught chemistry at Illinois Central College. “We honored her in the fall of 2020, at the Riverfront Park with a monument and ceremony.” said Ali.” They were strong women, and thinking of them gives me chills,” said Ali. However, she must forge on as Peoria’s 55th elected mayor.

Ali is planting the seeds to expand Peoria’s growth and revitalization. She aims to excel and represent her beloved city in the best possible light.